Don’t Bury Your Relational Issues

We’ve all got things we’d prefer not to talk about. But if we uncover the issues we’ve left unaddressed, we’ll see our relationships become infinitely richer and more real.

We don’t talk about Bru-no, no, no, no.  We don’t talk about Bru-noooooo.

Blame me, because it’s true: This earworm from Disney’s blockbuster animated film “Encanto” will live in your head for the rest of the day. Also true is how ironic this song’s lyrical line is. After all, it’s followed by lots and lots and lots of talk about Bruno.

So, what’s a character from a kids movie have to do with an article for adults? Surprisingly, plenty.

We all have our “Brunos.” And (spoiler alert) I don’t mean our very own crazy, rat-loving relative who lives in the walls of our home. But just like Bruno was a taboo topic in the Madrigal household, we all have unresolved issues with others that we’d rather not talk about.

Haunting issues

My husband, Ted, and I have been married 19 years. Last fall, we took a marriage course at our church, because one of our relational philosophies is that we can always learn, improve, and grow closer as a couple. We were quickly reminded that old issues die hard.

A problem that plagued Ted and me in our first few years of marriage still haunted us almost two decades later. This marriage course took a shovel to it — not to bury it, but to dig it up and force us to deal with it.

In the past, each time this problem surfaced, we failed to deal with it in a productive way. Sure, we argued about it and resolved it just enough to make up and temporarily move on. But we never got to the root of what was going on or devised a practical plan of action that satisfied us both.

Ted and I both studied communication at the master’s level. We both have degrees in it. But despite this training (and the diplomas to prove it), we still lacked the skills to tackle this problem successfully. Sadly, it had continued to impact our relationship and create space for resentment to grow.

Burying issues isn’t something only married couples do. Singles do it, too. Regardless of our marital status, we all have issues with other people that haunt us because we’ve never dealt with them like we should. Maybe you can think of a few right now.

Sometimes these issues are the elephant in the room; you and the other individual are fully aware of them. But other times, we don’t realize we’ve buried an issue. It may be with our parents or a sibling. Maybe it’s with a close friend, coworker, college classmate, or someone we’re dating or engaged to.

Whatever the case may be, avoiding issues doesn’t make them go away. And if you’re hoping to get married someday, learning how to appropriately address issues with others now will only benefit you in the long run.

3 common reasons we bury issues

Why do many of us bury issues rather than dealing with them? Here are three common reasons I’ve observed in my own life.

1. Discomfort. During Jesus’ famous Sermon on the Mount, He said, “Blessed are the peacemakers” (Matthew 5:9). Even though I grew up reading this verse, I spent decades misunderstanding what it meant to be a “peacemaker.”

I thought peacemakers were those people who always found a way to avoid conflict to keep the peace. Conflict brings discomfort, and I don’t enjoy feeling uncomfortable or making those around me uneasy. So that’s precisely what I did for years; I maintained peace by burying my issues with others.

In my late 20s, though, I learned that peacemakers aren’t conflict-avoidant. Instead, I discovered that they are problem solvers. As Ken Sande further explains in his book “The Peacemaker”: “When Christians learn to be peacemakers, they can turn conflict into an opportunity to strengthen relationships, preserve valuable resources, and make their lives a testimony to the love and power of Christ.”

2. Fear. I wasn’t just leery of discomfort. I was also afraid that once I brought up an issue, it would negatively change my relationship with the other person. What if a friend thought I was overreacting because I shared that something she said hurt my feelings — so she decided to ghost me? Or maybe my co-worker would think I was difficult, and our teamwork would suffer?

But what I’ve learned is that an unaddressed issue always negatively affects my relationships. When I’m too afraid to talk things through with others, my interactions with them remain at a surface level. They’re shallow. Authentic relationships grow out of truth-telling and vulnerability, not fear. And sometimes that’s messy.

3. Pride. My pride can take being wrong. I’m OK with that. What it doesn’t handle well is embarrassment. So, sometimes I bury an issue because I don’t want to feel ashamed for having strong feelings about a situation or problem. But more and more I’m finding that this pride keeps me from being vulnerable.

For example, in my book “Team Us,” I wrote about how Ted isn’t big on holidays — including birthdays. He just doesn’t care much about his, which has hindered his ability to understand why I do care about mine. When he’s forgotten to celebrate mine in the past, I’ve often let embarrassment keep me from sharing my hurt feelings. I’ve wanted him to be excited about my birthday on his own, and not because I’m asking him to be.

How to bring up issues in a healthy way

What steps can you take to stop burying issues and start addressing them?

1. Pray and take courage. It’s hard to bring up a difficult issue, especially if you’re used to burying problems instead. Before you do anything else, pray. Ask God to give you courage, wisdom, and the right words to speak.

2. Choose the right time and the right place. Have you ever felt blindsided by someone else sharing an issue they have with you? I certainly have. And when this happens, I tend to get defensive and emotional. That’s why it’s important for us to bring things up at the right time and in the right place. For example, you might consider inviting the other person to coffee and letting them know in advance that you’d like to talk through something with them.

3. Share your views kindly but clearly. This is no time for stream-of-consciousness talking or processing out loud. Before you go, rehearse what you want to say to make sure it’s concise and clear. Also, use communication techniques such as saying, “I feel like …” rather than “You have …” to avoid judging (even unintentionally) the other person’s motives or meaning.

4. Listen and accept responsibility. It’s important to remember that there are two sides to every issue. It’s possible this other person has been oblivious to what you’re feeling or to the problem in general. It’s helpful to not be offended if they are. Instead, listen to them. The same is true if they are fully aware of the issue and are equally hurt. Listen to their feelings without interrupting and accept responsibility for your part in the situation.

5. Repent and forgive. You can’t really move on from a situation and strengthen a relationship unless you’re willing to repent and forgive. Say you’re sorry for the part you’ve played in the issue, then extend forgiveness for theirs. And remember: Forgiveness doesn’t restore trust. Trust is earned over time and may need to be re-earned.

6. Let it go. If you’ve made it right with the other person, then let it go. (Yes, there’s another Disney earworm for you.) If you haven’t because the other person isn’t willing to, remember that you can’t make people work through issues with you. You’re only responsible for bringing it up and doing your best to navigate it in a way that honors God.

Keep talking about Bruno

Is there a Bruno-like subject in your life you need to take a shovel to and dig up? Who do you need to courageously talk to so you can move from the shallow to the authentic?

We’ve all got things we’d prefer not to talk about. But if we muscle up the courage to pick up our shovels, unbury what we’ve left unaddressed for too long, and openly work through them, we’ll start seeing that our relationships are infinitely richer and more real. And that’s something worth talking about.

Copyright 2022 Ashleigh Slater. All Rights Reserved.

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About the Author

Ashleigh Slater

Ashleigh Slater is the author of the books “Braving Sorrow Together: The Transformative Power of Faith and Community When Life is Hard” and “Team Us: The Unifying Power of Grace, Commitment, and Cooperation in Marriage.” With over twenty years of writing experience and a master’s degree in communication, she loves to combine the power of a good story with practical application to encourage and inspire readers. Learn more at AshleighSlater.com or follow Ashleigh on Facebook. Ashleigh lives in Arizona with her husband, Ted, and four daughters.

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