I need help to deal with having a difficult conversation. How can I constructively let my partner know I’m unhappy without turning the conversation into a fight? What trigger words should I avoid when trying to have a difficult conversation? How do I rework my words to avoid being inflammatory? Advice, please!
It might help to remember that disagreements between people in love are more common than we think. Research shows most couples have more than 300 arguments per year. Most of these disagreements are not about sex, in-laws or money. The small stuff sets us off. More often than not, it’s bathroom habits: toilet seats left up, a naked toilet roll, the shower or bathtub filthy after use. One partner sees the mess and concludes: I’m not valued, appreciated or loved. Is it true? Probably not, but the seeds of resentment are planted.
The problem is that most of us are taught to avoid conflict. We don’t learn how to manage, confront or diffuse it. Thankfully, conflict management is a skill we can learn if we have an open mind, self-awareness and a desire to evolve. Healing must happen inside us before we can resolve problems in a relationship. So find a quiet place to sit and reflect, preferably with a journal and pen. Consider what’s driving your desire to discuss things with your partner. Why do you want to have this convo? It’s easy to believe our reasons are honorable, although sometimes we just want what we want. Those ego inclinations are understandable, but they don’t inspire a harmonious relationship.
The kindest path to resolution is to heal your inner conflict before talking to your partner. Discover what’s really motivating you by exploring these questions: Is something in your personal history being triggered? What are your fears about the relationship? How have you contributed to the problem you want to talk about? And, yes, there are definitely phrases to avoid. Don’t use these triggers:
(1) “What’s wrong with you?” (It’s shaming your partner.)
(2) “I’m sorry if …” (An apology that isn’t an apology.)
(3) “I’m sorry but …” (Another apology that isn’t an apology.)
(4) “Why are you getting so upset?” (Don’t denigrate feelings.)
(5) “I do everything. You never help.” (All-or-nothing remarks are dishonest.)
(6) “It doesn’t matter.” (Why lie?)
When your partner opens up, be curious. Listen. Don’t interrupt. Don’t take what you hear personally. He or she is entitled to their opinion. Don’t rush to defend yourself. Trust that you will have a chance to talk, too. When you do, state your feelings, fears and hopes. Stick with “I” statements, like: “I notice I’m getting defensive.” Don’t launch a counterattack on everything your partner said to you. Instead, speak from your heart. Be committed to finding common goals.
Remember, conflict resolution is a learning process. Choose to improve your skills. As you do, your relationship, with yourself and your partner, will be happier and more fulfilling.