“We need to talk” Effective communication with your Partner

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It’s pretty easy to chat with your love when things are going well, but what about when you have a problem that needs to be sorted out?  

Have you ever found yourself a bit of a mess, unable to calmly explain yourself because you’d bottled up your feelings to bursting point?  You probably weren’t looking to start a fight, but before you knew it, things started to spiral…

It’s your basic relationship nightmare.  I know. I’ve been there. Before I learned how to communicate I’d just fly off the handle once my bottling up had reached its limit.

But all is not lost!

Once I learned some simple strategies, I started owning my behaviour in our discussions and showing my husband how much I hated fighting.  Then, he too, began to contribute in a respectful and considered way.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m no saint.  Occasionally, I revert to old behaviours and the crazy lady rears her ugly head, but, for the most part our ‘big talks’ are pretty successful and we manage to achieve a resolution, or at least a plan to achieve resolution.  

Here’s what has been working for us:

1. Don’t sweat the small stuff

I get annoyed when my husband leaves the milk on the bench after making a cuppa  (how hard is it to just open the fridge door and put it away?!). He’s always frustrated by my failure to zip up the dog biscuit bag after I’ve fed the pooch.  

It’s inevitable that when you share space with someone they will do things that annoy you.  And you’re definitely going to annoy them! But if we pick on every small thing it will chip away at our connection with them, and the large concerns you have will lose their impact when you mention them.  Don’t sweat the small stuff.

2. Chill with the bottling

Address issues as soon as they present.  The longer I bottle something, the greater my emotions, the stronger the resentment, and the more magnificent the fight is when I finally blow up.  Feel it? Speak it now, or very soon.

3. Stay Focused

Identify the issue, spend time writing it out, if you need to, using words that heal, not hurt.  Try words like help me, please, connect, together, value, love, I, feel better, grow. Hurting words might include swearing, you always…., fault, name calling.

Imagine how you would feel if your partner came to you with a list of 22 of your shortcomings, wanting to rectify them all immediately.  I can tell you, I’d be overwhelmed and very defensive. Staying focused reduces overwhelm allowing both of you to concentrate on addressing the important issue.

Here’s an example of a good way of framing your feelings: “John, I hate it when I yell at you. I really hate fighting. I feel tired at the end of the day and I’m doing the dishes at 9pm by myself after it’s taken an hour to get the kids to sleep. I love you. I don’t want to yell or feel angry or frustrated. Can we work together to come up with a plan for a night time routine?”

Stick to the issue at hand and use the words you’ve written, when you speak to your significant other about it.

4. “I was hoping we could talk.  Do you have time soon?”

You’re ready.  You’ve thought it through.  You know what you need to say using healing words.  Let’s get this done, right? Wrong!!

While it’s important to address your concerns promptly with your partner, it’s even more important that you be respectful of their time and headspace.  I wouldn’t like hubby to assume that I’m ready for a serious conversation when I’ve just got home from grocery shopping after school pick-up. Asking him to identify a time to share with you shows respect, consideration, maturity and thoughtfulness.

5. Don’t Generalise

Most people don’t always do something a certain way.  Generalising your partners actions will only cause you to feel more angry and your spouse to feel more defensive. For example “You always yell at the children.” Chances are this situation happens often enough for you to be concerned about it. But does it really happen always?

6. Avoid Nagging

If you sound like a broken record about an issue, chances are your partner will switch off.  The importance of your concern will be lost completely.

Speak with your partner, allow for some transition time, work on areas of your own behaviour you know are important to them.  If you’re not experiencing a change in the situation, calmly ask for another opportunity to discuss it.

7. “I” Statements

“I felt embarrassed and humiliated when you said what you did in front of our friends,” rather than, “You made me feel like a complete idiot in front of our friends!”  

Maybe your partner meant to embarrass you, or maybe they thought they were being funny, and you received it differently.  If you focus on how you felt, and allow your partner to explain their part, there’s a greater opportunity for resolution.

8. Assume Their Best Intentions

Assume your significant other has your back, ar at least address the issue as if you do.  There’s nothing more infuriating than being accused of something that you didn’t do, especially by the person who is supposed to be in your corner.  Use “I” statements, and allow for an explanation.

9. Treat Your Partner Like You Would Like To Be Treated

This is a no brainer.  Think about how you would like to be spoken to.  Think about what you already know your partner respects and responds to.  Do more of that! You’ll have a much better chance of being heard and treated similarly.

10. Be Open

Be truly, genuinely open to hearing their side of the story.  Your partner will be able to tell if you just want to talk AT them, or if you truly want to hear what they have to say.  So many of our ‘can I have a chat’ talks have turned into much larger conversations, often leading to more being resolved than the original topic.  Be open in your heart. Be open in your mind.

Fighting is definitely one way to have your concerns heard.  It’s unlikely to have them resolved though. You have a much better chance of coming to a resolution if you establish and maintain open lines of communication.  That means being mindful of the topic and considerate of your significant other before, during, and after “the talk”.

Remember, you’re a team – in every disagreement with your partner, there’s not a winner and a loser.  You’re united in life, so you will either win together or lose together. You might as well focus your efforts on winning.

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