How to Effectively Approach Your Partner About Relationship Issues

couple-arguing-0613135For couples to communicate effectively and be able to address issues together, the partners need to focus on their respective roles and responsibilities as the listening or the talking partner.

In my GoodTherapy.org article published last month, I wrote about the responsibilities of the listening partner to ensure effective communication. In this article, I will be discussing the talking partner‘s responsibilities.

As the talking partner, or initiator, you have several options in addressing issues. One is to attack your partner with a list of complaints in a way that shows you don’t believe that anything will change. If this is your choice, your partner is most likely going to defend him/herself by returning fire with a similar list of complaints or shutting down emotionally to avoid further critique and escalating conflict. As you probably have experienced, attacking your partner is not conductive to the two of you achieving a real understanding of each other’s differences.

When couples run into a pattern of attacking and/or avoiding behavior, they are reacting emotionally to each other’s complaints and critiques. Partners often have mixed feelings of anger and hurt. Furthermore, they most likely feel disrespected and mistreated by the other partner while they behave disrespectfully in turn. In this kind of vicious cycle, there is little goodwill, understanding of each other’s thoughts and feelings, or willingness to discuss different perspectives or points of view.

I suggest that you look at another option: refusing to react emotionally, taking a proactive stance, and preparing yourself before initiating a conversation with your partner.

Below are questions to ask yourself before you initiate a conversation with your partner:

  • What is most important to you? Choose one topic to talk about. Stick to your topic throughout the conversation.
  • What is your intention with the conversation? Do you want your partner to understand you better? Do you want to feel closer to your partner? Do you want an apology? Or do you want to punish your partner? If you are very upset, you might want to wait until you have calmed yourself and thought about your intention(s).
  • What is the message that you want your partner to hear? What do you want your partner to understand about you?
  • How do you want your partner to feel after the conversation? Do you want your partner to feel closer to you and hopeful about your future together? Or do you want your partner to feel guilty, shameful, and/or angry or hurt?
  • How can you deliver your message so that the probability of your partner actually hearing you is the highest? What would be the best way to talk about your issue?

Here are a few more points to consider before you sit down with your partner for a conversation about what is important to you:

  • Use “I” language instead of “you” language. If the conversation is more about you than your partner, it is easier for your partner to concentrate on what you are saying.
  • Don’t attack your partner. Talk about how you feel and think about your topic.
  • Don’t defend yourself. Talk about what is most important to you.
  • Try to have five positive statements for each negative statement. Don’t forget to say what you appreciate about your partner.

Basically, how do you want to talk about your issue? Write down your points to keep your focus. Choose an appropriate time and place to present your idea in a new and more effective way. Make sure you ask your partner when a good time is for him/her to start. Also, make sure to tell your partner that you want him/her to be the initiator at a later time, and that you are willing to actively listen to what your partner has to say.

Practicing initiating a conversation about an important topic can improve your ability to communicate effectively with your partner.

© Copyright 2013 GoodTherapy.org. All rights reserved. Permission to publish granted by Irene Hansen Savarese, LMFT, therapist in Fort Lauderdale, Florida

The preceding article was solely written by the author named above. Any views and opinions expressed are not necessarily shared by GoodTherapy.org. Questions or concerns about the preceding article can be directed to the author or posted as a comment below.

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  • rudy

    rudy

    June 13th, 2013 at 11:19 AM

    I am so afraid to bring up the issues that I have because I know that he will feel threatened or he will feel like I am placing blame on him for everything. I don’t know if when I try to talk about this stuff if I actually sound like I am attacking him or if that’s the way he perceives it. Either way it is never too much fun to try to have these conversations. It’s like I feel like it would be better with a mediator to have between us, to kind of guide the conversation so that we both stay on topic and focused on resolving issues instead of just rehashing the past.

  • Blaine T

    Blaine T

    June 14th, 2013 at 4:02 AM

    @ Rudy-
    I don’t think that you are alone.
    I think that there are many of us who have partners who, when we try to talk to them, take things as a direct attack on them or that we are saying that there is something wrong with them or that we are critical.
    There is a very fine line between being able to say something that helps make a change in your relationship for the better and something that sets them off.
    I feel your pain, but I do think that if this is areally a relationship that you place a lot of value in and he does too, then the two of you can work through this.

  • helena

    helena

    June 15th, 2013 at 12:35 AM

    not easy to stay on track in these situations.although I have tried to remain as calm as possible during such situations one not so nice response just puts me off.the screaming then begins.cant seem to control this.do I need help?

  • Zara

    Zara

    June 15th, 2013 at 7:13 AM

    If at the core you have a relationship or a marriage that is strong then this will not be an issue. You will most likely have a partner who is willing to hear what you have to say and who is willing to do what needs to be done, compromise or talk, to make things work well again. I could not be with someone who always saw what I had to say as an attack or a criticism. To me it seems like those are just people who are always looking for a fight or a disagreement.

  • mark

    mark

    June 17th, 2013 at 4:30 AM

    Any time we have to have ” a talk” then I always try to preface things with how much I love her and how I couldn’t manage day to day without her. That always seems to soften the blow a little better. You raen’t lying, you stress the good things that you have first, and then you can lay out the other things that the two of you need to work on together.

  • irenesavarese

    irenesavarese

    July 9th, 2013 at 8:00 AM

    Thank you for reading and commenting on my article.

    If your partner is very upset, you can choose to ask questions about your partner’s thoughts and feeling before you continue expressing yourself.

    The problem is often that partners don’t tolerate feelings of hurt and starts attacking or withdrawing into silence. To continue communication both partners need to stay calm and be willing to express own thoughts and feelings as well as listening to the others. If this is too hard for you, you might have to work on yourself. Individual and/or couples therapy is an option.

  • Sam

    Sam

    December 23rd, 2014 at 2:01 AM

    My relationship is changing for the better, it isn’t all “perfect” anymore and we are trying to deal with little things which get to each other. I’m not really sure what I’m doing though as this is new to me, how do you have a small disagreement or argument and resolve it so that you can forget about it?? And how do you talk about what’s bothering you without it turning into a fight??

  • Vanessa

    Vanessa

    January 20th, 2015 at 6:51 AM

    I have a new man in my life and I’m finding little things I’d like to talk about with him before it gets bad. One is he doesn’t want to be in pics with me cuz I’m on social media. I wasn’t even going to post it and he jumped to conclusions. How do I talk to him? He says it’s just not my thing. And me I’m all about memories and I love taking pics not even selfies.

  • Samantha C

    Samantha C

    July 17th, 2015 at 6:14 PM

    I am a terrible communicator. Over the years it’s just become worse. I have major anxiety and freeze up during anything, so a major conversation about problems that need to save my relationship cause me to blank out. All I can do is try my best. :( I get really angry and say things I regret. I know now what I’m doing wrong and I’ve always been this way. I just want to be the best person that I can. I’m tired of fighting.

  • Korts

    Korts

    October 14th, 2016 at 1:26 AM

    I know exactly how you feel Samantha and my partner is exactly the same. I’ve been working hard on communication issues that have been plaguing our relationship but keep hitting a stone wall. I’m at a lose.

  • Sal

    Sal

    May 17th, 2017 at 8:55 PM

    Hey there, I completely understand the struggle with anxiety + communication. I know with awkward subject matter, it can be very tense and can make the anxiety worse. All I can say is, trust in your partner. Look into their heart and remember why you care deeply for them, and that they are here to give you support and they will do their best to understand. Trust in your trust towards them, and trust yourself, that you can do your best to speak your heart, and even if it doesn’t come out perfectly, you are doing your best and should be proud for trying. It’ll get better and better each time. It’s best to also communicate face to face.

  • thia

    thia

    August 16th, 2015 at 1:53 PM

    I got “the talk” about a month ago from my boyfriend. In the conversation his unhappiness was a result of me “letting myself go”, “being clingy” and a big disappointment. He pointed out all of my flaws mostly my weight issue, the stress my kids cause, tho his kids r just as stressful, and my promise to make his life better i had failed in. Everything was what he didnt like about me not one positive comment. And he fave me six months “to fix myself” before he called our relationship quites. Now im scrambling to change all these things and im the one unhappy but i fear losing him. And when i try to talk about how i feel he makes it like im taking things out of purportion or being to sensitive. What do i do

  • Jennifer

    Jennifer

    November 21st, 2016 at 8:30 AM

    You leave him.

  • Mireya

    Mireya

    August 23rd, 2015 at 8:36 AM

    Reading your blog gets me thinking. I been dating this man for almost two years. We have had our ups and downs. And in all this time we had one major blow up argument where he pointed out everything he held inside about me. I mean seriously it sounded like I was the bad person, the manipulator, the one who according to him, would pull the guilt trip. I was astonished about everything he was saying, because I would always find myself agreeing to what ever he would say or plan. After the blow up, he called it quits. The next day we talked about everything that was said, and i agreed to work on my issues he pointed out. Which Idk what was i doing wrong. Anyway, we continued with our relationship, and suddenly I feel like lonely. We both work different schedules, but at times I feel like if he would really want to see me, he would make an extra effort to do it. He has all the good qualities of a man, he really does, no complaints on those departments, but in relationships, hes like too weak. Im scared to confront him about it, cause of another blow up, i dont want to lose him, but how do i approach him and tell him how I feel?? I would love for him to realize im feeling alone.. And i need him. Ughh..

  • Deedee

    Deedee

    August 31st, 2015 at 10:16 PM

    My own parents are quite negative and sensitive, so my whole life I’ve had lots of trouble with having them hear me out, with establishing boundaries and having my needs met, without them feeling as if I am trying to heap guilt upon them. Simple observations had to be padded with affirmations of love, multiple re-wordings and explanation. This pattern persisted in my relationships. I exhausted myself many times. As I’ve grown older I’m attempting to be brave enough to stand up for my needs, having always expected backlash and resistance. Staying positive and self-aware in the face of negativity is a major challenge, but it usually works. I’ve learned to succinctly and briefly tell my loved ones what I appreciate about their behaviour, and use that to highlight what could be improved on. A volatile person will always respond to criticism more readily when you can lead in by pointing out one of their strengths. My advice, to reiterate the article somewhat but going by my practical experience, would be to calm down and focus on what you love about that person. You could say that you appreciated a certain thing they did, or that they were better than others at something, and tell them the positive ways it made you feel, how you felt loved by them, etc. Then you can build a dialogue from there based on what you prefer in a relationship, by relating that positive experience to having your needs met. This should move their focus from reacting defensively to hearing what you need.

  • Alex

    Alex

    September 28th, 2015 at 4:43 AM

    Thank you for your article. My girlfriend of 2 years and I are in a very similar boat. There are things that she does that don’t break our relationship, but no matter how small it is, and no matter how I try to present it, she jumps to wild conclusions about my intentions and becomes very agitated and very defensive. Things escalate out of control as a result–consequently I have found it impossible to every bring up anything that bothers me because she says it feels like an attack. I understand that keeping her happy is my number one priority but I also feel like I can’t neglect my own happiness, and a relationship where that is encouraged isn’t healthy. I’ll check through your list and try again or just learn to let it go, but I do feel much better I am not the only one going through this. Thanks everyone!

  • Samantha v

    Samantha v

    December 8th, 2015 at 9:03 AM

    in my situation I feel like I am under appreciate and each and every time I’m upset he run the other way like he doesn’t want to hear what I have to say and he do this all the times, I feel like this is just one way street and not both at all what are your thoughts on this

  • kaitlynn

    kaitlynn

    December 16th, 2015 at 11:24 AM

    At what point do you give up then? Like I simply avoid speaking about anything to my significant other because no matter how nice i am to him he still will yell at me, tell me how annoying i am and whatever else he feels like calling me. He gets so dam angry over a simple conversation about future plans that he threatens to leave me and tells me how horrible i am of a person. Im at a loss for how to approach him and get him to listen to me, take me seriously, and take it into consideration. I need him to answer my simple questions so that i can find solutions. He wont talk to me period so instead i just pretend its all good but its all bad and I just cant keep living like this with him. All i want from him is for him to tell me what he wants… Simple as that. I want to know if he wants to stay with me, if he wants to be happy, if he wants a good future… When i ask him how he feels about me and if he truly is in love with me he will sigh and say something like “really… You allways like to cause drama dont you?” then he gets mad and yells at me. A typical day goes likd this. He wakes up ai 5:45am for work. If i dare get up for any reason then i get yelled at because i am not making his lunch for him amd im awake so i should be making it. Then he leaves at 6:45am for work. We dont see eachother all day. He geys home abput 20min before i go to work. I work closing shift so i dont get home till 2:30am… My days off are monday and tuesdays. His days off are saturdays and sundays. So we never see eachother and when we do he is allways angry about something and sits around with headphones in listening ro music. When i try to talk to him and find out what bpthering him or discuss a solution to work on getting our relationship back to the way it was sk we can be happy again he gets pissed and it starts a fight. Now i keep quiet unless i am addressed by him. When he feels like talking i simply listen and wont respond anymore. He never likes my responses and says i annoy him. I am at a point where i just want to find an effective way to talk to him and for once get him to really listen and hear me out. I simply want to know what it is he wants because he sure as hell is not happy. I cant fix what i dont know needs fixing. I have written him letters but then i get scared to leave them for him to read cause i dont want him to get mad. Is a letter cleary explaining what i want a bad idea?

  • The GoodTherapy.org Team

    The GoodTherapy.org Team

    December 16th, 2015 at 3:21 PM

    Dear Kaitlynn,

    We saw your comment and wanted to thank you for sharing. Though the GoodTherapy.org Team is not qualified to offer professional advice, we would like to encourage you to reach out. It can often be helpful to talk to someone, and if you would like to discuss this, or anything else, with a therapist or counselor, please know you can locate one in your area by using our website.

    To get a list of qualified mental health professionals, simply enter your ZIP code here:

    https://www.goodtherapy.org/find-therapist.html

    Please know that you are not alone, and we wish you the best of luck.

    Kind regards,

    The GoodTherapy.org Team

  • Joseph

    Joseph

    April 24th, 2016 at 7:28 PM

    Me and my wife are always fighting I work full time she does not I go to work everyday I work my but off I go to work at 630 in the morning I work sometimes to 7 or 8 at night I come home I have to cook my own supper and she exspects me to cook her supper as well I have to wash clothes and wash dishes I clean the house and within a couple of days its a complete mess again I ask her why dosent she help and do her part she always yells I’m sick all the time she gets mad at me for everything and belittles me a lot idk what to do anymore.

  • pilar

    pilar

    May 17th, 2016 at 10:38 AM

    I’m in a relationship with my boyfriend for 3 good years all was good at the beginning but now I don’t understand what is happening I have to ask him to came and spend time with me we don’t have fun as we used to and when I feel bad about it and explain it turns into a big misunderstanding I don’t know what to do I need help please we don’t go out for diner and for nothing I’m always the one calling texting most of the times hmmmm I really need help

  • mike

    mike

    September 2nd, 2016 at 2:27 PM

    Right so my girlfriend is bi polar and she can be so up and down her mood changes on a 5p piece she came to me and told me we had been cheating on me after saying some horrible things she wanted space so I have been staying with a friend foa few days she cries tells me she loves me but she’s not in a place to talk about it I want to reconcile and work through it but she seems reluctant even tho she tells me we will talk I dont even care about the cheating I just want my girlfriend and my family back what do I do?

  • The GoodTherapy.org Team

    The GoodTherapy.org Team

    September 2nd, 2016 at 3:06 PM

    Dear Mike,

    Thank you for your comment. The GoodTherapy.org Team is not qualified to offer professional advice, but you may find it helpful to discuss these questions with a therapist or counselor. A couples counselor can help you address these concerns, or any other things you might wish to discuss about your relationship.

    You can find a list of therapists in your area by entering your ZIP code here:
    https://www.goodtherapy.org/find-therapist.html

    Please know you are not alone. Help is available, and we wish you the best of luck in your search.

    Kind regards,
    The GoodTherapy.org Team

  • Earnette's T.

    Earnette's T.

    September 23rd, 2016 at 7:22 PM

    I am saying a man that is 61years I’m 56 .,we live together but hardly ever talk ,well we can talk about everything but if I try to talk what’s going on in our relationalship the yelling starts and everything that’s going wrong is my fault,he say I need to tighten up and I’m lazy,he told me I don’t do nothing,and called me a dick head but never tells me why he say these things so now we walk around silent unless it’s something he want to talk about

  • Amy

    Amy

    June 17th, 2017 at 7:31 PM

    I have been married for 6 years and nothing is changing.
    we have been to therpy marrage counselor nothing worked. I love my my husband very much but at this moment I can’t look at him knowing he has been a porn addict and been lying too me for so long..I feel that he loves his porn than me. nothing is working at all. everything I try to tell him how I feel and how much this hurts he changes the subject and tells me its all in my head and that he does not watch porn any more..All he does when I try to talk to him is scream at me and tells me I’m so tired of you not believing me.I just don’t know how much more I can take this?

  • Innocent

    Innocent

    August 22nd, 2017 at 6:17 AM

    I’m in a relationship with my girlfriend for over 3 years now and we have a beautiful son together. Our relationship was very good from the beginning when she was unemployed however since she got employed we’d have arguments that led to her wanting to get a place of her own but we managed to work things out. I sometimes found myself cheating on her with a girl she knows as my friend but the story came out and we resolved it. She’s someone who’s constantly flirting with guys for no reason and when I find out she denies everything and even tells me that she doesn’t know anyone. My problem is that I’m willing to settle down and have a family but I have fears and doubts that maybe I’m being played. I’m asking for advice on how to handle all this. Thanks in advance

  • Timothy

    Timothy

    October 3rd, 2017 at 4:25 AM

    Thanks for your helpful articles. Please kindly subscribe me to your newsletter

  • Pascale

    Pascale

    October 3rd, 2017 at 3:48 PM

    Hi Timothy, we’re happy you are enjoying our blog! Please feel free to subscribe to our newsletter here: https://www.goodtherapy.org/gt-newsletter-archive.html

    Kind regards,
    The GoodTherapy.org Team

  • Timothy T.

    Timothy T.

    October 3rd, 2017 at 4:25 AM

    Thanks

  • nadia

    nadia

    June 11th, 2018 at 5:03 PM

    I have a question, my boyfriend and I are going on vacation soon. He wanted to know my limit on my credit card. to put both our vacation payment on mine. I didn’t want to disclose that information because 1) we only been together for only 6 months 2) I feel uncomfortable talking about my finances and I felt a little condescending on his part when I spoke about having student loans that I am paying for. and 3) I believe that if ur partner is helping you out/ or guidling you to help manage your debt than he should know ur finances.

    Am I thinking the wrong way? Or how can I get comfortable and open up about finances

  • cess

    cess

    June 14th, 2018 at 8:50 AM

    My bf of two years is an entrepreneur and the business is not moving well…anytime I try to talk to him to find a job and pursue his business later he gets upset…hes always broke and can’t take care of me ….tho I dnt depend on him but his behavior makes the relationship boring…pls help me try

  • ST

    ST

    August 30th, 2018 at 7:43 PM

    I’ve been with my partner for a little under 2 years. We moved in together about a month ago. We have 3 kids between us. It’s a love match and he treats me very well. Takes lots of care with the relationship and makes an effort on a daily basis. We rarely argue, have similar values and overall have a very harmonious life together. I am struggling to trust him however. I am concerned though as he has a history of withholding information from me when we first were together. It took him 4 months (and, in the end, a direct line of questioning from me) to learn that he had some addictions and (linked to the addiction) infidelities in the relatively recent past (within the past 5 years). When I pressed him on why he had hidden this from me he said he was worried I would not want to be with him and also that his partner before me had told him to not tell anyone new for the same reasons. Since then he has been open on these things. He has also done intensive therapy. His ex refers to him as the ‘new and improved version’. His previous partner was very unhappy about him moving on from her and for the first 6 months or so pushed him for ‘family days’ out with their 2 kids and bombarded with texts, phone calls etc, some of which he told me about and some of which he didn’t (worried about my reaction as I said from the outset that I was unhappy at how ’emeshed’ their relationship was since they broke up). I also found out at a recent family event that some of the timelines he gave me around their breakup and his move out did not align with what he had told me (6 -8 months later than what he told me). Everything else around the circumstances did match up. I haven’t asked him about this differing timeline as it all happened before he met me, but I don’t understand why someone would lie about this. Since then, he has made strong moves to put clearer boundaries around things and this seems to have worked. In recent months however, I have noticed what I think are overly familiar sign offs on texts (kisses, kiss emojis, hugs) some of which I think are to her. Sometimes he texts in my line of sight which is why I have seen them. Or might be to someone else….unsure. Have checked discreetly via questions and ascertained not his kids or mother. Also, getting texts with what I think are these emojis and then “having to make a work call” but stepping outside when a “work call” could easily be taken then and there. I have never gone through his phone or emails and I don’t actually want to as I feel very uncomfortable with this. I don’t think that approach would build trust and it would potentially damage our relationship longer term. He has said his previous partner would openly read emails and messages if he left his devices around (even after they broke up) and I don’t think he appreciated this. I am trying very hard to be trusting but failing. If it is his ex partner I don’t feel comfortable with this familiarity on texts or similar and if not his ex partner then wondering…who the hell!? Not sure how to broach this with him….any advice?

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