My Best Relationship Advice

“What’s wrong?”

I shudder at that question. I’ve been asked it many times by girlfriends over the years. It never leads to anything good.

“What’s wrong? I can tell something’s wrong. Just tell me. You’re acting weird.”

Okay, here’s the truth: Yes, something’s probably wrong. There’s a 15% chance that it has nothing to do with you, but my general disposition is pretty consistently upbeat, so if something’s wrong, you can probably tell.

However, that doesn’t mean that I’m ready to talk about it. Usually I’m not. I process things quite a bit before I’m ready to talk about them. That doesn’t sit well with girlfriends in general, because if something’s wrong, they want to know right away. As a result, I’ve found myself giving the answer that I know all of you have given at least a few times: “Nothing.” Nothing’s wrong.

After giving that answer and later revealing that something actually is wrong for years, I’ve realized that there has to be a better way. And there is. It takes a lot of trust, but it works:

Girl: “What’s wrong?”

Me: “Okay, I have something on my mind. But I’m still processing it, and I need a little more time to think it through. Can we talk about it tomorrow evening?”

There are several layers to this:

  1. Admitting that something is actually wrong so that she can stop wondering about it.
  2. Telling her that you’re processing it means that the relationship is important to you.
  3. Setting a specific time to talk about it gives her a distinct light at the end of the tunnel.

Yes, the gap in time can be excruciating for the person in the dark. But my stance is that it’s much healthier for the relationship for both parties to talk when they’re ready, not when one is forced into sharing some incomplete thoughts. I’ve had too many of those discussions–especially late at night, when the sleepiness factor makes things even worse–and it never works out well.

Also, I should note that this situation happens the other way around too. I’ve asked girlfriends if something wrong (again, it’s perfectly clear when something’s wrong–we all know this). And really, it would help so much if you just answered like I did in the above scenario. Don’t say nothing’s wrong and then expect me to pull it out of you. If I’m dating you, I trust you to tell me when you’re ready. It’s not an indication of how much I care about you if I don’t harp on you to tell me what’s wrong.

Daily Quickie: Don’t underestimate the amount of troubleshooting you do at work every day. I’d bet that about 25% of what people do at their jobs is troubleshoot, and yet you hardly ever see that on resumes.