Any Conversation Can Be Had Constructively

Posted on June 1, 2020


Do you have some hot button topics that are sure to result in a fight?  How about some things that really bother you but you don’t want to say anything because you fear it will just blow up?  You find yourself sucking it up because you don’t like confrontation?

I don’t like conflict or confrontation either, but being able to handle it constructively is a really useful skill.

Before we get into that, sometimes it is good just to let the little stuff go.  I’m not talking about gritting your teeth letting things go.  I’m talking about really letting things go.  The reason to let the little things go is not to avoid confrontation, but because everyone is imperfect and doing the best they can.  Part of loving the people in your life is loving them in all of their wonderful imperfection.  Another reason to let the little things go is that you need five positives for every negative for relationship health.  If you want a healthy relationship, you may want to save those chits for the things that really matter to you.

If you find yourself continually irritated by the people around you, you might need to take a look at yourself.  Depression sometimes presents as irritability rather than depressed mood (particularly in men).

Now that we got that out of the way, let’s talk about how to have those difficult conversations constructively.

Tone.  We want to separate the issue from the people.  That is to say, you want to talk about the issue at hand and not about what is wrong with the other person.  Particularly in close relationships, when you address an issue, you want to sound like you are talking to someone you care about.  Particularly rein in the contempt and annoyance from your voice.

Soft startup.  One of the things that the research has found that separates the masters of relationship from the disasters is that the masters are able to have a soft start up when talking about hot topics.  Approach your partner like someone you love.

Avoid criticism.  This isn’t about what is wrong with your partner.  It is about your experience when whatever it is happens/happened.

Describe your reality.  1) Something was said or something happened.  2) There was something that meant for you, a way you made sense of it.  3) You had some feelings about that.

Express the Need.  There is something you want to have be different.  What is it that you need to be different?  How will that be for you?

Acknowledge your partner’s point.  As this moves into a conversation, you will want to acknowledge your partner’s point before offering your rebuttal.  Your partner will be better able to hear you if his/her point has been acknowledged.

You can acknowledge your partner’s distress without abandoning the issue.  Since this is a hot button topic that we are talking about, it could be that your partner has an emotional reaction to the raising of this topic.  You can empathize with your partner’s feelings without abandoning your position.

Sense of self.  The more comfortable you are in your own skin, the easier it is to 1) handle your partner’s distress; 2) admit when you were wrong; 3) have clear boundaries; 4) empathize.  If your sense of self is rather fragile, it is excruciating to have ever been in the wrong.  Similarly, it is difficult to offer your partner empathy when any conflict is kicking up your level of distress.

Homeostasis.  Relationships are systems.  Systems try to maintain homeostasis.  That is to say that they are resistant to change.  The first time you try to do something differently, it is a shock to the system.  The system will try to push you back into the old pattern.  It takes perseverance to make real relationship change.


Now, won’t it be great to have no more landmines in the relationship, no more elephants in the room.  Try it out.  Good luck.