Example for Expressing a Conflict with a Partner

What Happened?

To resolve a conflict with a partner, we first need to separate our judgments from what actually happened. Why is this important? Because our judgments are often made up of old thoughts and feelings that cause us to react, blame and attack the other person. We project our past impressions on to our current situations. See Projections

Attack and blame escalate conflict.

To help you distinguish what happened from our judgments, we have provided some examples below.

Examples of What Happened

You did not wash the dishes and you left the countertops with sticky juice in several spots.

I did not wash the dishes and I did not wipe down the countertops.

Examples of Judgments About What Happened

It was your turn to do the dishes and leaving mess on the counters is intolerable for me.

Your needs around the dishes are dominating my needs. It cannot always be your needs that determine what happens.

Communicating only what happened without your judgments will allow the other person to hear your side of the conflict without having to go into a defensive mode. No Attack—no defense or counter attack is needed.

How did it make you feel?

In this step you identify how you feel about what happened and express your feelings in a way that allows others to hear you. Identifying how you feel can be difficult because it is easier to get caught in the blame and judgments and not be connected to how you are feeling.

Examples of feeling statements

When you did not wash the dishes on your night I felt very angry and hopeless. I cannot feel trust that you will follow through with our agreements and I feel hurt and rejected because you do not seem to value my needs for order. It makes me feel anxious when there is mess around; it feels as if you do not care about me or our home.

I feel controlled and angry that you are uptight about our agreement about the dishes. I feel misunderstood and not respected because my needs are not the same as yours and you seem to require me to have the same needs as you have.

What are your needs in this situation?

Although other person's actions or speech may have triggered a lot of feelings, under these feelings are needs that were unmet and caused your feelings. It's important to realize what your needs are and when they are being challenged.

In this step we are asking you to identify your own needs.

Examples of needs that may not have been responded to in the examples above:

I need to feel that I can depend on you to keep our agreements. My need for connection is disrupted by your disrespecting our agreements. I need you to recognize my need for order and when you don't keep things clean, it feels like a threat to some of my expectations. I expect things to be clean and orderly. I feel that you are not respecting me.

My need for autonomy is being challenged. I have my own priorities that I need to have respected, at least some of the time. My sense of mutuality is violated by your insisting that your needs for order dominate my needs.

Here are needs that may arise in conflicts with others when our relationship needs are not being met, or are being challenged in some way.

Attention: Needing the other person to be focused on and attending to what you’re are saying or doing.

Understanding: Needing others to grasp the intended meaning of your words or actions.

Contingency: Needing others to respond to your actions or words in ways that you expect.

Joining: Needing to be able to share meanings and values with another person or group.

Recognition: Needing others to see and hear you and give value to what you are doing, thinking or feeling.

Respect: Wanting others to listen and respond to your feelings and needs with the sense that they value you and treat you as an individual with your own values and boundaries.

Security: Needing to feel that your environment is safe, that you are protected and do not fear that your boundaries will be violated. Needing to feel that you matter to others, that you are cared for wanted and protected.

Dependability: Needing to feel that you can rely on others and be able to trust that they will act and speak truthfully.

Mutuality: Needing to feel a sense of balance with others that you both are giving and receiving equally.

Connection: Needing to feel on the same page with others. Needing to feel a part of a relationship or group.

Affiliation: Needing to have a sense of belonging. Needing to have friendships and feel part of a group of your peers.

Intimacy: Having a sense of closeness to certain people in your world. Feeling emotionally and physically connected.

Autonomy: Experiencing a need for independence. Wanting to do things on your own and in your own way.

What do you want the other person to understand about this situation or your feelings or needs?


I want you to understand that having a mess in the house really throws my whole sense of well being. I don't want you to feel dominated by my needs. I need you to understand that when you do not do what you say you will do it is a big deal for me, and I feel very disconnected and disappointed when it happens.

I want you to understand that I do get your need for order and that I like the place to be in order also. I have my own timeline and do things in a different way than you. I need my timing to be respected and honored by you. I also need you to understand that sometimes I have so much on my mind that I don't have the energy or the time to do the dishes etc.

What do you request from the other person?

Now that your have expressed yourself, there is an opportunity for you to ask for what you need from the other person. Focus on what you want from them: not what you don't want. Make your request clear and specific.

I request that you negotiate a change in the agreement before you change your actions around one. I would really appreciate us working on a new agreement about chores that worked better for both of us.

I request that you try to remember that I do care about you and I am aware of your needs for order. I would like you to trust that I have my reasons for my actions and that you at least listen to what they are before you react.

Examples of How to Respond:

An important part of effective communication is to be able to let the other person know that you understand what they mean. If you reflect back accurately, they will experience being heard by you. Often when people are heard, their upset disappears. If you do not reflect back to them accurately the conflict will remain and they will continue to feel unheard. It is important to try to imagine how the other person is feeling and not simply repeat back what they have said.

Reflecting back will:

Increase understanding in your relationship

Prevent misunderstandings from occurring in the future, and

Deepen your emotional relationship with one another.

Some Phrases used in Reflecting Back:

What I think you said is...

What I heard you say is...

How I think you felt is...

What I get you want me to understand is...

Here are some examples of statements which reflect your understanding back to your partner:

I understand from what you have said that you feel disconnected from me when you feel I have not respected our agreements and have not taken seriously your need for order. I get that disorder throws you significantly. I hear that you get that I feel controlled by your needs, at times, and that I have different priorities. I appreciate that you get it.

I understand that you have a lot on your mind and are sometimes too bogged down to do the dishes. I get it that you want me to respect that you do things on your own time line and that it is different from mine. I also hear that you are aware of my needs.

These are three options in responding to a request: You may:

If you wish to counter-offer their request; state specifically what action you are willing to take to support them in having their needs met. If you wish to decline their request, be in dialogue with them to negotiate an acceptable response that will work for both of you.

Here are examples of responses to the request from your partner:

I accept this request. I would be glad to talk more about how we can set up things so that we can reach a better agreement. I agree to ask for new negotiations before I get to the point of not keeping agreements.

I accept the request that I try to talk to you before getting so upset about breaks in our agreements and remember that you do care about my needs. And I acknowledge that you have your own reasons for your actions.

I can't accept the offer to negotiate or talk more in the future because that seems too far off. I would like us to begin this as soon as possible. It would work for me if each of us write out three of our bottom line issues around cleaning up and see if we can negotiate a middle ground.

I accept your counter-offer and will send you my bottomlines around cleaning up.