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A Low-Conflict Approach to Being Radically Honest With Your Partner

How to ask for what you need without triggering a fight

Published on: April 15, 2021

happy married couple smiling and talking on a hike together

Marriage is a lot like owning a car. You don’t have to take it in for regular tune-ups, nor do you have to change its oil or fill up its tires. But sooner or later, this haphazard approach is likely to leave you stranded on the side of the road or with no car at all.

The same is true in marriage. You don’t have to reveal all of those microscopic truths: the subtle resentment you feel when cleaning up after your partner or the irritation that springs from feeling controlled. You could just let these small ruptures in connection grow over time. But sooner or later, the pressure builds, the massive fight happens, and you may find yourself in a relationship crisis.

In "The 80/80 Marriage," we recommend a simple approach for conducting frequent relationship tune-ups that can help you avoid this kind of catastrophic breakdown. We call it Reveal and Request.

The technique is simple. When you feel out of connection, irritated, disappointed or misunderstood, reveal your emotional experience to your partner in the spirit of radical generosity.

The second step is to follow up this reveal with a clear request. Taken together, it sounds something like, “When I spent 45 minutes cooking dinner for the family and you showed up 10 minutes late, I felt sad and disappointed. My ask is that, next time, please text me if you know you’re going to be late."

Simple, right? Not exactly. 

Whenever we share this tool on Instagram or in interviews, we often get the same objection. “This sounds great," people say. "But if I actually did that with my partner, it wouldn’t go so well. We'd probably end up in a huge fight.”

This raises an important question: How can you reveal and request without triggering a massive conflict?

1. Signal your Reveal and Request.

The first step is to give your partner a heads-up that you're departing from ordinary conversation and that you need their full attention. You can do that by signaling your Reveal and Request. It’s as simple as saying, “I have a reveal for you — is now a good time?" This allows your partner to shift their mindset — to put up some emotional plexiglass and intentionally stay open and curious.

2. Kill them with kindness.

During a Reveal and Request, the quality of your intention and motivation is everything. Most couples have some sort of revealing practice. But they often wait until they're fed up and then reveal from a place of anger, fear or resentment. This in turn triggers the defensiveness of the other partner, and the interaction quickly escalates into conflict.

You can avoid this escalation by grounding yourself in kindness and radical generosity. Think of this reveal not as your opportunity to point out how your partner is being an insensitive jerk, but as a gift to your relationship, as a way to come back into connection.

3. Listen with an open heart.

This practice is a lot like dancing the tango. The partner who is revealing leads the dance, but the other partner still plays a crucial role. In this case, it’s listening with an open mind and an open heart. To do this, when your partner is revealing something to you, become aware of your own reactions. You may feel shame, disappointment or anger. That's totally fine and totally natural.

The problem is that, without mindfulness, these feelings of defensiveness lead us to react in unskillful ways. We criticize, blame and attack.

If you have this experience, a better approach is to take a deep breath, let these emotions settle, and then respond with your own reveal. It sounds something like, “Wow! I notice that I feel triggered and upset as I’m hearing you describe your experience."

All of this is to say that Reveal and Request is a subtle art. It requires extreme care both on the side of the person revealing and the side of the person listening. If you can begin to master this skill, however, something amazing happens.

Those moments of hurt feelings, disappointment and misunderstanding turn from being the things that pull you apart to being daily opportunities to grow together and connect. 

This article first appeared on the 80/80 Marriage website

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