Stop Yelling! Here’s How to Use *Mindful* Communication for Conflict Resolution With Your Partner

Any conflict has the potential for a constructive outcome when approached with mindful intent and mindful communication. The Chinese character for crisis represents a combination of the symbols for danger and opportunity.

Because conflicts are often about what you value and care about most, it’s not surprising that conflicts with your partner are much more frequent and can be more intense.

The more committed you are to having mutual goals and values and being on the same page about what matters most to you, the more fierce conflicts with your intimate partner can be because there’s so much at stake.

Yet conflicts can be the impetus to energize and motivate you to give attention to problems that need to be addressed. Conflicts can release anger, anxiety, insecurity, and sadness that, if kept bottled up inside, begin to fester and can build resentment.

The Art of Mindful Communication and Conflict Resolution

Difficult conversations occur on two levels:

  1. The ongoing running commentary going on in your head (the conversation you are having with yourself)
  2. The conversation with another person (where typically most of what’s really important is not actually being said)

There’s a gap between what you’re really thinking and what you’re saying. You’re distracted by all that’s going on inside and you’re uncertain about what to share and what’s better left unsaid.

Any conflict has the potential for a constructive outcome when approached with mindful intent.

Practicing mindfulness allows you to manage the first conversation. Then you are better equipped to handle the second conversation with mindful communication.

When strong feelings and opinions about needs and wants clash, all our many defense mechanisms come into play and impede communication.

You can either express your dissatisfaction in a way that is facilitative and respectful or in a way that is obstructive and disrespectful.

When you choose the latter, your partner is likely to shut down, making it harder to keep the lines of communication open and hampering the two-way communication process that is essential for building and maintaining relationships.


Here Are 6 Guidelines for Mindful Communication and Mindful Conflict Resolution in Relationships:


1. Have an Honorable Intention

The essence of mindful communication is to make a genuine connection and create mutual understanding, not necessarily agreement. When you let this intent drive your action, you can bring about a fundamental shift in the way you and your partner communicate with each other.

What you really want is to encourage reciprocal and respectful dialogue. So, ask yourself: “If I were to speak right now, what emotion would be talking?” Most likely your answer would be anger or frustration.

The essence of mindful communication is to make a genuine connection.

Then ask yourself: “What emotion would I rather lead from?” Your answer will probably be love, concern, or compassion.

Once you’ve done this, you’re better positioned to lead with an open heart to set the tone for a mindful and peaceful conflict resolution.

2. Focus on the Present

Instead of focusing on the past, focus on the present and eventually move to the future. Move the conversation first from the past (here we go again!) to the future (what better choice do we want to make?), and then to the present (what happened).

3. Be Nonjudgmental

Nonjudgement is a central tenet of mindfulness and mindful communication. With mindful awareness, you are accepting of both your own and others’ flaws and imperfections.

4. Describe, Don’t Label

Offer a nonjudgmental description of the problem, rather than a judgmental label about your partner. By distinguishing between “the deed and the doer” you communicate that while you may disapprove of your partner’s behavior, you don’t reject him or her.

When you do this, you replace destructive words about your partner with constructive words about what has happened. This avoids saddling your partner with a negative character trait (e.g. rude, lazy, mean) which will only evoke a defensive response.

Replace destructive words about your partner with constructive words about what has happened.

A nonjudgmental description of the undesirable behavior, rather than a judgmental statement about your partner’s character deficit, is far more likely to solicit a dialogue in which your partner takes responsibility for his or her part in the conflict.

For example, a nonjudgmental description would be, “This is the second time this week you’ve been late.” A negative character label would be “You’re so inconsiderate.”

5. Request, Don’t Reprimand

Make a simple request by telling your partner what you do want him or her to do, rather than what you don’t want.

For example, a request is, “Please lower your voice.” A reprimand is, “Don’t talk to me in that tone of voice.”

While the first is heard as a request, the second is heard as a demand which tends to reinforce resistance and create an adversary rather than a willing partner.


6. Ask, Don’t Tell

Shift your stance from one of telling to one of asking. Replace reprimands, criticisms, and corrections with mindful questions.

Mindful questions establish a sense of shared responsibility and engage your partner as an ally. Questions that begin with what, when, where, how, or is invite cooperation and encourage self-reflection to take responsibility for one’s own actions.

Mindful questions establish a sense of shared responsibility.

However, there is a caveat. Don’t ask why questions because they invoke defenses. (“Why can’t you…?,” “Why do you have to…”) Questions that begin with “why” create an adversary and can obstruct cooperation.

Instead of saying, “You need to pay attention when I’m talking to you,” ask “Is there a better time to talk when you can give me your attention?”

Mindful Conflict Resolution in Your Relationship Is Possible With Mindful Communication

The mindful way forward is to move away from clinging to your point of view, needing to be right, and trying to persuade your partner to get your way. Instead, create a want to understand the problem from your partner’s perspective.

Once there is mutual understanding, you can move together to share and accept each other’s feelings. And then work as allies to figure out a way to manage the problem going forward.

After all, what is your ultimate goal? It should be to do better the next time you’re facing a similar situation.

Have other Relationship Issues? This Couples Therapist Says Chakra Therapy Can Help (Here’s How)

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Dr. Barbara Larrivee

Dr. Barbara Larrivee is an educator, researcher, author, and workshop leader. Her latest book, A Daily Dose of Mindful Moments: Applying the Science of Mindfulness and Happiness, is about weaving mindfulness into daily life with “mindful moments”—brief, research-based practices drawn from decades of research in mindfulness, positive psychology, and neuroscience.


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