Wright Foundation | March 13, 2018

Why Expressing Your Dislikes is the Key to a Successful Relationship

We all have dislikes and disagreements. No couple, no matter how well they get along, is going to experience simpatico all the time.

How often do we tell our partner when we don’t like something, or let them know they’re doing something that really bugs us? While expressing your dislikes and engaging in conflict may seem counterproductive, it’s not! Speak up! Honest communication is key to a successful relationship.

It’s not going to happen.

A common statement I’ve heard when coaching and counseling couples is, “we never fight.” Yet the couple feels a lack of closeness and connection. They may feel blah or worse—angry and resentful.

When I hear the “we never fight” statement it always raises my concern. You see, fights and conflicts are a healthy part of a successful relationship. Dislikes and disagreements are an authentic and natural human occurrence. Arguments are part of intimacy. In our book The Heart of the Fight, we discuss the many common fights couples experience and how they can use these disagreements to move toward a stronger relationship. We call this battling towards bliss.

If you never fight, chances are one or both of you has your head in the sand. You’re ignoring feelings and holding back. This is damaging to your relationship. After all, are you really getting the most out of your relationship if you aren’t honestly connecting?

If You Don’t Like It: Speak Up!

When there’s something we don’t like—whether it’s behavior from a friend, a coworker or our spouse—we may feel it’s not “worth” addressing. Maybe we don’t want to piss them off. Maybe we don’t want to rock the boat.

But when we hold back from expressing our feelings, we lose our influence and power in any given situation. If you aren’t expressing who you really are and what you really want, you will never hit your target. This could mean holding back your dislike anytime: from a board meeting to dinner, to the bedroom. If we don’t let others know what we like and don’t like, we won’t ever get what we want.

What happens when we hold back? We build up resentment and frustration. Suddenly socks on the floor or a wet towel tossed on the bed becomes the straw that breaks the camel’s back.

We may “deal with” these situations but inside we’re silently seething, resenting the other person.

Grace, a woman I counseled several years ago, expressed her frustration over her husband Bill leaving his clothes, papers, shoes, and yes socks, strewn about the house. She would angrily pick them up every day. She said they didn’t fight, but they didn’t really feel close anymore either. They were indifferent. He often felt more like a roommate than a husband. A roommate with no regard for her feelings and who made a big mess. Another person to clean up after.

“Well have you considered telling him you don’t like his behavior? That you feel dismissed and unappreciated?” I asked.

“No. I doubt it would make a difference.”

I urged her to reconsider expressing her frustrations and to see where it took her.

When Grace came back few weeks later she was bursting with excitement. She had told him she disliked cleaning up after him. In fact, there was no way in hell she was going to do it anymore!

For a few days items around the house piled up. Then, low and behold, one day out of the blue Bill started cleaning up. She said, he went through and picked up every item he’d thrown on the floor in the last few days. She thanked him. Suddenly, Grace was feeling the power of expressing her dislikes. Soon she was letting Bill know when she didn’t like the television on during dinner, she liked when he focused on her. She didn’t like feeling ignored. She liked when they went out on dates together.

Their relationship experienced a dynamic shift. When Grace learned the power of expressing her dislikes, they experienced a renewed connection. No longer was she feeling or acting resentful and passive-aggressive. Consequently, Bill became more considerate of her feelings and felt appreciated for his efforts. They both felt more valued.

Why We Hold in Resentments

When we hold onto our dislikes, we become stuck and frustrated. Not only is this unfair to you, but it’s unfair to your partner and your relationship. After all, if we’re holding in secret resentments or engaging in passive-aggressive behavior, we’re not really cluing them into what’s going on. How can they work on their behavior or consider changing, if they don’t even realize what they’re doing is bothering you?!

Now, there are some people who read this and go, “Oh, he KNOWS what he’s doing,” or “Oh, she knows it bugs me when she does that.” But if you aren’t expressing your dislike or irritation, are you sure? Silent treatment, eye rolls, smirks and little jabs we work into conversation, may feel like we’re getting our point across. In reality, these “hidden middle finger” actions could tell your partner you don’t like THEM, rather than pinpointing and resolving the behavior you find irritating.

If you want more intimacy and a greater connection, you need to speak up and share your dislikes.

When we hold back our feelings, we don’t grow in our relationship. We don’t learn to examine our deep desires and the yearnings of our heart. We may feel we’re going along with the flow, but we’re actually sacrificing our identity. We’re not allowing others to see us for who we really are, get to know us, love and accept us. We’re putting up a false front.

Why We’re Afraid of Our Dislikes

When we tell someone we dislike something, it’s frightening. It may even be jarring. We all want to be liked and held in positive regard. We’ve all met people who seem to like nothing. These may be people we identify as hard to please, negative or even vindictive. Most of us want to be kind, agreeable and positive, right?

Perhaps you grew up believing relationships were all about compromise and going with the flow. Maybe you never saw your parents fight or argue. Perhaps one parent simply acquiesced to the other to keep the status quo. Either way, you received a message loud and clear: dislikes and disagreements aren’t okay. You became conflict-avoidant.

In truth, we all have dislikes. Anger and frustration isn’t a harbinger of relationship doom or a sign of a negative person. If you engage in arguments with skills and apply the rules of engagement as we outline in The Heart of the Fight, conflicts become powerful tools of personal growth, growth as a couple and will bring you more intimacy.

I know it sounds counterintuitive—fight more to love more? That doesn’t make sense, right?

It’s because love is neither logical nor linear. Instead, it’s volatile, unpredictable and governed by primal forces that are buried deep inside of us. This is powerful messy stuff. But it’s stuff you can and should understand, and the key to understanding is developing the capacity to responsibly clash over issues that are important to you. If you can’t do that—if you act as if a loving relationship is a predictable, rational progression that mirrors movie romance—then you’ll remain mired.
You may never fight, but you also won’t grow, and neither will the relationship. It’s only when you really and truly engage with another person—and by engaging we mean being totally honest, responsible and open in our verbal and emotional communication—that truths emerge. The fight types from the Blame Game to Family Feuds and Told-You-So’s—foster thought-provoking conversations, valuable insights and even the occasional epiphany.
Couples don’t get divorced because they fight; they split up because they don’t know how to use conflict to create a new depth of intimacy—which would never occur without working through these challenges. The point is not to avoid a fight or to find a formula to get through a fight or even to win a fight, but rather to dig in and discover the rich information beneath the argument. Yes, you’re going to get down and dirty, but studies show that relationships benefit when you explore what resides beneath the surface.
Emerging relationship research proves that couples who have truthful, angry fights early in their relationship are happier over time.
–The Heart of the Fight

Relationships are stronger than we think. Disliking or disagreeing—even having a scorched-earth fight—doesn’t spell doom for the couple. In fact, it will often result in working through and resolving feelings, sharing, growing and moving forward.

So, the next time your boyfriend, girlfriend or spouse does something you dislike—speak up! Don’t hold back, dive in!

Expressing your dislikes and frustrations takes practice. Start with bringing up something simple you dislike and build from there. Say, “I really dislike it when you use your phone at the dinner table,” or “I don’t like it when you leave your wet towel on the bed.”

It may surprise you how quickly expressing your dislike leads to resolution. It could also lead to a deeper discussion. After all, when you don’t like being ignored at the table, what you’re really saying is you want to be seen and heard. You want you lover’s attention. This is a universal yearning we all experience! Your partner may not realize or be aware of how this brush-off of your yearnings deeply affects your feelings.

Similarly, a towel on the floor may seem like no big deal to your significant other, but to you, it signals a disregard of the effort you put into your home, your desire to live in a nice environment or even disrespect for your hard work. This is a potent statement, they may not even realize they’re making. Expressing your dislike, might lead to a bigger discussion and move you closer to greater intimacy and closeness.

For more ways to strengthen your relationships, please visit our course page. We now have many of our great classes available for download. We also invite you to join us in person for a live networking event. Learn to express your true feelings and work toward a life of MORE.

The Wright Foundation for the Realization of Human Potential is a leadership institute located in Chicago, Illinois. Wright Living performative learning programs are integrated into the curriculum at Wright Graduate University.

Photo by Seth Hays on Unsplash.