Having difficult conversations
Image: Max4e Photo | UnsplashA successful relationship is not defined by how long it lasts, or whether you share a bank account, get married, or have kids…
by Fleassy Malay
"A relationship’s success is measured by how much of it is spent in genuine connection with each other." Like so many Victorians, my partner and I have spent more than 200 days in lockdown together over the past 18 months. We knew that this would either make or break a domestic partnership, and we chose for it to make us.

A huge part of our success is how we approach difficult conversations, which I am immensely proud of, and is what I want to share with you.

Our culture normalises avoiding conflict in relationships. We let disagreements slide, swallow petty problems, soften our boundaries for the sake of an easeful life.

No-one wants to be the reason a fight starts, or to be labeled as ‘drama’, or ‘hard work’. We hide our discontentment, we choose to ignore our frustration, or we straight up avoid talking about problematic things for fear it will make the situation worse. The ‘too-hard basket’ is a real thing, and it gets used all too often.

In short, we choose disconnection in the moment in the hope it will provide connection in the long run. But it doesn’t.
What eventually happens is we suppress these issues over days, weeks, months…even years; they build up, and a silent, unspoken, chasm begins to form between ourselves and our partner. We snap at each other. The tone of our voice slides into passive aggression. Little arguments break out that do not resolve, and also get added to that ever-growing chasm.

When we find it hard to pinpoint exactly how we ended up here – crying, shouting, feeling defensive, or avoiding being alone with each other – it is a huge sign for us, and a wonderful opportunity. This is the moment when we can craft the culture of our relationship. If we are not safe to talk about the small things, how can we expect to confront the big stuff?
Conflict happens
Conflict happens, and to expect it not to is to expect us to not be the incredible, complex, and nuanced beings that humans are. We disagree, we feel run down and stressed; we are living through a global pandemic, wars, climate change and so much more. It is very reasonable that there will be days when we lack patience, or are less than courteous to the people we love.

So, how do we have a successful relationship amongst all of this? The answer: have difficult conversations. Have them as often as they are needed, and have them well.

Difficult conversations are so easy to do badly. They are, by nature, difficult, hence feeling like we are rocking the boat. So, how can we help have them well?
1. Choose connectionChoosing to have that difficult conversation is us actively choosing connection. We must remember this as we go in, drop the defensiveness, and begin and end with connection. Acknowledge that the reason you need to talk about this is because you love and respect each other. Because connection matters.
2. Don’t dumpDropping a difficult conversation in someone’s lap with no warning is a sure fire way to start an argument. Consent is at the core of every part of a successful relationship, so check in first. Acknowledge that there is something you need to discuss, and ask if they have the time and emotional space for a potentially emotional conversation? If they say no, respect that, and ask for a time to be made for it – ideally later that day.
3. Drop the metaphorical knivesMy partner and I use this metaphor. In the past we would come together under the guise of ‘leaning in for connection’ but in truth, we were both holding metaphorical knives behind our backs, ready to take a stab at the other the moment we got a chance. To truly find connection we must be prepared to lower our defences.
4. Remember you are both on the same side of the ropeSo often we play emotional tug-of-war with our beloveds. Remember, you’re both on the same team. Our trauma, and reactions, and defences often grab the other end and make it feel like such a struggle. However, essentially you and your partner are working to craft your relationship together. Remind yourselves of this and hold it central to every difficult conversation you have.
Image: RawPixel | ShutterstockWhat I have seen happen over the past 18 months is a fast track road into our conflicts as individuals, as relationships, as families, and as a culture. It is no longer possible to avoid them, because they are there with us 24/7.

How we choose to show up in these moments is the tipping point of what will make or break our relationship. That is completely within your control, and difficult conversations do not have to be ‘drama’, or ‘hard work’…they can instead be a gateway to deeper connection.

And remember, what measures a successful relationship isn’t how long you stay together, but how much of that time you spend in genuine connection.
About the author:
Two times TEDx speaker and viral poet, Fleassy Malay is an internationally renowned poet, writer, and public speaking and communications coach. She runs her course, RISE – Speaker Training, online, and is the CEO of the NFP org Mother Tongue Poetry. http://www.FleassyMalay.com
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