The only way to appropriately handle conflict is to actually deal with it. Most people avoid difficult conversations with loved ones because it makes them feel uncomfortable. Unfortunately, if you avoid dealing with a troublesome situation, you're actually prolonging the agony and may be creating some resentment. Here are my top ten tips for easing into and having a successful conversation about a difficult topic.
1. Open the lines of communication. Ask for input from your partner to help you best figure out a balanced solution to your issue. This will greatly reduce the other person's defensiveness and make them more available to participate.
2. Acknowledge your partner's willingness to talk. Thank them for having the conversation with you both at the start and the end. It will make the discussion a team effort and make your partner feel they have given of themselves. It will also make having the next difficult conversation easier.
3. Set a time limit. It's important that you talk, but also that you don't wear each other out. Thirty minutes to an hour is about the limit. If you need to continue the conversation, make an appointment to do so, that way things aren't left hanging.
4. Paraphrase each other's comments. Telling each other what you heard your partner say will let them know that you really "got" (or didn't get) how they were feeling.
5. Work out a compromise. Relationships are all about compromise, and how you get there will determine your level of satisfaction with the relationship. Giving your partner what they need is not the same as giving up. Your attitude here is very important.
6. Make a list of what questions you have and what you'd like your partner to do. It always makes it easier to remember and to stay on topic if you have something in writing. It also helps you make sure you complete the whole issue rather than just some of its parts.
7. Be okay with being wrong. Difficult conversations don't always end the way you'd like them to. Sometimes an apology or a change of mind is appropriate. Holding a grudge just because you didn't get everything you thought you wanted will only cause more discord.
8. Respect expert advice. If you go to a therapist or read something that defends or rebuts your opinions, take the time to consider it. No one knows everything.
9. Understand the emotional component. Difficult conversation can bring up lots of feelings. Make sure you're talking from your heart, but don't let your emotions run you. Discuss your feelings and ask for theirs. Using "I" statements when sharing your feelings will minimize any feelings of guilt or anger.
10. Consolidate the gains and recommit to each other. After you have had the conversation, review what you have decided to do (even if that is only to continue the talking at another time), agree upon the conclusion, and let your partner know that you still love them. Lastly, don't punish them for bringing up a difficult issue.
Being able to have a successful difficult conversation is one of the most valuable tools you can have in your relationship. For most people this isn't easy, but with time, willingness and practice anyone can get it. Getting past the first level of discomfort is key as is knowing that once you have gotten your issues on the table your life and your relationship will be lighter and brighter.