5 Ways to Increase Understanding in Conflict

By Natalie Callen, AMFT

Feeling misunderstood or ignored are emotions people universally avoid.. When involving one’s partner, the negative emotional responses to these experiences are often exacerbated, resulting in a breakdown of communication or feeling of security in the relationship. So what can you do if you feel your partner isn’t hearing, understanding or respecting you? Implementing the following steps can enhance positive interactions and promote greater mutual understanding.  

1. Engage in some self-reflection

Practicing a bit of introspection is often the first step in improving communication. Spend some time evaluating your feeling state, identifying the emotions your partner’s behavior have evoked. Ask yourself: Why is his or her behavior troubling? How is it making you feel? Judged? Misunderstood? Ignored? Disrespected? Determining the true feeling you are experiencing, and understanding why, paves the way for identifying the change you would like to see.

2. Consider Context

When feeling hurt or misunderstood by your partner, the last thing you may want to do is give him or her the benefit of the doubt. However, it’s important to take a step back and identify the role context may play in the situation. What was the nature of the conversation you tried having with your partner? What sort of state were they in prior to the conversation? Consider your own tone and mood when speaking to him or her, and if those factors may have contributed to the miscommunication.

3. Find a time:

Finding a time that works for both partners to talk is important to eliminate factors that may interfere with effective communication. Check in with your partner to see when they’re available—both emotionally and physically— to talk for a bit. Turn off electronics and other distractions, and make sure you aren't rushed.

4. Be Honest and Respectful

Speak directly, sharing your insight. Identify the emotions experienced, and brainstorm ideas of what changes can be made in the future to alleviate future miscommunications. Make sure to demonstrate respect and personal authority for your feelings, using “I-statements” and speaking from the softer emotions, rather than making accusations and focusing on anger. Your partner will respond more effectively to your vulnerability, rather than getting defensive when feeling attacked.

5. Keep it Focused

Stick to the topic at hand as much as possible. When given the opportunity—especially if you have been feeling unheard lately— it can be tempting to open the floodgates, bringing up all other things that have been bothering you, or referencing old conflicts. Veering off course can cause you both to become confused, heated, and incapable of hearing the other from a place of empathy. Keeping a conversation focused prevents escalation and further pain for both sides.