Whenever my husband says these words, “We need to talk.” whether serious or not, my heart stops. It could mean anything. I immediately trace my steps and words of the last couple of days and try to identify what I did wrong before he starts talking. Usually it’s to make plans for the weekend or to discuss something small, but the heart-stopping feeling of those words never go away.
But I want to chat about the times when it actually is about something serious. Whether one of you are unhappy about something or in disagreement with one another. I mean, let’s face it, it’s virtually inevitable that even the best relationships will involve some degree of conflict, at least some of the time. When that happens, not only is it stressful, but if it’s not handled well, it can sow the seeds for a relationship’s eventual end.
That’s why we need to remember in these moments that the other person is an individual just as much as you are and they are entitled to have an opinion and to feel strongly about something that you might not feel the same about.
So here’s a few tips in handling a serious conversation and respecting the other individual as you would like to be respected.
You know the saying that whenever you say “but” you nullify whatever you said before it. It’s never this black and white, but it comes down to the principal. If your partner says “I don’t like it when you roll your eyes.” and you say “I know you don’t like it, but I’m in the habit of doing it.” then you immediately disgard their feelings and justify your standpoint. All to often a sentence containing “but” is spoken by someone that didn’t actually listen to what was said to them, but instead focussed on how they were going to respond. Respect your partners feelings and find better ways to respond. Think of what they said, place yourself in their shoes and see if you can at least meet them half way. So you could respond saying: “I respect that it bothers you so I will try to stop, I just need you to give me time to get rid of the habit.”
Avoiding it won’t help
I’ll be honest, I’m a culprit here. When I’m unhappy about something I’ll think about it and feel like it’s just not worth it to talk about it. I’ll rather wait it out and see if I feel better later. This is the worst thing to do, mostly because you are being selfish. Because inevitably you will be more distant wth your partner because of your unhappiness about something and they will have no idea why. So instead of giving them an opportunity to share how they feel and to possibly clear up a misunderstanding, you are treating them differently and creating a wall between the two of you. So take the time to sit your partner down (no phones or TV or games or books) and tell them how you feel and give them equal opportunity to say how they feel in return. So girls, no more “I’m fine.”
It’s easy to fall in a downward spiral, especially if both of you have strong personalities. So try to stay optimistic during the discussion. Form sentences like: “I know this is something you feel strong about and I respect that, I just need you to hear me out as well.” Or say things like: “I love your sense of humor, I just need you to respect my boundaries.” Just focus on showing your appreciation throughout the conversation. Focus on keywords like “I’m thankful for…” “I appreciate…” “Thank you for…”. It is possible that your partner will get defensive, but it is your job to keep the conversation neutral and ensure them that it’s a safe space.
And that brings me to:
Create a safe space
The worst thing you can do is to start the conversation hostile. Reassure your partner that you just need to share how you feel ,whether you come to a resolution or not, and in return you would like it if he/she would share how they feel as well, because their opinion matters just as much to you as sharing your opinion does. Constantly reassure them during the conversation that you care for them and you know they care for you too. Never criticize your partner’s character, do not swear and do not say thing like “You do” or “You don’t” because the last thing anyone wants to hear is how someone makes a decision for them, it’s unfair and will create a hostile space.
It is entirely plausible that by setting the stage for your conversation by means of the above, you’ll be able to resolve the dispute in a way that strengthens your bond for whatever else will come your way.
Successful conflict resolution is very similar to the ways we can best handle stresses we feel in other areas of life by using planned, problem-focused coping mechanisms. The bottom line is that we need to work our way through conflict in a rational, respectful, and optimistic manner.
The good news about this method is (don’t worry, there’s no “but” coming) you and your partner can and will learn to work out your differences, allowing you to achieve personal and mutual fulfillment for years to come.