How to talk with your boyfriend, girlfriend or partner

Good listening skills and a spirit of openness are vital in a relationship. That way when conflict occurs you can easily navigate it without losing control of our emotions. We asked psychologist Dr Janet Reibstein for her tips on talking things through with your significant other.

A young man is wondering how to talk to his partner. This is a full-body image.

You love them. They love you. So why is it so damn hard to talk about things as a couple without it spiralling into an argument?

No matter how in love you are, you’ll argue. You’ll disagree on various topics of conversation. You’ll sometimes look at them and think, ‘how the bloody hell can you think that? I don’t even know who you are anymore!”

This is inevitable, and sparring isn’t a sign that you’re in the wrong relationship. But how you deal with these disagreements is very important in keeping a relationship happy and healthy.

“Managing conflict is the primary relationship skill,” says Dr Janet Reibstein, a psychologist and professor at Exeter University. “Conflict will always be there, even in the best relationship. As long as you learn about relationships and how to communicate openly and honestly, you’ll be able to get through anything together.

Getting ready to talk to your partner

Step 1 – take some time out before you talk 

So you’re upset. We know it’s hard, but please try to not to have it out here and now. Not right away at least. Instead, take some time out for yourself and reflect on your feelings. Try to figure out why their behaviour has made you feel this way.

See, if you react straight away, when you haven’t had a chance to ponder what to talk about with your boyfriend, girlfriend or partner, you’re more likely to yell hurtful things like, “I HATE YOU, WHY ARE YOU SO EVIL?”

Step 2 – think about what their view may be

This bit is even harder… thinking about the possibility you may not be 100% right, in every way. 

“You need to understand that there might be a difference in opinion,” says Dr Janet. “Sure, their perspective may not seem reasonable to you, but it will to them. Take a minute to try and see if there’s a middle ground.

It may be cliché, but try to walk a mile in their shoes. Imagine what they’re feeling right now and try to keep an open mind. Avoid getting wedded to your side of the argument. And be aware that you may have to compromise. Alternatively, just hearing each other out and realising why you don’t agree could be enough.

Step 3 – give your partner a chance to prepare for the talk 

You’ve gone through the process of working out what you feel and why, so it’s only fair you give your partner the chance to do the same. Otherwise you’ll just get the brunt of their emotional response. It may sound clinical, but plan ahead. Book in some time to have a discussion about your relationship. Be careful how you phrase it though.

“Propose the chat like it’s a collaboration. This is about you as a couple, not just you having a problem. Saying something like, ‘I feel like we’ve been having a few issues about X, Y and Z and it would be good to talk this through together’ is less likely to scare them and/or make them defensive,” says Dr Janet.

Just make sure to pick a good time to have your chat. Right before you both dash off to work, or late at night isn’t really the best plan. You want to both be relaxed and rested, not tired and cranky. And remember, if any of you are upset when the time you’d originally planned comes along, you can always reschedule.

How to talk about conflict with your partner

You might struggle with what to talk about with your boyfriend, girlfriend or partner to start a conversation. The point is to share your feelings, and then invite them to share theirs. So don’t just focus on a bunch of smaller incidents that led you here.

Most importantly, be very careful with how you word things. “I feel” is always going to go down better than, “you always.” And avoid putting words in your partners mouth, e.g. “You do this because…”  They’ll automatically get defensive.

Don’t think that one chat’ll sort everything out either – it may end up being a process rather than a quick-solve five-minute convo. There’s a chance you’ll need to go away, think again, regroup, and then have another chat. If this is the case, try not to worry too much.

What if they just won’t listen to me? Or keep telling me I’m wrong?

Note: Your feelings are never ‘wrong’ and they should never be dismissed. If your partner is dismissing them, that’s sending you quite a clear message. Yes, what’s triggered these feelings may be out of perspective thoughts, perhaps caused by a misunderstanding. But you still need to discuss together where your feelings have come from and why you’re having them, not just be told they’re incorrect.

“It’s very common to get undermined in these conversations”, says Dr Janet. “This means that it’s important to be aware of when you’re in an emotional state and take time out – even if you’re right in the middle of the conversation.”

If you feel you keep going in circles and nothing helpful is getting achieved, don’t be afraid to take a break. It may take a couple of tries, and feel like pulling your own teeth out, but learning how to talk to each other – and more importantly argue effectively – is worth it in the long run to cultivate the healthiest relationship possible.

Next Steps

  • Relate is an affordable relationship and sex counselling service. 0300 100 1234
  • Chat about this subject on our Discussion Boards.
  • Need help but confused where to go locally? Download our StepFinder iPhone app to find local support services quickly.

By Holly Bourne

Updated on 20-Jun-2022