Ask a Couples Therapist:“How Do I Stop ‘Normal’ Conversations With My Partner From Turning into Fights?”
Do you feel like it backfires whenever you try to talk to your partner about something that’s bothering you? Maybe you don't want to be alone with what you’re feeling, or your partner did something that upset you. When you try to talk to them it never seems to be the right time.
Do You and Your Partner Keep Missing Each Other?
When it comes to communication, timing is everything. Spontaneous talking can backfire! Let’s take this as an example:
John walks in the door after a long day at work. He’s upset that his boss was controlling and demanding. He sees his wife, Claire, who has just started the night time routine with the kids. John’s upset about work so he starts talking about his day. He’s looking for some validation, but Claire responds with frustration.
John walks away feeling frustrated-- “I’m not a priority to her”
Claire leaves feeling unappreciated-- “I can’t believe he doesn’t get how many things I am juggling”
Later that same night, Claire is ready to sit down and relax as John is working on a late night proposal for work. Ready to unwind, she wants to tell John about her own work day and the great project that was just assigned to her, but John barely even hears her talking. Argh! John and Claire keep missing each other.
Why Do Conversations Go Wrong?
We all need and deserve to be listened to and validated by our spouses, but too often conversations go wrong because it's not a good time to talk. Trying to talk about a sensitive topic at the wrong time is like expecting classical music to sound good while playing football, or like getting your nails done while gardening.
Coordinating a good time to talk is the answer, but you’re not used to explicitly coordinating with each other. Maybe you think your partner should know what you need. Maybe you don’t realize that your partner is having a hard time because of your own feelings that you're grappling with.
The “We Need To Talk Now” vs “Can We Talk Later [read as: Never]” Couple Dynamic
Sometime people are afraid to coordinate because they are stuck in a Pursue/Avoid pattern. The pursuing partner doesn't want to wait – they have been waiting FOREVER and it feels like their avoidant spouse is never going to come around. The avoidant partner doesn't want to talk now – they feel the other person ALWAYS wants to talk and won't ever let it go.
You deserve to be listened to and your partner deserves the space they need to relax. Both your needs are valid. By coordinating you can both get what you need.
How to Gently and Assertively Let Your Partner Know You Need to Talk
The next time you need to get something off your chest, take a peek at how your partner is doing. If it doesn't seem like a good time, then coordinate. Not sure how? Here are some great phrases you can use…
How to Kindly and Clearly Tell Your Partner You Need Some Space
If you’re on the other side, and your partner is asking for something and you can't be present with them, then coordinate. It can feel stressful to have to say “No” to your partner, so here are some phrases to help...
Your Needs Are Important. Don’t Give Up!
These above phrases are helpful because they allow you to clearly express your needs, but they aren’t a magic button. Sometimes it takes a few back and forths-- if you ask your husband when he can talk, and he says in 2 months, don't give up! Both of your needs are important. Instead say, “I know you need a break, and at the same time we have to talk about this sooner than that; how about at the end of the week?
Don't give up if you try to coordinate a time and your timing needs don't match up on the first attempt. It might take a few back and forths to come up with a mutual time.