When bringing up a conflict, the best way to lower the listeners defenses, and to feel heard, is to stay on your side of the line. Below are 5 easy steps to follow when you need to bring something up to you spouse. (side note: this format is also a great tool use in the workplace). Before you start, there are a few guidelines to keep in mind. Whenever you are about to bring up a potentially sensitive topic, you want to be coming from a good place. A good rule of thumb is to remember that you are coming from a place of love, and are seeking some resolution. Secondly, you also want to make sure the listener is in a good place, so it is generally a good idea to ask the other person, "I'd like to bring something up. Is this a good time to talk?".
Step 1: State the facts of what you saw and/or heard about the particular event.
- The behaviors you describe must be particular and specific. You are literally stating facts. Do not say, “you always” or "you never". Your goal is to give your partner clear data about what happened. Describe the situation in a way that is like a video camera running the footage of what you saw happen. Do not drift into your partner’s attitude, emotions, or motivations—you will have room for that later.
Say this: "When you walked in the room, you slammed the door, kicked off your shoes, raised your voice, and your face looked red.
Do not say: "When you walked in angry".
Step 2: State the meaning that you have made up about the event.
- This is the narrative you are making up about what happened. In other words, these are the thoughts going through your mind about the other persons actions. This step provides you the opportunity to share your interpretation of the behaviors you have reported and what the behaviors meant to you. You are owning this as your perception of what happened. Start with the introductory phrase, “The meaning I made up about this was…..”
Step 3: State how you made yourself feel about it.
- The meaning you made up about the situation is going to create your feelings about it. Focus on your feelings only. A common mistake is mixing up feelings and beliefs. The phrase “I feel” should be followed by an actual emotion, not a thought.
Examples of some primary emotions include: Joy, Pain, Anger, Fear, Shame, Guilt, Love. Think of the emotions you primarily feel, but then go deeper into the emotions that are less familiar emotions. For example, if you are used to leading with anger, pay special attention to the quieter feelings of hurt or fear.
Step 4: Now state what you would like to see happen in the future.
- This is a way to invite healing. This step is the positive/future mode, and it drives us into the heart of the repair process. Tell your spouse what he/she could do to help you feel better and move back towards harmony. In other words, what can your spouse do to help heal the disruption. Helpful phrases to use could be: “You could do this to help me feel better”, “I’d like you to reassure me that….”, or “I’d like you to reassure me that you understand, you care, you too see this as a problem, you will follow through this time, etc.”
Step 5: The final step is to LET GO OF THE OUTCOME.
- Using this process is a way for you to stay on your side of the line, however, your spouse is going to respond however they would like to respond. They may need more time to process what you are saying, they might respond very poorly, or they might respond exactly how you expected. You just don't know how they will respond. The bottom line is that you did the best you could at communicating, and whatever the response my be, you need to let go of the outcome.
***This structure is called "The Feedback Wheel", and it is taken from, "The New Rules of Marriage" by, Terrence Real.