In any kind of a relationship (i.e friendship, family, colleagues, romantic) there will come a time in which things will bother you. If you don’t address the issue, overly-compromise or constantly avoid it, then the problem will grow and fester. The built up will intensify the accompanying emotions and at some point everything will blow up and out. It is important to discuss the issues before they become a heated argument or before they poison and end your relationships. You need to deal with it in a constructive manner.
When you decide that it is time to address an issue, it is best to plan when and how you wish to approach it. Planning ahead gives you time to think what you want to say and how you wish to formulate your thoughts. Especially when the topic is very important to you, you should express your wishes to discuss it with the other person. By planning together a time to sit-down and talk, no side will feel like s/he is being caught-off guard, ambushed or that an important discussion is just an afterthought. Choose a time to meet and a place that is convenient for both of you. It has to be a neutral, quiet room and with few destructions. If the problem is with a romantic partner, do not choose your bedroom. The bedroom should remain a peaceful and safe place.
Before the meeting you should identify your goal. If your goal is not the improvement of the relationship and your communications but to argue, fight and prove the other one wrong, then you will be missing the whole point of the meeting. Quite frankly that will be the end result anyway; it is only a matter of time. But, if you wish to improve and better your relationship and the way that you communicate with each other, then the meeting is the right way of doing it. Think of it more as a debate rather than an argument. An argument has a winner and a looser, where as you both wish to improve your relationships, thus both of you get to be winners. Both parties should get the opportunity to express their thoughts, concerns, wishes and emotions in an equal and fair manner. Collaborate together to find solutions that will satisfy both your needs and goals. It will be handy to keep reminding yourself about that goal.
When formulating a sentence, reframe from starting it with ‘you’, i.e. you never listen to me… The ‘you’ puts the other person immediately on the offensive. It can lead to denial of the problem/situation, refusal to listen and even anger that the issue was raised in the first place. If the other person feels like he is being blamed then the end result will be a total shutdown and deafness to what you are saying. It is better to start a sentence with I feel , I think, I need…e.g. I feel frustrated when you watch TV while I am talking to you…. You should also combine your sentence with detailed examples, how it made you feel and why that specific detail bothered you. In this manner your points will be better understood and will not remain abstract nor vague. Try to avoid using extremes such as never, always, all the time etc. The natural tendency will be to unload anything and everything that went wrong in the past or that you never said and wanted to say. You cannot solve all your relationship problems in one sitting. It is more productive to stick to one topic and successfully deal/resolve it than to make a huge ‘guilty list’ that will not take you anywhere.
You should also make a point to listen without interrupting or getting defensive. Mind your non-verbal communication, if you are not saying anything yet rolling your eyes, the message still comes across….The goal of the meeting is to put thoughts and feeling on the table and find solutions not to start a one-sided firing squad, thus stay calm, listen carefully and try to see the other’s points of view as well. Try to understand the other person’s emotions and perspectives. Show the other person that you are really listening and understanding what is being said by reflecting and paraphrasing e.g. “I understand that you felt angry when…. Avoid reacting in a judgmental, sarcastic or insulting manner. The acknowledgement will raise the openness and willingness to continue to discuss and solve the issue at hand. You are each entitled to your own feelings and thoughts.
Losing your calmness increases the likelihood that you will say and do things, which will make the situation worse. Breathe slowly and deeply, take a pause before you speak and if that does not help take a small break and wash your face in the bathroom. Collect your thoughts before you go out again. If you lost you calmness and the discussion has become a fight make sure that you don’t fight dirty. Don’t take any “below the belt“ shots (i.e. name-calling, foul language, sarcasm or just plain personal attacks).It is unacceptable and disrespectful. Hurting someone feelings and using your knowledge of their sensitive ‘spots’ against them is just a verbal weapon that cannot be taken back nor erased. As a result, the mutual trust will disappear and that is a core component that is necessary for a healthy and long term relationship. The discussion should focus on the situation and behavior not on the other person’s personality and identity. Character assassination will not help get you want you want, just the opposite. Avoid saying hurtful statements or threats that you don’t mean just because you are angry as that will just lead to more anger, resentment and will pull you more apart.
Instead of becoming each other enemies, try to become a better team. By working together, sharing and supporting each other you will be more successful than working against each other and destroying all that is already built. Choose your battles, cooperate, brain storm solutions, compromise and apologize, forgive and forget when needed. Having any kind of relationship takes time and work; it might not be easy but it is a choice that one makes. Conflict is unavoidable as we are all individuals with our own opinions, values, emotions, thoughts, priorities, beliefs and behavioral patterns. Interaction with others will thus ultimately at some point raise conflict and arguments as we are bound to disagree. It is not the conflict itself that can cause relationships problems, it is how we handle it that will determine whether the relationship will be a source of unity and peace, anger, resentment and frustrations or will be dissolved.