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How to Stop a Conversation Without Hurting the Relationship

Thinking about a way out ahead of time can help you be prepared to make an exit.

Picture this: You’re having an EXHAUSTING conversation with extended family. There seems to be no easy or natural escape route, but you’ve got to get away for your own sanity. You know that stopping the conversation can hurt the relationship. What do you do?

You may want to stop the conversation for several reasons:

  • The topic is too controversial, and it’s not worth potentially fracturing the relationship. (Religion, politics, social justice, morality, parenting, etc.)
  • It’s gotten too personal. (Unresolved issues, things you don’t want to share, topics you disagree on regarding how you live your life, and so on.)
  • It’s simply time to move on. You have other commitments or people to talk to.
  • The conversation feels like gossip. 
  • Your history with this person leads you to believe that this convo won’t end well.
  • You don’t feel equipped to talk about the topic.

I’m sure you can come up with all kinds of reasons you’d want or need to stop a conversation.

If you’re like me, you work hard to avoid hurting others – and sometimes end up talking too long and wasting time. This can lead to resentment or simply lost interest in the relationship because you hope you don’t run into that person. Why? Because you know the conversation will go ON and ON and ON if you do. 

But maybe you’re like some friends of mine who can be overly blunt. They don’t care if they hurt your feelings. So they may say:

I ain’t got time for all this. I’ll talk to you later.”

“I’m not about to have this conversation with you.”

“I knew better than to try and talk to you about this.”

Let’s say that you want to bow out gracefully, but you’re not sure how. All you know is that you want to stop the conversation without hurting the relationship or someone’s feelings. 

But first, here’s an important thing for you to consider: “Why would stopping the conversation hurt the relationship?” 

Knowing the “correct” answer to this question may not be as important as considering the possibilities.

Would the person feel rejected? Dismissed?

Is it about the loss of control?

Considering how and why stopping the conversation could hurt the relationship can help you end conversations with empathy. It can also show that you care about the person and the relationship. 

Remember, every situation and every relationship is different. The culture of the relationship often dictates what’s most effective. Here are some ideas to get you started.

Preparing to Stop the Conversation

  • Allow others to speak their mind and get their thoughts out. Resist the need to interrupt others to express your rebuttal or opinion. 
  • Own your need to exit the conversation.
  • Be confident in your conversational boundaries (and why you have them).
  • Value the relationship over the conversation.

If you want out of the conversation, you can start with:

“What you said leaves a lot to think about. I truly value this relationship, and I don’t want you to think I’m trying to just dismiss you or your thoughts, however…” 

These words express that you heard them and that you value the relationship. It also shows empathy.:.

The reason for ending the conversation may determine what you say next.

Are you ending the conversation because…

  • You have something else you need to do?
  • It’s too emotional?
  • Controversial topic?
  • You don’t feel heard?
  • __________ ? Fill in the blank

If so, you may finish the statement with:

“…I have a prior commitment, and I don’t want to be disrespectful to the people there.”

“…this conversation is more than I’m ready for right now. Will you respect my wishes to talk about something else?”

“… this type of conversation rarely ends well. Can we talk about something else?” (It helps to have another topic in your back pocket.)

“…can we talk about this when I’m in a better position to talk?”

The truth is, even though you might do everything in your power to be honest, empathetic, and kind, the other person can still feel hurt. But you can’t control how someone responds when you do what you believe is best for you and the relationship. All you can do is rest in knowing that you did your part. Hopefully, others can give you the space you need for your own well-being and let the conversation end on a good note.

Other blogs:

What to Do When You Disagree With Your Spouse

4 Ways to Have Difficult Conversations During the Holidays

What To Do When Your Family Disagrees About Politics – First Things First

The Good Conversationalist: The Basics (by Emily Post Etiquette)

How Much Should Healthy Couples Fight?

Maybe it's HOW you fight that matters.

Can healthy couples fight too much? How much fighting is healthy? 

No two people agree on everything. That’s undoubtedly true in marriage. (If it’s not true in yours, then I’d really like to meet you. And really… why are you even reading this?) The result is often misunderstanding, a failure to see eye to eye, and a tug-of-war to get each other’s point across. Sometimes, a fight ensues. 

An important caveat right off the bat: Many people say they “fight” when they argue or disagree. I’m guessing you’re reading this because you are experiencing “fighting” in marriage (if not, see the paragraph above). But for others, this word evokes memories of violence and abuse, which is never okay. For our purposes here, fighting is used to describe verbal disagreements. 

With that in mind, hear this loud and clear: Even happy, healthy couples fight. 

Congrats: You’re normal! 

A 2012 survey would even suggest that “highly happy couples” describe some of their arguments as “painful.” (Food for thought: The survey also indicates that these couples might be “highly happy” because they know, even during a fight, that they care about and want what’s best for each other. I’ll just leave that right here…) 

As a matter of fact, never fighting could indicate that the relationship is in a less-than-ideal place. Experts say that avoiding conflict and discussing differences can cause a buildup of frustration and resentment that leads to problems in the long run.1,2 

Truthfully, it’s not whether you fight or even necessarily how often you fight that matters. It’s how you fight that matters. 

Here are five warning signs that can tell you if your disagreements are unhealthy: 

1. The same, sore subject keeps coming up. Over. And Over. And Over…

Whether it’s how the dishes go on the rack, how one of you works too much, or the fact that your mother-in-law makes that annoying sound when she laughs… It always comes up and causes a ruckus. And it never gets resolved. 

2. Communication roadblocks emerge.

Researcher John Gottman identifies four negative communication patterns that cause trouble:

Criticism: Blaming, fault-finding, or attacking your spouse’s character

Contempt: Communicating with meanness, disrespect, sarcasm, ridicule, 

name-calling, 

and eye-rolling 

Defensiveness: Fishing for excuses, avoidance of accepting responsibility, or 

shifting 

blame back to your spouse

Stonewalling: Withdrawal from interaction, shutting down, or ceasing to respond 

to your spouse



3. You feel like you understand each other less.

Disagreements and differences of opinion can be opportunities to better understand your spouse’s point of view. However, when your main goal is to get your point across or simply “win” the argument, you come out on the other side with less understanding of the person you love the most. 

4. You can’t reach a resolution.

No matter the subject of disagreement, it’s always left open-ended. No solution, compromise, or forgiveness. Not even an agreement to disagree. And because of that, there’s no sense of closure. 

5. You’re not okay to agree to disagree.

Often, couples use this phrase to simply avoid arguing. However, it can be healthy to recognize that you’re not going to see things eye to eye. One study indicates that only about a third of the couples’ conversations are resolvable issues. The rest are simply ongoing areas of disagreement.3 This doesn’t mean a couple can’t find workable compromises. It just means you’re not going to see things the same way on a particular subject. 

If you’re like me, you never experience any of these warning signs… amiright? The truth is, they pop up in every couple’s communication from time to time. Remember: Healthy couples fight. But when these signs become a regular pattern, beware: Trouble’s a-brewin’. 

The good news is that you can avoid all these things. Healthy communication and conflict skills can be learned and practiced. (Looky here and here and here). Outside help is sometimes a great idea, too. A trusted mediator can help determine compromises. And don’t be afraid to use a professional counselor to help get through more deep-seated issues. 

There are times when it’s good and healthy for couples to fight, but it really does matter how you fight. You’ve got this. 

Sources:

1Hackman, J.Richard., Collaborative intelligence: Using teams to solve hard problems, Oakland, CA: Berrit-Koeller, 2011. 

2Orbuch, Terri L., Five Simple Steps to Take Your Marriage from Good to Great, Austin, TX: River Grove Books, 2015. 

3Gottman, John M., The Science of Trust: Emotional Attunement for Couples, New York, NY: WW Norton & Company, 2011.

Other blogs:

10 Ways To Know If Your Marriage Is Toxic (And What To Do About It)

Should You Apologize to Your Spouse for Something You Didn’t Do?

How to Be More Compassionate to Your Spouse – First Things First