Today I will introduce you to the tools of effective communication so that when conflict arises, which is inevitable in any genuine relationship, you know how to bring your point across in a way that increases connection and intimacy. 

Conflict is not the problem in relationships, it is simply growth wanting to happen and a sign that your needs, or the other person’s needs, are no longer being met. However, if you don’t have the skills to do conflict well, this phase of a relationship can become very painful. And if you get stuck there, it can truly feel hellish. 

Here are some suggestions on how to do conflict well, so that as a result intimacy in your relationship will increase:

1. When you see red, say and do nothing!

During conflict, when emotions run high and you see red, the only rule at that moment is to say and do nothing and to return to a calm state of mind. When you are triggered and want to lash out, nothing good will happen. The reason for that is, that your old brain, the reptilian brain, is in charge, which has perceived a threat and its only goal is now to defend and attack.

Research has shown that during that time, a chemical cocktail floods your brain and you cannot access your prefrontal cortex, which is your reasoning center. This means, that when you see red, you can’t think! That is exactly why, when I have not listened to my own rule in the past, I have said and done things, which I felt really bad about later on and needed to apologize for. 

When emotions run high, it’s best to treat yourself to a time-out to calm down and wait until you can reconnect to your reasoning center, which is the part of your brain that holds your wisdom and perspective. Then, once you are calm again, it’s time to start communicating your feelings and thoughts. 

2. Is this a good time to talk?

Before you start a conversation, take a moment to check in with yourself if this is a good moment for you to talk about something important. If you are tired, hungry, grumpy, or just got home from work, it may be better to wait for a later time. 

Then check in with the other person if this would be a good time for them to have that conversation? I have chosen horrible times to initiate a serious conversation with my partner, during hockey games, or when he was dead tired, both of them were a flop. Over time, I have learned to check in with him first, to see if my timing coincides with his.

When you check in with the other person, you could say something like, “Hey, is now a good time to talk about yesterday’s fight, are you available?”. If the other person is not ready to talk about this issue at that moment, ask them if they can give you a time within the next 24 hours, so that you know this issue will not be swept under the carpet, and will instead be dealt with soon so that harmony can return to your relationship.

3. Sufficient uninterrupted time.

When you talk, make sure that you set aside at least an hour to exchange perceptions and talk things through. Make sure there will be no distractions, put your phones on mute and make sure you won’t be interrupted by your kids. Keep eye contact when talking.

4. Start out with something positive.

This is important, as your brain has a much easier time hearing the tough stuff if it has first heard something positive.

You could say something like, “I love you and you matter to me so much. I respect you, and my intentions are not to hurt you. I want to find a solution that works for both of us and I want to do that in a respectful way”. 

5. There is no right or wrong.

Make it clear right in the beginning, that this is not about who is right or wrong. When it comes to human experience, I believe there is no right or wrong way of seeing things, there are only equally valid experiences. When we get caught up in who is right or wrong, we get stuck in a power struggle and get nowhere.

In other words, you always make sense to yourself, other people always make sense to themselves, and I always make sense to myself. The goal when communicating needs to be to become curious, wanting to learn about the other person’s world. To see their perception as an enriching addition and not as a threat.

You could say something like, “For me, this is not about who is right or wrong. I want to simply share with you my experience and then listen to yours. Could you please not interrupt me while I share how I see things and then I would like to do the same for you”. 

6. Use the following four-step communication formula.

This is an effective four-step formula that will make communicating respectfully much easier. It starts with 1) When, moves to 2) I feel, then 3) How I interpret your behavior and finishes off with 4) I would like.

When. This allows you to be specific about exactly which behavior you want to talk about. Simply describe the behavior or situation you want to talk about without any judgment as if it would have been observed by a camera. For example, instead of starting off with blame, simply state the topic you would like to talk about in a neutral fashion. For example, you could say something like this, “When we haven’t had sex for 6 months ….”.

I feel. This allows you to express what you are feeling when this behavior occurs. No one can question your feelings, they are always ok. Often we hold many feelings at once, try to express all of them, especially the more vulnerable ones. It is important to distinguish between your feelings and how you interpret the other person’s behavior (which will be the next step). For example, you could say, something like, “When we haven’t had sex for six months, I feel lonely, neglected, undesirable, sad and angry”.

How I interpret your behavior. Now is the time to let the other person know how you have tried to make sense of their behavior. You could say something like, “When we haven’t had sex for six months, I feel lonely, neglected, undesirable, sad and angry. And, how I interpret your behavior is that you do not love and desire me anymore”.

What I would like. This last part allows you to make a clear and direct request. The other person now knows what you would like from them. It is not an order, the other person may refuse, even if the request seems reasonable to you. Be as specific as possible. Don’t say things like, “I want you to be more romantic”, “Or I want to feel like you are more into me”. That could mean anything depending on the person.

Make your request a specific behavior. For example, you could say, ” When we haven’t had sex for six months, I feel lonely, neglected, undesirable, sad and angry. How I interpret your behavior is that you do not love and desire me anymore, and I would like to have a conversation and understand where you are at”.

You can use these communication tips with anybody. I have used them with friends, co-workers, strangers, and my own family. They are effective and allow you to be assertive without becoming aggressive.  When anxious, it allows you to send a full message, even when your tendency might be to omit some parts because you are feeling scared. My wish for you is that these tools will help you repair and strengthen many relationships.

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This post is part of the blog series "Creating Happiness", your inspiration to promote positive change in your life.

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Ms Daniela Beer-Becker, Psychologist

Daniela is a regular contributor to the Blake Psychology blog and author of the "Creating Happiness" series.

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