5 Keys to an Effective Conversation
It’s rare that a relationship comes to an end without a build-up in tension and strife beforehand. And once a split becomes the topic, animosity and disagreement are likely to impact a couple’s ability to resolve issues, obtain closure, and move forward. In the latest Family Matters podcast, Kate Reese spoke with Kevin Miller, licensed clinical psychologist, in an episode entitled “How to Start a Conversation with Your Spouse to Avoid Divorce.” In this episode, two experts on communication broke down some critical components to successfully communicate that can help salvage a relationship or make the break-up less difficult.
1. Prepare Yourself
Often, people have mounting negative feelings in a relationship without clarity about what’s really going on. It’s unreasonable to expect the other person to understand, respect, and address the elephant in the room if you aren’t even sure what it is for yourself. If you are feeling angry, frustrated, or some other negative emotion about your partner, take the time to think about the true cause of your feelings.
2. Plan Ahead
There is a lot of wisdom out there about how, when, and where to have a difficult conversation. The truth is that all people are different, and you are probably best able to know what will work. Instead of bursting out with a hot button topic, think about how to achieve success. There are some general rules to follow. First, a measure of privacy is important, since no one wants to publicize their issues. Second, a stressful time like the holidays, when your schedule is already disrupted, and there are many additional distractions probably won’t go well. Finally, don’t start the conversation when emotions are high since it's difficult to deescalate to a productive place.
3. Set the Scene
When starting a conversation, you should be clear with your partner about your expectations and boundaries. Dr. Miller notes that one of the most frequent sources of strife in relationships happens when one spouse wants to vent, and the other spouse jumps in with solutions. Both people are coming from a good place, but they both end up frustrated and unhappy. Simply saying, “I need to vent not problem solve,” or asking, “Do you need an ear or a mouth?” can go a long way towards creating a productive context. Being clear with the other person about what you are hoping to achieve in the conversation helps them to participate productively.
4. You Have Two Ears and One Mouth
One of the hardest parts about a difficult conversation is remembering that both people need to have their say. Taking a deep breath and truly listening to what the other person is saying is a critical part of a successful conversation. Active listening – repeating back to the person your understanding of what they just said – can help make the other person feel heard, which can make them more receptive to listening to you.
5. Look for a Place of Agreement
Whether it’s the start of a conversation or a topic that comes up in the middle, looking for common ground helps keep negative emotions from getting in the way. It might be a common commitment to the children, recognition of one successful part of the relationship, or even a joint desire to end the marriage with the least expense possible. Pausing to point out the places of agreement gives people a chance to work from instead of focusing on conflict.
Difficult conversations about a relationship can quickly go south, which can cause even more harm to the couple. If your relationship has reached a point where it needs to change to survive, or you need to make a decision on how to move towards an ending, it is worth consulting with a professional for some advice on how to have the conversation and what issues to consider when assessing your options. Reese Law are experienced Family law attorneys who can help with these difficult conversations and planning an outcome from a post-nuptial to a separation agreement, or a divorce. Contact us today for a consultation.