Best Tips for Having Calm Discussions with Your Partner

conflict resolution; empathy in relationships; calm discussions

Getting along better with your partner

So would you like to feel more intimacy and satisfaction in your relationship? Do you far too often feel not appreciated or not listened to, or always blamed or reacted to for all the problems that there are in your relationship, or for every little thing that goes wrong?

Are you the only one who seems to be doing all the hard work, whether it’s taking care of the household and everything that needs to happen in order to support your lives, or being the only one who thinks about and pays attention to the relationship and raises the issues that need to be addressed? You find your complaints being ignored and not taken seriously, and you realize you’re just getting madder?

…You long for a calm discussion that doesn’t end in one or the other or both of you feeling bad…and mad…And yet it seems every time you talk about these sort of things, this is how it all ends up.

…Lots of intense upset feelings, where you’re mad or frustrated, and with no sense of resolution to be found.

Does it feel like you can’t seem to have a discussion with your partner without getting into an argument? Do you not feel connected to your partner or not on the same page? Do you feel like you’ve drifted apart? Or you don’t even know this person that you’ve been together with for years?

And sometimes you don’t even really like him or her anymore anyways?

Do you wish you could have some peace in your relationship? Do all of your disagreements turn into intense conflict or stony silence and withdrawal? Do you feel an ongoing tension and stress about your relationship? Like you can’t even talk to each other anymore?

You are not alone.

Disagreements in a relationship are inevitable, but conflict and suffering are not.

It is possible to have calm discussions with your partner that leave you both feeling a little more satisfied and connected. Often it’s the impact of the disagreements or constant friction or arguments that occurs in couples that leads to the most dissatisfaction in the marriage.

You can shift the direction of your conversations and discussions by taking into consideration a few of these tips. You might be surprised to see how it is possible to feel more harmony in your relationship and more connection, just by changing the way your usual discussions go.

We can get so locked into our negative way of relating as we react or try to defend ourselves from feeling hurt or wounded by our partners, that we might not realize how important our own communication is.

By having the intention to do our part to have calm discussions, we can actually impact our difficult discussions into more calm interactions.

Things to Remember:

Most people don’t want to be married to a personal clone of themselves. Resist your impulse to try to make your partner be exactly like you or to see everything the way that you do.

Connection in relationships is better for your health across the age span; better than tension and conflict.

Empathy is the best tool to develop for having calm discussions and good relationships.

Remember, your partner is a separate and complete person with different feelings, thoughts, wishes, experiences, dreams, history, expectations, desires.

When you feel threatened, all of your brain attention and energy goes toward that and tries to protect you by being defensive or attacking. Notice when you feel threatened and bring your emotional brain back online.

The way you respond when your partner tells you something that makes you uncomfortable, sets the tone about whether and how he or she will talk to you in the future… “If I get clobbered when I talk, I’m less likely to bring forward something else the next time.” If we criticize or jump on and attack our partners, we encourage dishonesty, aggressiveness, and resentment from them.

Because you have differences in your relationship does not mean your relationship is in trouble or is not right for you. Don’t try to make your partner be just like you, and especially do not resent him/her if they are not just like you. Learn to appreciate your differences.

It’s important to manage your own anxiety when you are triggered, so you don’t trigger your partner back, and create a powerful downward cycle. When you are not reacting from that place of being triggered, you have better access to your best self.

Most important skill to develop in having calm conversations is EMPATHY, EMPATHY, EMPATHY, which can be developed by practicing reflective listening.

It is most helpful to try to understand the problem and the associated feelings before trying to find solutions. Don’t try to fix things too fast. It’s more useful to understand your partner’s experience and convey that understanding to them, even if you don’t agree.

There are lots of little things you can do within yourself to improve a relationship: practice healthy self-care; dispute negative thoughts that repeat in your mind; practice mindfulness; warm your hands to relax your body; after you’ve been triggered, blink slowly to let your body know that you are safe; get good sleep; have self compassion; practice breathing exercises; practice body scans; treat yourself like you would your cat or friend or child; do brain-building activities.

Things to Try:

  • Get your partner’s readiness to talk
  • Focus on one issue only at a time
  • Use “I” statements
  • Be curious instead of furious
  • Ask beautiful questions. Have curiosity. Ask questions that are about feeling and meaning. (How? What if? Why is that important to you? What’s that like for you? I noticed that you seem to… What’s up about that?)
  • Respond rather than react
  • Have the intention to be connected, look for the good, not find fault
  • Identify what triggers you and resist your own impulses to react from that trigger point. Have some forward focus and think about how you would like to respond to those same old triggers. Access a calm and curious position for yourself. (sample practice: Think of an image of something where you feel calm, curious, and open, and bring that to mind repeatedly, when you are experiencing the image of the tenseness you feel when you are triggered. You can blink your eyes slowly to help your brain feel that your body is safe and take some deep breaths and open your arms wide to release the tension that you feel around the trigger image. Let yourself bring to mind again the calm and curious image of yourself. Notice how that changes the level of tension that you feel on guard about, the next time your partner says that thing that drives you nuts. Use this to help calm your own reactions.)
  • Set down your devices. Look each other in the eye. Or sit back to back or side by side so you’re not overstimulated with the visual cues that might make you defensive.
  • Avoid blaming.
  • Listen calmly.
  • Try not to defend yourself. Realize that this is not your problem and that you are listening to your partner to have better understanding of how it is for them. You don’t have to fix anything or change anything. Try not to personalize what’s being said.
  • Go from angry demands to vulnerable requests.

In short,

Set the tone. Have an intention to have a calm conversation. Let what you say and how you say it be informed by that. 

Have self-awareness. Know yourself and what tends to trigger you. Pay attention to your own feelings. Have self-compassion.

Manage your anxiety when you are triggered. Find ways to calm yourself in the moment so you don’t fire off or react in some way that’s hurtful to your partner and that will only make him or her be more reactive to you as well.

Try not to trigger your partner with your reactions. Instead, bring curiosity and openness to your conversations. 

Develop empathy. Listen and ask good questions. Practice reflective listening.

Offer genuine appreciation for effort your partner makes or time or vulnerability that is shown.

I’d love to hear from you. What do you notice contributes to challenging discussions in your relationships? What makes for more peaceful discussions?

If you or someone you love is having a hard time getting to the calm discussions in your family, please call me for a couples therapy appointment.

For more ideas on how to bring more calm and less worry into your life, click here for a free email course on Mindfulness.

Listening with Heart
Cindi Rivera, MFT
Marriage, Family Therapist
[email protected]
(510) 482-4445

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