“Communication is key”—this adage gets thrown around a lot. But if it was as easy as how often we annoyingly get reminded of it, the world would’ve been a better place by now.
Communication itself is a complex process that doesn’t always end up as ideally as we intend it to be because—news flash—a relationship is made up of two different people from two entirely different backgrounds. That alone already presents a complicated set of factors that will most likely lead to miscommunication or an argument that could spiral out of control.
How do you really talk about relationship problems with your partner? Better yet, how do you fix them? People usually dread confrontation and conflict so much that they choose to brush the bad feelings off, hoping they would just go away. But that’s not how it works. The pain only grows and grows the more it gets ignored, and sooner or later, it starts to rear its ugly head at the most inopportune time of your lives and becomes too much for both of you to handle.
Here are tips that we hope won’t undermine the struggle you’re going through together.
What’s the Best Way to Talk About Relationship Problems with Your Partner?
Assess your feelings.
You know you’re upset, but what exactly are you upset about? Many psychologists consider anger a reaction to other emotions lying beneath. Take time to clearly define what bothers you the most. Figure out how you feel and why. Anger is a common reaction, but try and go one step further and ask yourself what it is that worries you or hurts your feelings.
Plan the right time to talk.
Not when your partner just walked in the door after work, not 15 minutes before they have to catch the bus, not after a Friday date night, not minutes before you have to pick your son up from soccer but a time when you both are likely calm, cooperative, and capable of logic.
Talk and listen.
Use “I” statements. Talk about you and your feelings, not what you think your partner intended for you to feel or what you think they intend to do. Start by talking about your view of the problem, your worry, and what exactly hurt you (you’ve figured this out in the first step). Instead of saying “You never say anything positive” or “You always seem angry,” say “I know I seemed upset about the new fishing equipment, but I realized that what was really bothering me was . . .” or “I feel like I’m always walking on eggshells when I’m around you.” Say “I was counting on your help. You forgot about it, and I feel like I don’t matter,” not “What’s wrong with you? Why can’t you remember one little thing?” Talking about yourself helps keep your partner from feeling attacked or blamed and getting defensive and angry in return.
Acknowledge each other’s feelings.
If you were hurt, they may also be hurt. Give them the right to air out their side of the issue after you talk. The goal is to hear each other out. Don’t worry about over-talking if the talking is sincere and productive. Make sure you understand exactly what the other is saying.
You are allies, not enemies.
See each other as on the same team, working together for the relationship. Help each other resolve the problem. The solution you’ll later come up with must be for the relationship, not for you and not for them alone. Always remember that you’re together because you love each other. Are you both talking because you want to solve the problem, or are you talking because you want to destroy them? Do you want to solve the problem, or do you want to just strike back? There’s actually nothing wrong with saying something is bothering you. But the key to fixing your relationship is to talk about what you need—not your partner’s faults.
If the emotions are getting too high, take a break.
When we speak out of anger, we’re headed for trouble. If the conversation is beginning to feel like a power struggle with one of you needing to win or get the last word, it’s important to stop before the situation gets out of hand. Be clear it is a time-out and that you want to talk again. Don’t just say “I don’t want to talk about this anymore” and walk out of the room. This kind of cutoff will only make the other more anxious and angry and escalate the process. When you are both calm, try again. If the conversation quickly heats up again, stop and take another break until both of you are absolutely calm.
If you both finally understand what you both are feeling, it’s time to agree on a plan of action. Make it as specific as possible, and try to accommodate each of your worries and preferences. The willingness to work together is more important than an ultimate solution. If at any point in the planning, you feel like your partner is passively agreeing, keep them in check. Ask them, “Are you really okay with this? I can’t tell how you’re feeling.” Don’t march ahead until you know the other is onboard.
As difficult as it is to do, remember that you’re arguing with someone you love, someone who matters to you. We hope we helped.