One of the biggest mistakes people make in relationships is avoiding difficult conversations. They avoid them because they fear a difference of opinion will lead to conflict—which they believe is a threat to the future of their relationship.
But actually, the opposite is true. NOT having the difficult conversations, NOT having conflict is what will silently erode the foundation of a relationship and threaten its future.
It is unrealistic to expect that two people will have the same wants, needs, desires, opinions and experiences, yet this is the underlying belief driving conflict avoidant behavior. To avoid conflict, partners end up lying to each other just to keep the peace. It sounds dramatic, but it happens all the time in the subtlest of ways.
Saying “I’m fine,” when you are in fact, bothered or upset.
Agreeing to a plan just to make your partner happy when you really don’t want to do it.
Giving in or shutting down during a discussion so it won’t escalate.
Keeping your grievances to yourself instead of making requests of your mate.
The reason these lies are so damaging is because you end up misrepresenting yourself to your partner and then you become resentful towards him, when he has no idea what is happening. You hold him accountable for your choice to withhold the whole truth—your truth, and then get upset that he doesn’t read your mind or know you aren’t happy.
Resentment is the silent killer of relationships. It kills everything: desire, trust, romance, fun…
And, over time, the gap in communication creates a large rift between partners; a vast sea of misunderstanding and true lack of really knowing each other. This is how partners slowly grow apart and end up not feeling emotionally connected to one another.
Conflict doesn’t have to be ugly and scary. Keep in mind that HOW you say things is often more important than WHAT you say.
Here are 7 steps for having that big talk:
- Feel your anxiety around the upcoming discussion. Feel that fear, take a few deep breaths and summon your courage. (You CAN do this!)
- Ask your mate for his/her attention to discuss something that is on your mind. If now is not a good time, set a time that works for both of you.
- Approach your mate with a ‘soft start-up’; which is a gentle initiation focused on being productive. Take responsibility for yourself and your feelings. Blaming causes defensiveness. Tell your partner what you need him/her to do (just listen, problem-solve)
- Remember the goal is for both of you to be heard, not to persuade your mate to agree with you. Expect that you won’t agree and ‘create space’ for both of you. There is room in every relationship for both partners.
- Tell your whole truth—and tolerate your partner’s truth by being inquisitive and curious. This is the dialogue part—“all the cards go out on the table;” meaning each of you expresses your own position. If you see eye-to-eye, great! If you don’t, then it’s time for a discussion— which involves compromise and negotiation—“actually playing the card game.”
- Create an agreement. This is where both partners agree to the terms agreed upon during the discussion for a trial period. Remember; do not agree to something you have no intention of honoring.
- Revisit: after a period of time, check in with each other about the agreement to make sure it still works for both of you. If it does, great! If not, renegotiate with the information gathered during the trial period.