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Do You Have Problems Bringing Up Issues?

By Dr. Margaret Paul
August 10, 2015

Do you get stuck in not being able to resolve conflicts because you don't know how to bring up issues in a way that works?

Bringing up difficult issues is often a major challenge in relationships.

Laurie wrote to me about this issue:

"My biggest trigger in relationships is bringing up issues that bother me. I am conflict avoidant and will do almost anything to avoid having to bring up issues that are a problem for me. Even just starting the sentence is difficult. I have often waited until I had stored so much pain/frustration that I simply just walked out of the relationship without even given the person the chance to change their behavior because I didn't want to change them. I didn't feel I had a right to ask for what I needed. Most men that I have been in relationships with are shocked when I have left because they didn't even know there was a problem. I never spoke up. I really want to stop this behavior because it usually results in me having no one in my life, as we all fall short of each other. Conflict is inevitable. But I don't know where to start or how to stop doing this. I just FREEZE and feel so uncomfortable I can't open my mouth."

I'm certain that many of you reading this article can identify with Laurie.

What if you knew for certain that your partner would respond with caring and an intent to learn when you brought up an issue? Would you still have a problem bringing up issues?

The chances are that it would be easy to bring up issues if there was no fear that it would lead to defensiveness, arguing, blaming, explaining, withdrawal or rejection – which is what often happens when we bring up issues.

There are two matters to consider when bringing up issues:

  1. How you bring them up
  2. Whether or not your partner is generally open to learning

How You Bring Up Issues

If, when you bring up an issue, you are coming from fear rather than from a true intent to learn, or from believing that your partner needs to change for you to be okay, then your energy will likely be somewhat harsh and blaming. Even if you are being soft and saying it 'nicely', you will not be able to hide your intent to change/control your partner.

Since most people hate to be controlled, this will often result in the other person reacting in exactly the way you are afraid they will react. It's not so much the words you use, but your intent that determines so much of what happens between you.

Whether Or Not Your Partner Is Generally Open To Learning

If, in your experience, your partner is generally closed no matter how you bring it up, then this is important information for you. You either need to accept that your partner isn't open to resolving conflict and doesn't care about what you may need from him or her, or you need to consider leaving the relationship. If you know for sure that you are open to learning when you approach your partner but that your partner remains closed, you need to accept that you are helpless over your partner's intent.

When this is the case and you are not ready to leave the relationship, then you need to focus on what is loving to yourself in the face of your partner's behavior.

As I've often said, issues are readily resolved when both people are open to learning, but they are impossible to resolve when one or both people are closed to learning and closed to caring about each other.

I've seen over and over how easy it is to resolve most conflicts when both people are open to learning about themselves and each other. Sometimes, a couple needs facilitation to be able to stay open at the same time and to understand what they are each doing that is making it impossible to resolve conflict. A good facilitator can readily see what each of you is doing that is causing you to fear bringing up issues.


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