How to Have Difficult Conversations with Your Partner
Difficult moments are not all that uncommon in committed relationships. When we are courting each other in dating, it is hard even to fathom that these two connected and unconditionally loving individuals could possibly have a disagreement, let alone a hard time bringing up a difficult subject. But, the reality is that committed partners are two very different individuals and those differences create the conditions for potential conflict. It is for this reason I created the concept called Emotional Voltage. “What is Emotional Voltage (EI),” you might say. Well, we can borrow the laws of electricity to explain how relationships work, as well.
In Electricity, if there are two electrodes that hold different electrical charges, we can measure a voltage differential between the two. It is a simple arithmetic operation to determine the difference. That difference existing is enough to be called a “potential.” Should we have a voltage difference, a metallic path, and an electrolyte, we have all that is needed to conduct the flow of charged particles. As odd as it sounds, this concept or law of electricity lends itself very well to relationships.
In a relationship, Emotional Voltage (EI) can be measured when partners have differing opinions, or because partners are at different levels of emotional compromisation. It is critical that partners understand this basis for relational conflict before partners actually engage with one another. With this understanding, and appropriate conflict mitigation and resolution skills, partners may handle discourse, realizing relational gains in the process.
Difficult conversations need to be had between partners. No matter how understanding one is, there will always be realizations that each partner may hold uncomfortable viewpoints. The biggest error one could make is to think that only one viewpoint holds merit, discrediting and invalidating any others that arise. What we can instead do is look at other viewpoints as learning opportunities.
What I have found is that there tends to be a mask that conceals the true issue at hand. Partners, too often, will argue about the mask, and never get to the heart of the difference of opinions. Readers might be wondering what the mask is for, then. Why can’t partners just get right to the issues? You can think of this mask, almost like a Trojan horse. Partners will put up a tough shell that protects the interior cargo, which is the fragile opinion. Our opinions are of considerable value to us, so we tend to protect them, with some sort of barrier. If you can imagine, a partner might never voice their true opinion, for fear of judgment. What we then get is a visage of power by the one partner that does express their opinion, typically the patriarch.
In a relationship, there is tremendous potential that is desperately waiting to be realized. When partners refuse or are unable to have a difficult conversation, they leave considerable amounts of relational connectivity on the table. To say that the status quo is a foolhardy endeavor is a tremendous understatement. It is for this reason that partners should seek out ways to maintain and enhance their intimate connection.
How to approach difficult conversations with partners is an art form, and it is not always an easy endeavor. That said, it is something that must be done, and with experience, it is no longer so difficult, and the gains that are realized begin to compound. I will list some easy steps and tips to follow, but I must first explain how critical it is for each partner to be non-judgmental. When a confrontation is feared, difficult subjects will never be truly broached. What partners are left with are resentment and contempt. Feeling that one’s partner doesn’t appreciate their viewpoints can leave them feeling completely invalidated and without worth, the opposite of which existed during the couple’s courtship phase.
Tips and Tricks:
The easiest way to put your partner at ease is just to listen. When you listen, you are not voicing agreement or disagreement to the subject matter at hand. Every opinion deserves to be validated. Validation only means that it is understood that the opinion means something to that person. It doesn’t mean that a validated opinion receives any weight from the counterparty. Too often partners will feel that if they don’t attack a differing viewpoint, then it gains strength, or that a dangerous viewpoint does not deserve to be held by any person.
2. Be patient
“Now” is not always a great time to bring up the subject. But, we have to be cognizant that there may never be a great time. A difficult subject can be difficult, no matter what. As such, we do have to give proper notification that we would like to have a discussion. I recommend being patient in broaching the subject, especially if one is relatively new to this concept. There might be an act that is routinely performed by a partner that is disliked by the other. In this, one might try to voice their discontent as the act is performed, only to realize a very defensive front being put up by the one performing the action. I recommend that you take a non-forceful approach to this and to give it, potentially, several attempts to approach the subject in this casual manner. There is (of course) a limit, as you have value and deserve to be validated, as well.
3. Be firm and non-defensive
What do you find about individuals on a medieval battlefield? You cannot tell who is attacking and who is defending. It is just individuals that are exchanging blows, to preserve their lives. This principle is the same in relational conflict. There is no real difference between the one that first gave an emotional blow and the one that reciprocated. As such, it is paramount for you to not defend your position. As absurd as it sounds, being defensive actually invites conflict. There is a recommended way to stand behind your positions that don’t involve a defensive front. I recommend (analogously) putting your viewpoint on a table as if it were a gift. You don’t need your partner to open the gift. You don’t need your partner to appreciate the gift. What is in the gift (your opinion) is of value to you, whether or not others share it. With this approach, it becomes one that earns respect. With this approach, your partner can attempt to swat it off of the table, to no avail. They are only words, having no physical form. No amount of disagreement or emotional violence from others removes the value of this viewpoint. Only your reaction can change that. Let me give you a brief example:
You: “I believe that climate change is a real threat.”
Partner: “That is stupid, you know it is all a hoax.”
You: “I understand that you feel that way.”
By reacting in this manner, and maintaining control of your emotions, your words remain with full power. Only this way can partners actually begin to have a low energy discussion about difficult subjects. When we start reacting with understanding and acceptance, partners begin to lower their guards, that mask that I mentioned early on.
The power of acceptance can not be fully put into words. The rewards yielded from embracing a life of acceptance may only be fully appreciated when witnessed first-hand. Accept yourself and your partner for all that they are and all that they are not. Every person is going to hold controversial viewpoints, and in romance, there needs to be no singular view by the couple. It doesn’t mean that you are agreeing, and it doesn’t mean that an accepted viewpoint will be put into effect. It only means that each partner is valued, regardless of their views. Partners love each other, no?
While I can’t put down the full methodology and philosophy to this topic, I hope this at least gets you intrigued to put this into effect. The full subject requires self-regulation and regulation of others; each is concepts that take months or years to approach mastery. But, it has to start somewhere. It will begin by being uncomfortable.
Go. Talk. Listen.