We all do it, regardless of gender - some of us more frequently than others: We let things that bother us go unaddressed. But these things do not go away just because we did not address them, rather, they accumulate or add-up. (In some circumstances the mathematical operator could be a multiplier or an exponent!) Often we think "Oh, I can't be bothered to deal with that right now", especially if there are expectations, fear or anxiety that a conflict will occur in addressing that issue. The trade-off in not facing the fears that can be associated with assertiveness is dissatisfaction. Our "unfinished business" aka "baggage" - unresolved, lingering issues - ends up being assimilated in unhealthy ways, forming habitual patterns. When we gather too much unfinished business we struggle to engage in the present and enjoy relationships for their own merit. Unfinished business gets in the way and can lead to larger-scale conflict or suffering or both.
Often, unfinished business contributes to the deterioration and the end of relationships, especially intimate ones. Sometimes there is an undeniable track-record of conflict erupting between two people when they try to address issues, so the fear that arises in new problematic situations is justified. "If I bring this up, it will make her angry with me - like always, and she'll probably shout at me. So I'll just go without or deal with this on my own." Hurt feelings, resentment, sadness or other can arise when we feel like we cannot tell our loved ones what we want or need or how we feel.
The advocate for unfinished business and the accomplice to conflict are the "you" statements we may use. "You hurt my feelings." "You didn't listen to me, you never do!" "You need to sort yourself out!" It is much easier for the person on the receiving end to address a problem if they don't feel like they are being accused of something - especially if they don't agree with the accusation. Offered in a different way, we may find that it is easier to resolve issues and not fall into destructive conflict. For example: "I feel really sad that you said that. Did you mean that?" Or "I feel hurt, it seems to me like you weren't listening to me. Is that the case, or did I misunderstand?" Or "I feel really frustrated with that tone of voice, it's really upsetting me. I'm imagining something is going on for you, do you need to talk about it?" We don't need to assume a template for communicating and using our natural voice and language is ideal - the critical component is: steering away from "you" and sticking to "I" and how "I feel when...".
A substantial amount of self support is required to tune-in to our emotions and offer them to another person when problems or issues arise. We often feel vulnerable when we expose our emotions to another person. Without self support, that vulnerable position can seem like a scary place and in it we might even expect to be disrespected, ignored or disregarded. With healthy self support we are capable of showing ourselves clearly and then hearing and considering feedback without self-induced shame, judgement or criticism.
There is no healthy way to circumvent mutual understanding and acceptance in long-term relationships. Unfinished business left to accumulate and pile-up will occupy the space between people, where healthy, therapeutic, deep, and loving contact normally would reside. Tending to unfinished business together in a respectful way can be hard - and it is also therapeutic and nourishing. There is a real sense of satisfaction to "put the past to rest" and to deal with problems as they arise. The reward is that excitement, fluidity and enrichment returns to our relationships.
Blogging about mental health issues for personal and professional development. All material is authored by Cori Lambert unless explicitly stated otherwise. Authentic Consulting and Counselling is located in West Perth, Greater Perth Area.