If your partner came up to you and asked “what do YOU need right now?”, would you be able to list off things you need or want from them? What if they asked “what do I need to do” or “what did I do wrong?”. Do you find the second set of questions easier to answer? It can be easy to quickly roll out a list of all the things your partner could do better but many of us find it harder to vocalize what we need or desire.
This automatic response to complain or note what is wrong won’t get you what you want or need from your partner. Hearing complaints and failures can trigger your partner to react with a defensive stance. This self-protecting, defensive, response can occur in an attempt to avoid getting hurt and unknowingly also avoids the desired outcome. The interaction can quickly focus around “winning” a disagreement and not solving the concern. Another automatic response to hearing complaints from your partner may be to shut down or put up a wall. Instead of getting defensive your partner might turn inward and only hear rejection or feel humiliation. Neither one of these reactions are intended, but the result often may be to turn the conversation from you stating what you want to your partner focusing on themselves and not on your needs.
Here are 3 simple tips to having a productive conversation with your partner:
- Practice gentle starts in your interaction and make sure to use “I” statements (not “you” statements). Begin with a vulnerable and direct statement that clearly expresses what YOU need.
- Try not to fall back into the blame game. Put down your side of the disagreement (remember “winning” the argument won’t get you closer to your goal). Instead of lashing back or saying something passive-aggressive, stay calm and respond with something true to your experience. For example, say, with a warm tone, “I don’t want to argue with you, I would like it if we could focus on…(insert your want or need).”
- Don’t get sidetracked, stay in that vulnerability even if it feels uncomfortable. Your partner will, in most cases, feel the effort you are putting in to stay open and this will soften your partner to open towards you.
If you maintain an authentic line of communication, free of expectations or demands, your words expressing a need will be heard by your partner. The more you practice expressing what you want in this manner, the more you are likely to get what you want and be empowered to let your guard down to communicate your needs. This will feed into a positive interaction cycle in your relationship where both partners feel safe to share desires and needs.