You may think the only pet hanging around you and your significant other is the family dog, or cat, or hamster. In reality, every relationship has an elephant.

It’s the thing you’re bottling up inside.

It’s the thing you’re too nervous to talk about for fear of driving your partner further away.

It’s the thing that’s likely standing between you and true connection, maybe even killing the spark of what once was between the two of you.

Remember the mood rings that changed color depending on how hot your finger was at the time? Blue was calm. Amber was unsettled. Black meant you were tense. It has some scientific basis: under stress, your body directs blood toward your internal organs, with less blood reaching your fingers. When you’re excited, more blood flows to the extremities, increasing the temperature, registering as violet.

The proverbial elephant in the room works the same way. Sometimes it’s just a minor problem, a blue-green elephant, since your partner forgot to pick up the cake or dry cleaning on the way home after more than a couple reminder texts. You silently seethe for a few minutes and then let it go, this time.

But chances are your elephant is gray, big and scary, or worse, black as night. It’s the deep grudge you develop, the contempt that builds over time when the smaller slights pile up. Or it’s the dark secret from your past you’re sure is too awful to share, never before and certainly not after all these years together.

These elephants aren’t pets. They dominate the relationship, looming large between the two of you until there isn’t much room for affection or intimacy.

The only way to put the elephant back outside where it belongs is to share how you feel. No blaming, no fear, just putting honest words out there for your partner to hear. If your elephant is bigger than your courage, start by reading this post on how to take baby steps toward more open communication.

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