How to Communicate About Hurts with Your Partner in 4 Easy Steps
Every relationship could happily do without dramatic confrontations and the mess that ensues. So how do you have the tough conversations without the theatrics or name-calling? Overcoming hurt is not a simple thing. Each of you has an array of feelings and it is important for both of you to share what you need.
Whether you are the one communicating the hurt, or they are communicating a hurt to you, below you will find four important steps on how to communicate about this with your partner and feel better faster.
1. Make it safe.
Before you open up about your feelings, make sure things are emotionally safe. This might mean making sure your person is in a place to hear you. Are they drifting off to sleep or running out the door for work? If so, it may not be the best time. Start by picking the right time to have tough conversations.
Avoid the snide remark at the dinner party or the passive-aggressive comment in front of your in-laws. Acknowledge the raw pain you are feeling to yourself in a moment of emotion, and take a quick break from everyone else, or at least note to yourself what triggered the need to lash out. I like to call this “Pressing the Pause Button.” Bookmark this in your mind to return to later. Painful emotions can be helpful in uncovering a negative cycle in your relationship.
Another important aspect of making things safe is asking for consent. Give your partner, friend, or family member a heads up and get their permission for you to share the big feeling you’re having. Use touch, affirmation, and closeness to affirm the relationship bond. Get on the same page with your partner before launching into the conflict.
When you get permission from your partner to have a tough conversation, you are getting their “buy-in” to work on a problem together. This starts you out on the same team instead of on opposing sides.
Example: Look at your partner, grab their hands, and say, “I just had a big emotion come up. I want to share it with you because you are a safe person for me. Is this a good time to do that?”
Example: Before you text your friend to air out your grievances with them, check-in and ask if they have the bandwidth to hold your emotions. Say, “I value our friendship deeply. I am feeling hurt about something that was said last week. Do you have space to talk about this with me today?” Also, remember that these conversations usually go best in-person or on the phone rather than via text.
Using “parts” is a fantastic communication skill that allows us to hold space for nuance, flexible thinking, and gray areas. This is super important because it’s normal to have conflicting feelings and experiences. We need to honor that. To practice this, acknowledge that different parts of you may be feeling different things.
Example: “One part of me knows you were just joking when you made that comment, and another part of me feels really hurt about it. I want to give the hurt part a voice right now.”
Example: “Even though my wisest self knows that you are working so hard, my resentful part is getting loud right now. Can you help me hold space while I share what my resentful part feels?”
Example: “A part of me knows it wasn’t your intention at all, and another part just feels so bummed. I’d like us to listen to the bummed-out part together. Are you game?”
2. Recognize the pattern of previous explosive conversations.
Think about how these conversations usually go. Do you throw word bombs at your partner and leave the room? Do you tend to talk your partner into a corner? Maybe you are the one who avoids the conversation altogether just to keep the peace. Look at the cycle that you return to and resolve to yourself not to engage in that particular behavior. Keep your voice soft and your mind open. Vulnerability is a terrifying but necessary component when you communicate hurt to your partner.
Prepare yourself to hear your partner’s side as well; there are probably other emotions and perceptions on the other side of this issue. Use emotion words as much as possible and the word “you” as little as possible.
Few people actually set out to hurt their partner and even the realization that they may have done so inadvertently can be painful to hear. Adding accusatory barbs to the discussion, even unintentionally, may trigger your partner to assemble defensive armor and make it impossible to communicate hurt to your partner. They will have a harder time hearing your pain because you have now triggered theirs. Notice how this pattern plays out in your own relationship and work to create a different pattern with your partner.
An example of an alternative, more helpful explanation would be, “When your mother commented about me wasting water in the shower and doing dishes, I felt so criticized and hurt. I hoped you would come to my defense because I could hardly think of how to respond. It is really confusing because I want her to like me but I also feel that I deserve to be spoken to more kindly. Without you on my side, I feel really alone.”
Of course, this is all easier said than done, yet with practice and effort from both of you, you can establish a safe environment for confrontation.
After you share the emotion, check in with your partner about how they’re doing and how it landed for them. This doesn’t mean it’s your responsibility to manage your partner’s emotions. It’s about making sure each of you have space to feel whatever is there.
- Example: “How was it for me to share that with you? Did that feel safe for you?”
- Example: “Thank you for listening. I feel [better/calmer/relieved]. Is there anything you need from me right now?”
- Example: “I love you. I’m so glad we can talk about hard things. What do we both need to stay connected right now?”
Make sure to make space for what your partner is feeling, reactions, and reflections from their side of the pattern – and validate them. Your partner’s experience and perception is their reality – just like yours. When it is time to address and confront your part of the interaction, it is time to offer a sincere apology.
4. Apologize Right
Saying that you’re sorry after you know you’ve done something wrong is often not an easy task. You may have a hard time finding the right words, or be worried that the other person will reject your gesture. Even if you’re anxious, the worst thing you can do is just say a generic “I’m sorry” without any feeling or sincerity. If you want to extend an olive branch, here are some tips for how to apologize and truly improve your relationship:
- Connect with the other person’s emotions.
Even if you’re upset with the person that you’re apologizing to because they have also done something wrong, take time to really think about where they are coming from and what their emotions are. When you can get a handle on what the other person is feeling you can begin to open up yourself and have an honest conversation. If you aren’t bothering to think about the other person’s feelings, they will be able to sense that and it will make it difficult to accept your apology.
- Show your own emotions and remorse.
Open up about why you understand your actions or words hurt the other person and show that you’re sorry with not only your statements, but also your body language and tone of voice. If you tell someone you’re sorry in an angry or sarcastic tone, they are naturally likely to take it the wrong way. Use a soft tone of voice and open body language to show that you are not in a defensive stance. Be vulnerable, and talk about what it means to you that the relationship gets back on track.
- Understand the consequences of your actions.
You can’t always expect someone to immediately forget that their pain ever happened and for things to just “go back to normal.” Depending on what you did, such as belittle or cheat on your partner, it may take time for the wound to heal and for trust to be rebuilt. Tell the person you’re apologizing to that you understand the consequences and will do what it takes to rebuild your dynamic. This will show them that you’re not just offering an empty apology and are willing to put in the work to really make things right.
Knowing how to apologize isn’t an easy task. Keep in mind that a real apology needs to acknowledge and show real emotion. Every relationship will face arguments and will have a time for apologies – how you apologize can be the difference between expanding the cracks the hurt caused, or filling them up and bringing you closer as a couple.
If you find yourself having a difficult time communicating – or listening to – hurts, couples therapy or relationship counseling is the way to go. Making space for emotions doesn’t have to be a process fraught with tension, pain, and frustration. Remember that it is a gift to your partner for you to invite them into your emotions in an empowered way – and it is also a gift to hear your partner’s emotions and hurts, too. The emotions in your relationship deserve to be heard and held with tenderness and love. Call or text us at Estes Therapy at 619-558-0001 today to set up your couples counseling or marriage counseling appointment and start to feel better!