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Navigating Challenging Conversations in Relationships

Updated: Mar 20

Challenging conversations in relationships

One of the most common situations in relationships that can easily get out of control is having challenging conversations. We often think that if we are close to someone, we can say whatever we want. We think it’s our right to be brutally honest about things we don’t like in our partners and we can freely express them and demand changes.

When we are unhappy with our partners we usually get right to the point and tell them what we think and what we want. However, people rarely take criticism with the calmness of a Buddhist monk; more likely, it will trigger old traumas, resulting in hurt feelings, defensiveness, and aggression.

In a successful partnership people work as a team. If one partner notices areas for improvement, addressing these issues could benefit both. By doing so in a respectful way, tension and hurt feelings can be avoided and the conversation can help each partner grow and improve their relationship.

How can you navigate challenging conversations and give feedback without hurting someone’s feelings?

The “sandwich method” can help to deliver your message in a gentle and respectful way and handle challenging conversations with dignity and respect. The idea is pretty simple:

1. Start by giving your partner positive feedback, such as acknowledging something he or she did recently that you appreciated. This will set a good tone for the conversation.

2. Provide your constructive criticism. Do not blame, just give your observations and share how you feel. Be brief but clear in your message. Ideally give just one or two points. Three or more things is too much for a person to handle at one time. Also, try to provide the criticism in the context of how it can help your partner reach his or her goals.

3. End on a positive note. You can simply repeat the initial positive feedback given at the beginning, perhaps phrased differently, or you can speak in general terms about how much progress your partner is making and that he or she is on the right track.

The “sandwich method” provides a positive beginning to a potentially difficult conversation. As the discussion progresses, make sure you really listen to your partner and offer help in finding solutions that work for you both.

Here’s an example of navigating challenging conversations:

A couple had often experienced challenging conversations while preparing to go out for the evening. Feeling that she had a million things to do, the woman tended to aggravate her partner who felt she was too slow and holding them up. As a result, he often rushed her, pressuring his partner to leave before she felt ready. This tension frequently ruined their night out before it even started.

To avoid such tension, the man could raise the issue as follows, balancing his criticism with positive feedback and an offer to assist:

“Sweetheart, I enjoy our evenings together so much. There’s no one I’d rather spend time with and I’m proud to have such an amazing partner. You always look beautiful and elegant!

But to be honest, I get frustrated when it takes too long to get ready and it affects my mood during our time together. I appreciate the effort you put into your appearance and you always look beautiful, but I feel that you’re focused on other things that could be done later.

Perhaps some of these things could be done in advance and I’d be happy to help if I can. This would give us more time to enjoy our night out together, which is really important to me.”

By addressing the issue in this way, the man opened the door to a civilized and respectful conversation, taking both partners’ needs into account.


Anna Morgan, a dating coach, guides young men who are overwhelmed by the dating app maze in finding authentic, meaningful relationships. She offers 1:1 coaching sessions, as well as empowering dating profile photos for online presence. Contact Anna and schedule a free discovery call with a dating expert. See you on the bright side of dating!

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