Have you ever come home after a night of partying, only to discover to your horror that you have an agonizingly visible piece of food stuck between your teeth? Or, worse yet, a gigantic booger floating inside your nostril, waving back at you in cruel mockery with every breath you take? Have you ever thought to yourself, “why didn’t anyone %@#$’ing tell me?!?”
I recently got back in touch with an old friend, Heather, whom I’ve barely talked to over the past three years. We spent a week or so emailing back and forth and catching up on each other’s lives. As the e-conversation progressed, Heather started telling me all the things that she didn’t like about her current boyfriend, Mike, and basically revealed that she was thinking of breaking up with him.
With a bit of inquisition on my part, she admitted that she already knew she was going to break up with him. She just hadn’t found the right opportunity yet. Even further inquisition on my part (hey, I’m an inquisitive guy) got her to confess that “finding the right opportunity” really meant “mustering up the courage.” No additional inquisition was necessary for me to figure out that many of Heather’s friends were already aware of her intentions.
For some reason, I started thinking about the situation from Mike’s perspective. Even though I didn’t know the guy, I felt awful for him. I mean, here was a guy who was happily in a relationship. But, completely unbeknownst to him, his girlfriend was about to break up with him. And worse yet, here was I: I had never met Mike, I hadn’t spoken to his girlfriend in over a year, and I knew before he did that he was about to get dumped.
I imagined Mike frolicking through a field of daisies, skipping and smiling and laughing, blissfully ignorant of the jolly green booger dangling lower and lower from his nostril with every leap he took… and all of Heather’s friends whispering and pointing at him behind his back. It just seemed so wrong.
And yet, it also happens quite frequently. (Breakups without warning, that is. Not dangling boogers. Well… unless you’re in kindergarten.) So, why is that? Why is the significant other often the last one to know about an impending breakup? Why do so many people choose to tell their friends first?
If you were to ask me to identify the single most important trait needed to maintain a successful relationship, I would answer “communication” with no hesitation. Let’s face it, no relationship is perfect. Well, during those times of imperfection, we have to be willing to communicate our wants and needs to our partner.
In this respect, not only is communication a vital trait. It can actually help mend other issues within the relationship. Sure, you can try to fix your problems with jokes, you can try to fix them with alcohol, you can try to fix them with sex, or you can even try to fix them with outright denial. But if you think about it, the only true way to fix any problem in a relationship is with effective communication.
More specifically, it’s a willingness to initiate difficult, uncomfortable conversations that can make or break relationships. You know, the conversations that people tend to begin with the dreaded, “we need to talk.” And this is where the problem arises. Maybe you hate confrontations. So, if you have a problem within a relationship, 1) you stay silent about it. You tell yourself, “it’s not worth it, just let it go.” And so, your frustrations sit and fester. And you get more and more bitter. Soon, your partner can’t so much as blink without bugging the crap out of you. Or, 2) you seek out a sympathetic friend you can gripe to. You tell your friend, “can you believe what the a-hole I’m dating did?,” to which your friend replies, “that’s so messed up! Why do you put up with that?” And so, you get more and more irritated. Soon, your partner can’t so much as breathe without bugging the crap out of you.
In either case, you work yourself into a state of irreconcilable resentment against your haplessly clueless a-hole, effectively destroying any chance you might have had to fix the problem. Instead of addressing your issues, you take the self-defeating passive—and usually passive aggressive—approach.
Now, I understand that sometimes, you do need a second opinion. You really don’t know what to do, so you turn to a friend. Well, that’s fine. But did you go to your significant other first? Did you try to communicate your concerns? And by this, I mean actually attempt to initiate discussion, not just make some passing offhand comment that the other person is telepathically supposed to pick up on as an indicator that you’re unhappy. If you did make a serious attempt, but got blown off, then… absolutely, talk to a friend. But, if you never even gave yourself a chance to discuss your issues with the one who matters, then you may just end up making the breakup inevitable.
So, stop procrastinating and initiate that difficult conversation. If it does end in breakup, at least you dealt with it in a mature manner. On the other hand, your significant other could surprise you with a willingness to work on your issues, and you may discover that your relationship can still be salvaged.
The next time you decide you’re going to break up with someone, before you go spilling your intentions to all your friends, think about the humiliation you would feel if everyone but you knew what was about to happen. Now add to that the pain of getting your heart broken. Does your partner deserve that?
If you fail to maintain a line of communication, I believe that your relationship is doomed to be unfulfilling (at the very least) or to failure (at the very worst). But even if you’ve already made up your mind, then at least give your significant other the dignity of being the first to know. Anything less and you’re letting prominent boogers dangle on someone you supposedly care about. Talk about picking a winner, huh?