Have you ever wanted to bring something up to your partner but feared it would turn into a huge fight? Or maybe you have experienced so many bad fights you have given up on the possibility of bringing a concern and it going any other way than bad. It is possible to create the best possible scenario for a positive outcome when bringing up concerns with your partner.
I regularly want to bring stuff up with my husband at the worst possible times, with the worst attitude, tone etc. because I want to bring it up when it is bothering me. I feel a sense of urgency. I repeatedly fell into the trap of “It is not what you say, it’s how you say it.” I have learned over time why this was happening and how to adjust the how and when I say it.
4 Tips to Stop a Fight Before It Starts
- Timing – Consider what is happening around you when you want to bring up a concern to your partner.
Is it first thing in the morning when one or both of you are headed to work? Is it while you are apart through text or email? Is it when you or your partner just get home from work? Is it while the kids are up? It makes sense that you want to get something off your chest as soon as possible. It is really bothering you and if you just say something you might feel better. Depending on the circumstance this sense of urgency and poor timing might make a minor talk turn into a huge fight.
If you are upset and need to talk to your partner can it wait? Can you wait 24 hours until you are somewhat calmer and able to share how you feel instead of blame or criticize? Can it wait until you are both at home with little or no distractions, able to give each other your full attention? If it cannot wait ask yourself why? What makes this issue so pressing? Is it the issue or do you feel this sense of urgency anytime you are upset with your partner? What will happen if you wait to bring it up? Is there a dreaded outcome?
Timing is everything. This is highly accurate and sound advice to follow when bringing up a concern. Imagine the best possible outcome for bring up this concern. Use this positive scenario you’ve imagined as motivation to hold off until the best time to bring it up to your partner.
- Frame of Mind – Often when we are upset there are multiple contributing factors. Before talking to your partner about your concerns consider your stress level. On a scale of 1 to 10, 1 being stress free or nearly stress free, 10 being maximum stress level. What is your stress level? What are the contributing factors to your stress level?
When our stress level is high (5 plus) any new stressor added to the already long list can seem like the end of the world. It is helpful to understand that individually the concern you have with your spouse might normally be a 2 or 3 on the stress scale but because you are already at a 6 it is now an 8 or 9 therefore intensifying your feelings about the concern.
If you bring up the concern to your partner in response to an 8 or 9 level problem they may be confused or frustrated because the concern itself is really only a 3 or 4. Sorting out your stress level and each contributing factor may help you lesson the intensity of how you are feeling towards your partner and have a softer approach when bringing up your concerns.
- Understand the importance of the concern to you – If we are upset with our partner we usually communicate by saying something like, “You are always watching TV” (a judgmental, blaming statement). Think about what bothers you about your partner watching TV? Chances are it means something to you. If you could communicate what it means to you instead of remaining stuck in the frustration of how you feel as a result of the behavior you might get farther with your partner when you talk about it.
To figure out what the significance is of your partner watching TV or being on their phone, for example, means to you ask yourself the following questions: Do I feel ignored? Shutout? Unimportant? Unheard? Like my feelings do not matter? Lonely? Unappreciated? Overwhelmed? Hopeless that things will get better or easier? Worried I am not that important to them? Worried someone else is more important to them?
Maybe your significant other is watching TV while you are doing the dishes, for example. You may feel overwhelmed with all of your tasks and that your partner is blissfully oblivious to everything you do and that needs to be done. If this is the case kindly ask them to pause the TV, say it would really help you out if they could help clean up so you could then both sit down and rest together. This statement is far more likely to be heard and get you the help you are looking for and need than the passive aggressive statement. “You are always watching TV.”
- Let your partner know what they are doing right. Contribute to a relationship of mutual respect and appreciation by not just telling your partner when you are upset but also telling your partner when you appreciate them. Shoot for a 10 to 1 goal. 10 positive statements to every 1 negative statement. Good news! Your partner is likely to catch on and reciprocate your efforts.
There is a second benefit and reason to make statements of appreciation. When your partner hears your concern their first thought may be, “I thought I was doing that” or “I can never do anything right” or “I don’t know how to please you.” If these statements are running through your partner’s mind they will likely hear little or nothing you have to say no matter how you say it. So let them know what you appreciate and be specific.
Think of this as a relationship bank account. If you begin making regular deposits of appreciation, love, and respect into each other’s accounts when you have a concern there will be something to withdraw from. If on the other hand you both feel depleted neither you nor your partner will have anything to give when a concern is brought up which is what leads to thoughts like, “I can never do anything right for them, so why try.”
All couples fight. It is unrealistic to expect that you and your partner will be able to stop fighting or having conflict. As long as one human being is in a relationship with another there will be conflict from time to time. You can however keep your conflict healthy, free from hurtful comments and actions that create distance and pain. Use the above tips as a guide to keep your conflicts from harming your relationship.
Michelle Puster M.Ed. | Licensed Professional Counselor
Helping disconnected couples grow closer
Couples & Marriage Counseling Katy, TX