Ask Permission First, To Respectfully Address Conflict


Since conflict is inevitable in close relationships, I’m excited to share more about how to turn conflict into connection. Creating an emotionally safe atmosphere can be a breath of fresh air for relationships that matter most. As we approach Thanksgiving in a few days, I encourage you to review the last two posts we’ve covered so far.

  1. Realize that resolving conflict is healthy and necessary for growth.
  2. Be curious about differences rather than demand, judge, or criticize differences.

Our focus now is how to ask permission first to respectfully address the conflict.

“Is now a good time to talk about ______________________? (what’s bothering me, what I get frustrated about, what I’m most afraid of, what concerns me, how I’m experiencing you) You can fill in the blank.

Notice how the suggested phrases don’t include judgmental statements like “Is now a good time to talk about how careless you are with the budget?” or “Is now a good time to talk about how much your bad habits irritate me?

How you phrase your words can make a HUGE difference in whether or not your spouse becomes reactive. It’s so easy to unintentionally set a fire you never intended to start or get out of hand. Here are three additional things to consider as you ask permission to address a conflict.

  1. Timing is everything. When the atmosphere is pleasant and the mood is open and light-hearted many people think trying to resolve a potentially re-occurring conflict will ruin the mood. And many times it does. That’s why it is so important to ask permission, “Is now a good time to talk about ____________________?” Do avoid asking permission when the mood is escalating. Wait for a peaceful time to address the conflict.
  2. Address one issue at a time please. It’s so easy to bombard our spouse with several issues. It’s sometimes difficult to know what “the issue” is. And for some, it’s very difficult not to weave a thread of connection from one issue to the next, to the next, and so on. Be aware of what the one issue is. Hold back on how other issues are tied to the conflict you want to address. Dealing with one issue may help your spouse feel comfortable enough to say, “Yes, now is a perfect time to talk about _________________.”
  3. Take ownership of your experiences. Own that you become irritated, or angry, or bored, or confused, when your spouse does or doesn’t do what you want or need. They may not have been aware of how you’re experiencing them. Owning your experiences may likely invite empathy from your partner. They won’t know unless you respectfully tell them.

Remember that asking permission to address a single issue with sensitivity to timing, and owning your experience of the other can make it safe for your spouse to say, “yes, now is a good time” or “not right now, but maybe in an hour or so.”

Let me know how these ideas are helpful. If you have ideas to add I’d love to get your comments in the box below. Feel to share this post with others. Next week I’ll address helpful techniques to keep reactivity from escalating.