Q: I want to talk until we work things out, but my partner likes to try and escape, saying we can talk later. How can I make them stay and talk through it?
A: Talking is only productive when both persons are in a calm state and able to respond flexibly. A better request may be to ask, “Could you let me know when it would be a good time for you to talk about…….?”
If your partner has difficulty tolerating uncomfortable feelings that arise when talking about issues, that may be one reason for their avoidance. Encourage them to develop strategies for managing those feelings and do what you can to help.
Another reason for avoidance may be that there is an absence of respectful curiosity of each others’ views during the discussions you sometimes have. We all need to feel understood. Not feeling understood can be a root cause of being unable to work through or wanting to work through issues. Learning compassionate communication skills together can be a game changer!
If someone is feeling emotionally flooded and overwhelmed, it actually could be a good time to take a break. According to the Gottman Institute, flooding is “a sensation of feeling psychologically and physically overwhelmed during conflict, making it virtually impossible to have a productive, problem-solving discussion.” Allow a time out for calming, to do some deep breathing, to take a walk, to chant at the top of your lungs in the shower, whatever works. Its each person’s responsibility to manage their emotions. Allowing our partner that break to do so, shows understanding that they want to be at their best when discussing problems.
Learning win-win strategies for navigating conflicts can reduce them to challenges: the two of us against the problem. Using such strategies can help us develop the confidence that things can be worked out peacefully to both person’s satisfaction, thus preventing the tendency to avoid issues.