There are strategies for making even the most difficult conflicts more manageable and turning those tough conversations into productive and fulfilling ones. It's easy to leave these conversations more frustrated than you were going into them, and disappointed, too.
Here are 10 Commandments of Communicating through Conflict:
1. Get "you" outta there.
What happens when you begin a sentence with you? “You always do that,” “You make me mad,” “You don’t hear me.” It assigns fault to the other person. They naturally feel attacked and will be more likely to respond defensively, causing the conversation to go downhill fast.
If we change our tendency to use “you” when starting a conversation to “I,” it allows our partners to hear what we are saying without becoming defensive and gives us an opportunity to state what we feel and think about the situation. “I feel disappointed that you didn’t text when you said you would.” “I am frustrated when I try to talk to you and you're on the phone.”
2. Shut up.
Listen, listen, listen. Often, in conversations with our partners, we're only quiet long enough to think up our next point to argue. Stop! Our partner needs to believe that we hear them just as we need to believe our partners hear us. This is respect, and respect is fundamental to emotional intimacy.
3. Choose your playing field.
When it comes to having tough conversations with your partner, some times and places are going to be better than others. The dinner party with their colleagues or the morning your partner is running late—not ideal moments to bring up an issue. Choosing a specific time that works for both you and your partner, as well as a place that is comfortable for both is choosing to be respectful of your partner and the relationship. When both can be focused on the issue, it can be worked through much more easily.
4. Remember that this game has two first-place prizes.
If your goal is to be the winner, that means you're aiming to make someone else the loser. And how much does it suck to be the loser? The healthy goal in relationships is to work and grow together. Disagreements are inevitable. Approach them looking for a win-win solution. The goal should be to make both people feel comfortable with the solution, not to prove that you're right and someone else is wrong.
5. Check your ego at the door.
It’s not all about you. Your partner is an equal person in this relationship, with their own needs and desires. They are also affected by your behavior. Hear them and accept their perspective as valid, even if you disagree.
6. Own your sh*t.
Accept that you (and your partner) are going to make mistakes. Admit when you make them. If you're wrong, say it. Your partner will appreciate the honesty and be more inclined to forgive. Mistakes are where relationships get real. This is where change and growth happen. But it's also one of the hardest aspects because it requires us to be vulnerable. If we allow ourselves to be vulnerable, it creates an environment for our partners to also be vulnerable. And vulnerability is necessary for relationship growth and intimacy.
7. Stop apologizing, start behaving.
I’m not saying you should never apologize. I’m saying all apologies need to be followed up by a change in behavior. Take ownership of what you are apologizing for and correct your wrongdoing by following through on what you said you would do (or not do) in the future. If apologies aren’t followed by a change in behavior, they are empty, and that will eventually lead to mistrust in the relationship.
8. Give good face.
What are you doing when you talk with your partner? Are you on your phone, watching TV, multitasking? What are you doing with your face? Rolling your eyes, glaring, acting like you'd rather be somewhere else? Our nonverbal communication can be more important than the words we're saying. So much is said with just one look. Be conscious of the energy you bring to a conversation. It sets a tone for your partner to match.
9. Accept and acknowledge your feelings, whatever they are.
How hard is it to have a conversation with your partner about an issue when you aren’t sure how you feel about it? It’s confusing and often leads to misunderstandings and hurt. Get real with your feelings. Acknowledge what is going on with you and then openly communicate that to your partner. Don’t mask your hurt or fear with anger. Don’t pretend things are OK when they are not. Don’t dismiss how you feel. Getting real with our feelings allows us to get to the root of the issue faster.
10. Know your needs.
No one wants to be "needy." And no one wants to date a "needy" person. But needy people don’t usually know what they need. Figure out what you need from your partner and express it to them clearly and directly. Don’t expect your partner to be a mind-reader, and don’t play games with them. Give your partner a break and be honest about your needs. It will be the quickest way to get your needs met. Give it a go—you may be surprised at how your partner responds to you.