If You Really Want to Tell Off Your Partner Try This Instead
Updated: Jul 4
How to Share Feedback to Repair and Reconnect in Your Relationship
From Relational Life Therapy Founder Terry Real's bestseller:
adapted from the work of Janet Hurley.
All relationships continually move through a cycle of harmony, disharmony, and repair. Many of us feel the problem lies in the disharmony. We mistakenly believe that if we had the "right" partner, or if our partners were a “better” version of themself, or like they "used to be" that these ruptures wouldn't occur.
But these times of disconnection, hurt, misunderstanding, anger, and disappointment are natural and inevitable. The actual problem arises when a relationship fails to move from these unavoidable times of rupture into repair. Most of us don't know how to effectively repair our relationships. So, we default to our "Losing Strategies" - venting our emotions at our partners, arguing with our partners about events, trying to "get" our partners to behave differently, being passive-aggressive, or just giving up and shutting down. When these "Losing Strategies" fail to move us into a state of repair the relationship suffers, and over time our relationships becomes less intimate, less cherishing, and not much fun.
But there is a constructive alternative. By following this clearly defined process for sharing feedback with your partner, you can let them know clearly and specifically what they did that you are upset about, and how you believe they can help you both move into repair, reconnection, and true intimacy.
Well before you ever try to share feedback with your partner share the feedback process with them so that you both have an understanding of how the process works, as well as the goal of sharing feedback. This way, once a situation comes up where you or your partner wants to provide feedback you will both have a comfort level and understanding of the process and how it works. This understanding will then help the listener to be less defensive and on guard, and be more open to what the speaker has to say.
If you both understand the feedback process and you have a specific issue that you want to bring up start by checking in with your partner to see if it is a good time for you to talk. If they tell you “no” accept the no, but let them know that you have something that you would like to talk about when they can give you sufficient energy and attention and ask them when a good time would be to discuss it.
Once your partner is ready to give you their attention remember that your primary goal is to improve your connection, not to shame, blame or criticize them. Make sure that you are in a place to follow this brief four-step structured process for sharing feedback.
What a video recording would show about what you saw or heard.
The story that you created in your mind about what you saw or heard.
The feelings that you experienced about what happened.
What you would like your partner to do to help you move into repair.
If you are too upset or angry to trust yourself to fully follow the structure of the process wait to talk until you are in a more centered place. Keep in mind that even if you follow the process impeccably that your partner may not respond to you in the way that you hope. Be ready to let go and accept that you cannot control the outcome of the conversation.
If you and your partner are both ready and centered start by telling your partner:
"What I saw or heard..."
In one or two sentences describe the particular, specific, observable, behavior that you found troubling. Provide your partner with clear, uninterpreted data that would be supported by a video recording of the incident.
"What I made up about it..."
Share your interpretation of the event. The key is to describe it as the story that you created, not what your partner thought, intended, felt, or believed. With this frame you own the meaning that you created.
"How I felt was..."
Get in touch with your emotional response to the event and share these feelings with your partner as calmly and simply as you can. Make sure that what you are expressing is an emotion - a feeling - and not a belief or theory about your partner. If you are using "you" instead of "I" in describing how you feel you've moved away from describing a feeling. This step takes vulnerability, but is key to getting your partner to understand your full experience. Try to access the layers of the feelings you experience - if your initial response is usually anger, look if there is fear or pain under that feeling, and express those emotions first. For help naming your emotions check out The Seven Primary Feelings.
"What I'm asking for now is..."
Signal to your partner that you are seeking to move on from the conflict and reconnect by asking specifically for what will make you feel better and move your relationship back into harmony. If there isn't anything that your partner can do in the moment ask for reassurance about how this won't happen in the future.
Remember that your partner may not give you what you want. This disappointment is something you will need to be prepared to grieve and accept. But the more practice that both of you have using the tools that develop and support relational connection the better you will be at communicating your perspectives and hearing what the other one needs. Through this process you will begin to build the intimacy and connection that you wish for and grow more skilled in your relational practice. For a free print quality downloadable PDF infographics of the feedback process and other relational skills based on the work of Terry Real check out my Free Relationship Tools page.
Over the next few weeks, I’ll explore how to effectively listen to your partner's feedback as well as each of Terry Real's Five Winning Strategies For Getting What You Want In Your Relationship. For handy infographics on Giving Feedback, the Losing Strategies, the Winning Strategies, the Seven Primary Feelings, and Guide to Relationship Time Outs check out my Free Tools Page where you can download free print-quality PDFs of each of these infographics.
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The relationship you wish for is possible, but sometimes skills and tools aren’t enough to get you there. Most of us have times in our lives when we need help to rebuild the passion and connection in our relationships. If this is where you are - reach out. I can help.