It’s a rare couple who hasn’t had at least one serious altercation in the course of their relationship. But when battles royale become the norm rather than the exception, it’s time to do something about it.
Difficult conversations take their toll on the psychological and physical health of the persons involved. The resultant stress leads to a chronic state of anxiety or depression. It can also affect the body’s immune system, increasing the risk for high blood pressure, allergies, sleep disturbance, overproduction of gastric acids and other diseases.
So how do you handle thorny issues that are likely to develop into heated arguments? It’s not easy. Unfortunately, human beings are like most animals. They respond to potential danger by defending themselves. But you can learn how to handle difficult conversations with your partner so that you reach a resolution that is equally acceptable and will enhance your relationship instead of destroying it.
First, you have to understand that there are three components which make a conversation difficult:
- Conflicting opinions
You think your partner is too cozy with a workmate of the opposite sex. Your partner says it’s just a normal friendship.
- Strong emotions
You get insanely jealous and your partner gets angry because he thinks you are being unreasonable.
- High stakes
The impact of the issue is significant on the quality of your relationship. You can both talk about the issue and resolve it or your union can deteriorate.
Yet, these elements alone do not break up a marriage. Studies have shown that it’s the manner of arguing that causes splits. The insults and criticisms, the suffering in silence and the mutual contempt that follows lead to the eventual separation.
Here are the tools you can learn for handling difficult conversations and maybe saving your marriage.
1. Focus on what you hope to get out of the conversation.
In the example above, you want to clear up an issue that’s been bothering you. When talking about it:
Don’t put the blame on your partner. If your partner reacts with anger to your observation about his closeness with an officemate, examine your own approach to the matter. Was there finger pointing and was your tone accusatory?
Listen to his side of the story. Open your mind to what he is saying; then state your own views without disrespecting his.
Find a middle ground. It doesn’t have to be a black or white thing, a do or don’t choice. The goal is not for one person to win but to find a resolution satisfying to both of you.
2. Learn to recognize when the conversation is approaching the difficult level.
Talks don’t start out as arguments immediately. It’s the manner of speaking that can turn a civilized dialogue into name-calling and abusive language. When these happen, it’s time to step back before the environment becomes hopelessly hostile.
3. Step back, create a safe environment, go back in.
When either partner feels unsafe in a conversation, emotions step in. Fear, anger and hurt cloud objectivity and it is almost impossible to reach a level where both of you can talk in a non-offensive manner.
Violence and silence are signs that the feeling of safety is absent in a dialogue. A partner becomes silent to avoid further confrontation and a temporary artificial peace is achieved. Violence is forcing the spouse to accept the other’s point of view and is achieved through controlling (cutting in the conversation,) tagging the other into a category and attacking by threats and derogatory remarks.
Regain the safe atmosphere before resuming the talk. This entails apologizing if or when it is appropriate and explaining that your actions weren’t meant to hurt or offend.
4. Create a mutual goal.
It’s hard to do when you are heading in opposite directions. But it can be done. If you can’t agree on which purpose to adopt, make a new one that is mutually acceptable.