Have Hard Conversations to Make Your Relationship Stronger

All couples experience conflict, but not all couples know how to effectively deal with it. Hard conversations are just that – hard. And scary. No one wants to have them. What if things change for the worse? But if you truly desire a strong relationship based on trust and understanding, it’s important that you try.

So, how do you talk with your partner when you suspect that there will be disagreement, and things might get heated?

Mindfulness can help. Mindfulness – the practice of being present in the moment without judgment – is an incredibly valuable tool for moments like these. 

When you are able to maintain mindfulness, being aware of your body sensations, thoughts, and feelings as you react to the conversation, you are more likely to understand your partner’s perspective and find common ground in a discussion.

Tips for Practicing Mindfulness During a Conversation with Your Partner

There are all kinds of mindfulness strategies and methods out there. But these four are a great starting point for someone who knows they are about to have a hard conversation with their partner.

Listen without judgment. One of the most important things you can do when listening to your partner is to try to see things from their perspective. This doesn’t mean you have to agree with them, but it does mean that you should try to understand where they are coming from. You might say “I don’t pass judgments” – but that stance can really go out the window when you feel passionate about an issue. Try to catch yourself when your judgment takes a self-righteous tone like “You’re being so selfish!”  

Avoid “you” statements. Jumping off that last piece of advice, “You” statements are often accusatory (e.g., “You never listen to me!”), so they tend to put people on the defensive immediately. Instead of using “you” statements, try using “I” statements (e.g., “I feel like I’m not being heard”). This will help de-escalate the situation and allow for a more productive conversation. 

Respond, don’t react. It’s easy to let our emotions get the best of us during a difficult conversation, but it’s important to remember that we always have a choice in how we respond to our partner. If you find yourself feeling like you need to defend yourself, pause. Take a step back. Breathe before saying anything else. Once you’ve calmed down, you can respond more rationally to what your partner has said. 

Be present in the moment. One of the most important things you can do when communicating with your partner is to be present in the moment. This means putting away distractions (like your phone), making eye contact, and really listening to what they are saying. These might sound like conversational basics, but you’d be surprised at how many people miss them.

Ask questions. If there’s something you don’t understand, or if you want clarification, don’t hesitate to ask questions. Asking questions shows you are interested in understanding your partner’s perspective and that you value their opinion.

Breathe deeply and mindfully throughout the conversation. Be aware of your breathing patterns throughout the discussion. In order for your brain to get enough oxygen, aim for deep belly breaths. When you breathe deeply, you stay calm under pressure, which motivates more compassionate and balanced decisions over emotionally-driven ones. 

Last but not least, remember that you’re having hard conversations for the good of your relationship. Well-managed conflict is healthy. Following these tips can help both you and your partner effectively communicate to understand each other's needs more fully – a solid building block toward a stronger and healthier relationship overall.

Walt Ciecko, Ph. D., BCB
605 Wynyard Rd
Wilmington, DE 19803