It’s no secret that relationships can be challenging, but too often these struggles begin at the level of communication between you and your partner. It’s easy to get caught up in whatever issue is causing tension and lose sight of what’s truly important – how the two of you are treating each other. A shift in the way you speak with your partner, however, can help to maintain a space of trust even in difficult moments. Below are some simple tips that when used can immediately imbue a negative interaction with a sense of love and care.
- Instead of saying “You can’t come, I need to do this alone.” say “I wish you could hear this as me saying ‘yes’ to myself – not ‘no’ to you.”
You and your partner have been arguing recently because you’ve begun taking pottery classes without them. For you, these classes check off a major bucket list item to pursue pottery (yeah, we all saw Ghost) and carves out some much needed time for self reflection in the midst of your busy work and home life. Your partner however, is feeling neglected because the classes cut into the already limited alone time the two of you have. How should you deal?
Rather than framing your response in the negative and creating further separation between you two, ask your partner to recognize the importance of this time and activity to you. Saying “I wish you could hear this as me saying ‘yes’ to myself – not ‘no’ to you” let’s them know it’s not about you growing away from them, but instead this is about growing as an individual so you can grow as a couple.
- Instead of disengaging say “I know you want to repair this, but right now I just need to be in my own space. Please – try to not to take this personally. I love you”
You and your partner have been engaging in a painful exchange for hours, days, maybe even longer. Now, however, they are gung ho about fixing the unpleasantness as soon as possible. The problem is you’re just not ready – you’re tired, you’re emotionally spent, and truthfully you’re still too hurt to try to productively work out the issue. Instead of disengaging entirely from the conversation, let your partner know you recognize and appreciate their efforts to repair what’s broken while also letting them know that you’re going to need some time and space before delving into working it out. By doing this, you give yourself the distance you need without shutting down the healing process forever.
- Instead of diving into the healing process, first ask your partner “Are you in the space to talk?”
On the flip side of the last scenario, if you and your partner have been in a fight but you feel ready to start making amends, check in with them first and ask, “Are you in the space to talk?”. This simple question immediately lets them know your first concern is their comfort and will also ensure that when the conversation does begin you’re both in the headspace to be there.
Note, this doesn’t have to be reserved for times of argument – anytime there’s something you’re working through try starting with, “There’s something I’ve been wanting to talk to you about? Are you in the space to talk?”
- Instead of saying “I’m sorry you felt that way” say, “I know what I said was hurtful. I truly didn’t mean it and would do anything to take it back.”
We’ve all said hurtful things to the people we love before – like last week when you took your frustration with your boss out on your partner and said something that probably shouldn’t be repeated. Knowing how to apologize in a way that makes that person feel heard and loved is unfortunately a lot less common. One’s impulse might be to say something like “I’m sorry you felt that way”. While you are saying “I’m sorry” you’re not actually apologizing for your actions, just they’re reaction, which can end up invalidating their emotional response. Instead, this way begins by acknowledging your mistake and does so in a way that validates your partner.
- Instead of saying “I’m not in the mood” try “I’m not in the space to be sexual right now. Still I love you and I don’t want to make more of it than it really is.”
You had an incredibly long day at work, followed by an even longer conversation with your mother about her gastroenterologist appointment and when you finally get into bed you’re excited to finally start that book on mindful meditation your sister got you – but you’re partner is in a very different mood. Instead of just dismissing their advances, which could likely make them feel inadequate or unattractive, make it clear that it’s really just about where you’re at and it’s not a reflection on them.
- Instead of taking part in a combative gridlock with your partner, say “Talk to me like I’m someone you love.”
It’s easy to continue a cycle of anger, meanness, and disrespect in moments of conflict. What’s not so easy to remember in these times is those loving exchanges you’ve had. However, this simple phrase, “Talk to me like I’m someone you love”, is powerful enough to remind both you and your partner of the love you share while also demanding respect and care. And ultimately, isn’t the issue at the heart of most conflicts that one or both people isn’t feeling loved and appreciated?
These powerful approaches were all pulled from psychotherapist and couples therapist Nancy Dreyfus’s guide, Talk to Me Like I’m Someone You Love: Relationship Repair in a Flash; available from these and many other retailers: