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How to Talk About Relationship Problems

by Brenda Scottsdale

Working through conflict is essential to the health of every relationship. Many couples avoid conflict, however, because talking about problems in the past has led to hurt and bitter feelings. According to the Centers for Disease Control, the estimated divorce rate for 2009 was 3.4 per 1,000. Lack of good communication is a contributing factor. By learning to talk about relationship problems before they escalate, you can build a more satisfying, successful and long-lasting relationship.

Have regular couple meetings, even if there are no crises. The Forever Families website advocates setting aside at least 30 minutes per week for a couple's meeting. Discuss problems first, making sure to share your emotions. Pretty soon, you will get accustomed to discussing relationship problems with your partner and will do so spontaneously. Even if the problems discussed are not resolved, talking about them and sharing feelings can be beneficial.

Engage in playful banter when appropriate. You can communicate something serious in a playful, low-key manner to lessen your partner's defensiveness. If you can both laugh at the issue, it isn't as hard to take feedback. Being playful puts the issue into perspective, reassures your partner that you care about her, and energizes both of you. Laughter is a good way of bonding with your partner and enables you to discuss conflict in a way that will make you feel closer.

Be honest both with yourself and with your partner. You can be straightforward and honest with someone without being cruel. Stick to the facts, stating why the issue is important to you. Try saying, "I am upset that you have been late for our son's hockey practice; I feel I cannot count on you," rather than "What kind of stupid idiot is late for his own son's hockey practice?" Remain honest when your partner is sharing issues with you. If he says that you are sloppy, for example, really look at this behavior and if there is some truth, take responsibility.

Clarify what your partner is saying to avoid misunderstandings. In miscommunication, couples often cannot accurately repeat what the other has said. Paraphrase to ensure you are both on the same page. You can say, "Let me see if I understand you. When I am late, you feel as though I do not love you. Is this what you are saying?" Clarification helps both people to be really clear about what is being said so that they can tackle the same problem.

Respond in a non-defensive manner; let her finish speaking before responding. As your partner is talking about the problem, focus on what she is saying rather than on what you want to say next. Paraphrase what she is saying to you in one or two short sentences. You may need to say to yourself, "This criticism is not about me as a person, but about my behavior, and no one is perfect." If your partner sees that you are speaking in an open and non-defensive manner, she will be more likely to reciprocate.

Seek counseling if problems are serious, if you are afraid, or if communicating about problems has been unsuccessful in the past. It is better to seek counseling when you first notice a communication problem rather than waiting for problems to fester. A counselor will help you identify what issues you need to work on as a couple, will be an unbiased observer, and will model for you how to mediate conflict.

About the Author

Brenda Scottsdale is a licensed psychologist, a six sigma master black belt and a certified aerobics instructor. She has been writing professionally for more than 15 years in scientific journals, including the "Journal of Criminal Justice and Behavior" and various websites.

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