One of the easiest ways to maximize happiness in a relationship is to avoid unnecessary conflict—without allowing oneself to become a doormat. But how do you achieve this in the first place?
I used to struggle with balancing conflict and avoidance. I’m conflict-avoidant by nature, but I’ve had to learn to speak up for myself after being walked on in past relationships. Since then, I’ve refined my techniques for determining when to bring up issues that bother me. In fact, they’re so effective that Chris and I have never had a fight—not even a small one!
Whether the issue is big or small, answering these questions will help you judge with a clear mind whether it’s best to drop the subject, handle the problem yourself, or respectfully talk things through with your partner.
This is an incredibly important question to ask yourself before bringing up an issue to your partner; asking him or her to change is extremely dangerous territory to enter in a relationship. Doing so can create seriously negative consequences: you may anger the person to the point of causing an explosive argument, leave the person feeling like they aren’t good enough, or deeply hurt them.
To avoid this, be sure to sit down and really think about the issue before bringing it up. If you wish the other person would change, move on to question #2. If the issue doesn’t involve changing the other person, you can go ahead and skip to question #4.
Question #2: Would I be asking my partner to change who they are, or would I be asking them to change an insignificant behavior?
This question may require a bit of deep thinking; it isn’t always automatically obvious whether an action or behavior (or lack thereof) comes down to a deep-seated personality trait.
Some examples of wanting your partner to change who they are include:
- Wanting him or her to talk more. How much someone converses is indicative of their level of introversion/extroversion, which is a fixed character trait.
- Wishing the other person would be more empathetic or “on your side”. Some people are naturally analytical or logical about seeing the world, and don’t view things through the lens of how the world makes them feel.
- Wanting your partner to start being physically affectionate. Some people don’t naturally show love through physical affection (a phenomenal read that goes into further detail about this is called The 5 Love Languages by Gary Chapman).
Some examples of asking your partner to change a relatively insignificant behavior (rather than who they are) include:
- Wishing your partner would not leave the spoon in a hot pot (the spoon might melt!). Little things like this often happen because they don’t know any better or because they simply weren’t paying attention.
- Wanting the other person to stop playing his/her music so loudly. Again, this example involves wishing for a change in behavior, rather than a change in core personality.
- Wishing he or she would take the garbage out/pick up their clothes from the floor/clear their dishes. Oftentimes, things like this are simply minor habits that aren’t necessarily indicative of your partner’s personality.
If you’ve found that the issue involves your partner making a change to who he or she is, move on to question #3. If the problem involves a minor behavior, action, or habit, feel free to skip to question #4.
It is absolutely essential to give yourself an honest answer to this question.
If the answer is no, assess whether you should continue the relationship. If you don’t want to deal with an aspect of your partner’s personality, it may be time to end things for their sake, as well as yours.
If you let them go, they can find someone who appreciates their personality in its entirety, and you can find someone you accept and can’t get enough of.It isn’t fair to the other person to A) attempt to change who they are or B) dislike part of who they are and hang on to the relationship anyway. If you can summon the courage to let them go, they become free to find someone who appreciates their personality in its entirety, and you can move on to find someone you fully accept and cannot get enough of.
If this bothersome characteristic is something that you’re willing to put up with, however, it’s essential to never ask the person to change (or complain about) that aspect of who they are; doing so would be extremely hurtful and unfair. Thus, if you make the decision to accept this part of his or her personality, you’ve chosen to render it a non-issue and should not bring the topic up to your partner.
After making this determination, your problem has been solved—so long as you take the appropriate actions.
The answer to this question is based on your own judgment. For example, if the issue irritates you, and you decide that simply being irritated categorizes the issue as unimportant, that’s wholly up to you to decide. Or, if the issue irritates you, and you believe the problem to thus be important since it affects your emotional well-being, that’s fine too.
Oftentimes we become heated about the small things and overinflate a problem’s importance when we don’t stop to ask whether the issue actually matters.It is key to make this distinction, however, because oftentimes we become heated about small things and overinflate a problem’s importance when we don’t stop to ask ourselves whether the issue actually matters. Blowing things out of proportion often leads to conflicts that never needed to occur in the first place. By asking yourself whether or not the issue is genuinely important, you begin to logically sort out the problem and can later resolve it rationally.
Urgent: the issue has the possibility of becoming life-threatening or has dangerous implications if not brought up. Some examples include your partner being extremely ill or hurt and resistant to seeing a doctor, issues that may have dangerous implications for the relationship, such as suspicions of cheating, or a hazardous habit, such as smoking next to a gas pump.
Major: the issue will cause strong negative consequences if left unresolved. This may include things like a habit of overspending when there is little left in the bank account or your partner seems depressed or regularly angry and you’re unsure why.
Significant: the issue will cause negative consequences if not brought to discussion. A couple examples include needing your partner to take care of something for you so that you can make it to work on time, or wanting your partner to quit saying inappropriate things around the kids.
Moderate: the issue will cause you negative emotions or minor consequences if not resolved. This may include things like a habit of leaving clothing all over the floor, a task that is continually completed the wrong way, or an annoying behavior, such as whistling the same song over and over again.
If the issue is urgent or major, it is absolutely worth bringing up to your partner. For info on broaching the topic without causing unnecessary conflict, skip to the section below: Tips for Rocking the Boat Gently.
If you deem the issue of significant or moderate importance, move on to question #6.
Asking yourself this question allows you to further gauge the need to bring the issue to your partner’s attention. If the problem will continually occur unless you speak up, this likely means that the issue may deserve to be brought up. See question #7 if the issue will likely repeat in the future.
If the problem will most likely not occur again in the future, this does not mean that the issue is unworthy of bringing up to your partner. Since the issue is a one-time occurrence, skip over question #7 and move on to question #8.
This is an important question to ask, because when it comes to a habit or something a person typically does in a certain way, interaction can become volatile if the topic isn’t handled delicately.
Slow down and handle the conversation with respect for your partner’s feelings.If bringing up the issue might cause your partner to have negative feelings, slow down and be sure to handle the conversation with respect for his or her feelings. Before this, however, move to question #8 to determine whether you can avoid bringing up such a dicey topic in the first place.
If broaching the topic won’t cause your partner to experience any negative emotions, he/she likely won’t mind if you bring the topic up. However, just to be safe, be sure to check out the section Tips for Rocking the Boat Gently before bringing up the issue to your partner.
Question #8: Can you resolve the issue on your own without creating negative consequences for yourself?
If you won’t become late for a meeting, experience bad blood toward your partner, or face anything else that would sap you of needed time and energy, then it’s probably better to buck up and handle the problem yourself than to rock the boat for little reason.
However, if you can’t resolve the problem on your own without creating difficulties for yourself, move on to question #9.
Question #9: Is there any action you can take to separate yourself from the issue, without creating any negative consequences?
Sometimes, your partner may do things that absolutely grind your gears, make your life more difficult, or display a harmful gap in knowledge. However, if simply separating yourself from the problem won’t create any negative implications, it won’t be necessary to bring the topic up.
For example, if hearing your partner’s music bothers you, you may realize that rather than bothering him/her to turn off the music they enjoy, you can simply move to another room.
If you determine that you can easily separate yourself from the issue, as in the example above, there’s no need to bring the topic up to your partner. Doing so might cause unnecessary conflict or hard feelings.
If you cannot distance yourself from the problem, the issue is worthy of your partner’s attention.However, if you determine that there is no action you can take to distance yourself from the problem without facing any repercussions, the issue is worthy of bringing to your partner’s attention. For tips on how to approach this conversation, see the section below: Tips for Rocking the Boat Gently.
Since we know you won’t have time to sit down and go through these nine questions when an issue requires immediate response, there is one “Golden Rule” question to remember in the heat of the moment:
If bringing up the issue could negatively impact your relationship, slow down and think before you respond to the problem. That way, you likely won’t say or do anything you’ll regret!
Now, let’s put these questions into action
We’ll begin with a hypothetical, but common situation: suppose your partner absent-mindedly used up almost all of the last roll of toilet paper in the house, and it’s the first time he/she has done so. You probably feel highly irritated about it, but instead of griping at them, you decide to bite your tongue and consider how you should react to the situation.
You determine that you wouldn’t exactly be asking your partner to change (question #1), which makes your job a whole lot easier. After gauging the importance of the issue (question #4), you decide the problem is only of moderate importance.
At this point, your irritation may have begun to subside after beginning to consider the situation rationally. As you ask yourself whether the issue will continue to happen if you don’t say anything (question #6), you may think to yourself, “Well, it might…but he/she hasn’t done this before now…” and decide to give your partner the benefit of the doubt.
Upon asking yourself whether you can easily resolve the issue of little-remaining toilet paper (question #8), you decide that you have time to go pick some up at the store in a little while; in fact, you need to pick up a few other things anyway.
You might still feel slightly frustrated, but at this point you’ve likely realized that since you can fix the problem on your own without creating difficulties for yourself, it’s probably better that you decided to handle things yourself instead of snapping at your partner. Because of this, the atmosphere in your home can remain pleasant, rather than turning sour.
Be sure to give yourself credit for handling the problem so well—it may even make the remaining annoyance disappear.
- Consider your timing. If it’s bedtime, your partner’s birthday, or right after work before they’ve even set their things down, it’s best to wait for a more opportune time if at all possible.
- Make sure you’ve had time to cool off and think up a non-inflammatory approach to the discussion. You don’t need to overthink this; simply make sure your words are respectful to the other person. It helps to put things into terms of “I feel _______ because…” rather than “You did _______ and it made me…”
- Ask yourself whether the person’s action was something he or she did in an attempt to be helpful. If so, try to be as gentle as possible about bringing up the issue. You may want to lead with, “I really appreciate that you helped with _______. I love you for doing that, but I just wanted to make sure you know that [insert kind, constructive criticism here].”
- If you and/or your partner have been drinking, wait until you’re both sober.
- If you’ve brought up the same issue in the past to no avail, pose your concern in a different way than before, and be sure not to use negative tone or words.
- Avoid bringing up the topic if you or your partner is suffering from PMS, if at all possible.
- Consider whether the two of you have eaten recently. Some people become more easily irritated if they’re hungry.
Remember, when you have only moments to react to an issue, ask yourself whether your response will better your relationship. If it won’t, be careful what you say; your love life will be smoother and more harmonious if you are!
We’d love to hear from you—how do you know when it’s the right time to rock the boat? Share your personal techniques for picking your battles or bringing up touchy subjects in the box below!
Categories: Featured, In A Relationship, Practical Advice
Tags: arguments, conflict resolution, fighting, relationships