How To Have Difficult Conversations With Your Partner

Doctor of Psychology By Danielle Dowling, Psy.D.
Doctor of Psychology
Danielle Dowling, Psy.D. is a doctor of psychology and life coach, helping ambitious, driven women achieve the financial, spiritual, and lifestyle abundance they desire and deserve. She holds a bachelor's in business from American University, and her master's and doctor of psychology degree from Ryokan College.

One of the most heart-breaking, soul-crushing, deeply deeply annoying things that happens in a relationship is feeling like your partner isn’t listening to you. You’ve told her a million times that you don’t like it when she teases you in front of your family. He left his dirty dishes in the sink. Again. (And you’ve asked him not to every day for the last five years.) You told him about the dinner party at your sister’s house a week ago and now he "spaced" and is playing racquetball with his friends.

When you feel like your partner isn’t listening, you feel disrespected, ignored, unloved, even. But more often than not? Your partner isn’t trying to hurt you or make you feel unloved. He or she might be checking email while you’re talking to them or they might have gotten lost in your preamble about the grocery list.

It’s absolutely possible to teach your partner to be a better listener. Here’s how:

1. Make sure it’s the right time.

Are you guilty of this? Asking your partner to listen when he's already in the middle of something? Of course you want his attention, but if he's already focused on something else, naturally, you won't get 100% focus.

Chat before your partner starts a task. If you forget to bring up what's on your mind and your sweetie's doing something, respect his time and let him finish first. Also, think about asking, “Is this a good time to talk?”

2. Cut to the chase.

There’s no need to begin with a treatise on every argument you’ve had or all the other times she’s disappointed you. Don’t spend five minutes talking about how food will harden onto a plate when it’s not washed immediately and the physics behind cleaning dishes. Respectfully, calmly, lovingly say “Here’s the bottom line” ... or “Here’s why I’m upset ... ” Your partner will be more focused and willing to listen when you haven’t spent five minutes winding up.

3. Don't accuse.

Avoid phrases like "you always" and "you make me." Words like this put people on the defensive; they make people feel attacked and uncooperative. You can share your feelings by using phrases like "I feel" and "I need."

4. Give advance warning.

People don’t particularly enjoy having Serious Conversations sprung on them. Imagine if you had a nice night of Netflix and wine planned and your partner sidled up to you with a budget spreadsheet! If you want to talk about an issue that's on your mind, say something ahead of time.

Send an email or text saying you’d like to set aside time to talk, but soften it with a joke or reassurance. You probably can’t go wrong with something like, “Hey babe, after pizza and before tonight's Game of Thrones marathon, I’d like to put aside 20 minutes to talk about our budget and that trip to Mexico. I can’t wait to drink cervezas on the beach with you and I know with a little belt tightening, we can make it happen!”

5. Lead by example.

Ever heard of the law of reciprocity? As counterintuitive as it feels, if you want attention, you need to give attention. So the next time your partner is talking about something important, close your laptop, put down your phone, and look at him. You’re modeling good behavior and he’s much more likely to do the same when the situation is reversed.

The more you act the way you’d like to be treated, the more the message will sink in, and your partner is that much more likely to be the attentive, listening ear you’d like him or her to be!

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