So your partner and you have a conflict that both of you have decided to resolve. How do you talk about it? Do you scream at each other in a verbal warfare or do you take turns speaking and listening?
Talking about conflicts with a loved one is about as fun as eating concrete. It’s hard and uncomfortable. No one makes us more vulnerable about our insecurities than our romantic partners.
How we talk about the conflict makes all the difference. Studies show that healthy and happy couples handle conflict in a drastically different way compared to unhappy couples.
Healthy couples focus on the underlying emotions. They do their best to stay away from personal criticisms that may cause their partners to emotionally shut down and become unavailable. They avoid those yelling matches of who is the worse partner.
There’s truly an art to conflict conversation. In today’s article, we are going to focus on the speaker’s role in a conflict conversation.
So, it’s your turn to speak. The floor is yours for as long as you need to share your feelings and view on a problem in the relationship. What’s on your mind? Are you insecure when John talks about his hot boss’s advances? Is it hard for you to feel like everything inside the house has to be cleaned by you, and you feel like you never get the help you need?
One of the best ways to immediately turn a conversation into a war zone is to personally attack your partner; to criticize their apparent ignorance. Their lack of ability to see how horrible their decisions are. How could they ever be so stupid?
Attacking your partner’s choices or decisions will only make them put up a barricade, blocking you out from the love needed to resolve the conflict.
Unhappy couples tend to speak to each other in ways that cause “emotional flooding.” They start off the conversation blaming, causing the other person to become a “stonewall.”1 They emotionally shut down so they are unable to feel the hurt their partner is bombing their delicate heart with.
So what do healthy and happy couples do? How do they prevent flooding from happening in conflict conversation, and how can we apply that?
The first part starts with the speaker’s ability to start the conversation. There is a strong relationship between conversations that start negative and end negative. And by starting negative, I mean calling someone an asshole.
The speaker’s role is focused on getting their underlying needs and emotions understood in the conflict before trying to persuade the listener. The question they are asking the listener is can you understand why I feel the way I do? Can you empathize with my pain?
How you talk to your partner (the listener) will make all the difference in feeling this way.
The Best Tip To Getting Heard
Stick to “I” statements. I know this is cliche, but that’s because it works.
Let’s play a game.
Imagine your partner sitting in front of you yelling, “YOU!” Really imagine it. Close your eyes and think about the last time you were yelled at. Imagine what really makes your partner angry.
Even though you’re not in a fight right now, you can still feel attacked. Your heart rate jumps and a whole landslide of negative physical and mental reactions cover your thoughts in mud, rocks, and trees. It’s making it harder to uncover the real issue we want to address, isn’t it?
The “you” statements point the finger gun at the partner’s motives, behavior, or personality. “You are so selfish. I couldn’t believe it. You choose playing ultimate frisbee with your friends over helping me when my car was broken down on the side of the road,” isn’t a statement. It’s an accusation. An attack.
It will cause your partner to throw the frisbee in your face and become defensive.
“Why did you do that?”
“Why did you do this?”
“What is wrong with you?” This is my favorite. Do you really expect your partner to say, “What a fantastic question! Hold on, let me find out for you.”
Instead of accusing, use an “I” statement that reflects your own feelings and subjective experiences. Avoid criticizing your partner, because fights are never about our partners. They are about our feelings and expectations.
If you want to change your partner’s behavior towards you, don’t start by saying, “You always tease me when I have a lazy day and become a couch potato. You know I can’t stand when you tease me.”
Instead, try something like this: “I feel inadequate when you tease me about my lazy days. Can you please praise me when I go to the gym or do something active rather than tease me when I have a lazy day? Those words of encouragement make it easier for me to stick to my fitness habit.”
Focusing on your underlying emotions and not attacking your partner will do more than keep a conversation calm. It will help you get your neglected needs met by your partner, if they choose. Speaking in a way that allows your partner to empathize with your hurt is a far better method than attacking your partner’s vulnerable spots to feel better about your hurt.
Don’t start a war with the one you love and try to take what you need from them. Rather, sign a lover’s peace treaty and work with each other to get both of your needs met. Sticking with “I” statements is the lover’s flag in the battleground of hurt and neglect.
- Stonewalling happens when the listener in the conversations withdraws from the conversation. They shut down and emotionally close themselves off from the speaker because they feel overwhelmed or physiologically flooded. The belief behind the stonewalling action is that by disconnecting from their overwhelming emotions and the cause of it (you) they can survive the conversation. Trying to talk to someone who is in this state is fucking pointless. Stop. Take a 20 minute break. Build up some intimacy so they feel connected to you again, and then see if you can discuss the conversation without overwhelming them. If you can’t, it’s likely the conflict won’t get resolved. ↩