Why You Need to Have that Difficult Conversation With Your Partner
Are you seeing signs that unresolved issues are hurting your relationship? You want to connect better with your partner. But you’re tied up in knots about telling him you’re upset. When you don’t know how to have a difficult conversation about a relationship problem, you’re left:
- Feeling shut down when he touches you, because you feel angry, put-off, resentful, rather than affectionate
- Fearing a bad outcome if you bring up your trouble, such as a full-blown fight
- Feeling unheard when you do try to discuss why you’re angry
- Thinking you don’t have enough influence in your relationship, which can lead to frustration
Love needs rebuilding, attention and care. Here’s how to tend to anger in a love-safe way.
First, Deal With Your Fear
Why are you holding back? Maybe you’re afraid of speaking your mind and doing it wrong. You worry, “What if he thinks I’m upset over nothing? What if things blow up and we have a big fight? What if he just shuts down? What if he gets really angry and defensive?”
First, think about why you’re afraid to speak up. It takes courage to handle your own deeper feelings. You may be afraid of his reaction.
It’s not wrong to feel afraid to bring up relationship problems. Almost nothing is more stressful than fighting with the person you love and depend on emotionally. You have a basic need to feel safe, solid, secure together. You can be imperfect and handle this successfully.
Know that a difficult conversation does not have to ruin things between you. You don’t have to get it perfect for you and your partner to set things right. What you need is to work up some repair skills. The good thing is, repair skills are learnable!
Accept That You Need to Speak Up
If you value your relationship, you need to speak up. A relationship isn’t so solid and secure if you can’t speak your truth about how you feel, right? So, what do you say when your loved one upsets you?
We now have some research-backed insights about how love works. Love lab studies show that the secret of successful love isn’t whether couples avoid hurting each other. It’s how well they handle and repair their mistakes.
We are only human. Every couple will at some point run into something unhealthy in their relationship. They might:
- Blame each other instead of look at their problem together
- Criticize or say something hurtful
- Get defensive instead of receptive
- Feel contempt, or assume the worst about their partner
A misstep by itself doesn’t mean your relationship is doomed. One big difference between couples who stay together, and those who split, is the ability to repair the damage of injuries to their relationship.
Relationship researcher Dr. John Gottman studied 3,000 couples to learn the traits of successful repairs.
How Successful Couples Talk About Relationship Problems
What Gottman found by analyzing repairs that made things better:
1) A partner is willing to take responsibility for what is wrong, and make a repair attempt. Some repair phrases Gottman noticed include:
- You know, I don’t think either of us is really listening to each other right now. Maybe we should start over.”
- “I need a break. Can we talk about this in 20 minutes?”
- “I’m sorry, I really wish I hadn’t said that.”
2) The receiving partner is able to hear the attempt to make things better, no matter how clear or clumsy it is.
3) The relationship itself is a friendly place. A repair attempt is far more likely to succeed if the atmosphere between the partners is positive at the time.
Friendship Is the Secret Sauce
The quality of your friendship is perhaps the most valuable trait in keeping your marriage or relationship strong.
To build a better base of friendship, Gottman’s research helps again here. The first 3 of his 7 principles for making marriage work are great friendship builders:
1) Keep aware and curious about what’s going on in your partner’s inner world.
2) Nurture respect. Appreciate and build on a positive view of each other.
3) Turn toward each other instead of away in good times and bad.
If you’re afraid to speak up, know that there may be a silver lining to taking the risk. Learning to repair conflict helps your love grow even stronger and better.
The way you repair your relationship has a huge impact on how close you feel over time. This is why learning to let your loved one know that you’re upset about something can help you build a stronger relationship.
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Contact Mount Vernon Therapy, for confidential, caring couples therapy, individual therapy and marriage counseling. 703-768-6240
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