How to Improve Your Communication in Relationships When It Matters Most!

You are going to learn how to improve your communication in a relationship when it matters most.

“Kind words can be short and easy to speak, but their echoes are truly endless”

Mother Teresa


Are you struggling to resolve the tough issues in your relationships?

Are you avoiding talking about things that are bothering you?

Have you been told how to improve your communication by so-called “experts”, but haven’t found the answers you’ve been looking for?

High-Stakes Conversations

Many of us think of high-stakes conversations with those closest to us as pure agony.  You may want something and someone closest to you may want something completely different.

How do you deal with these differences in your relationships?

What exactly are the kinds of conversations we’re talking about?  Here are a couple examples of uncomfortable, but high-stakes conversations in relationships:

  • Discussing having a child with your partner
  • Asking someone close to you to pay you back
  • Custody disputes after a divorce
  • Asking someone to move out
  • Standing up for yourself to your in-laws or own parents
  • Talking to family members about abusing substances
  • Talking to your teen about sex, drugs, or unacceptable behaviors
  • Providing constructive criticism
  • Making decisions with a partner that will impact the rest of your lives
  • Talking about sex with your partner


We usually either avoid conversations about sensitive, uncomfortable high-stakes topics or we have an emotionally charged, blame-filled, shout-inducing argument that gets us nowhere and damages our relationships.

Most of us think there are three possible outcomes from these high-stakes conversations about our differences:
1. Getting your way

2. The other person getting their way

3. One or both people compromising (both losing)


If you can learn how to improve your communication in these high-stakes conversations there are actually new and better solutions available to both people involved.  Two people can come together to create new more satisfying alternatives for everyone.

Many of us assume that it is our differences that lead to our relationship problems. Actually, people in all relationships disagree on important issues at times.

To build successful, deep and trusting relationships how you argue and handle your disagreements is most important.

How to Improve Your Communication in Relationships When it Matters Most!

Identify when you’re involved in or about to have a high-stakes conversation.

Monitor your physical reactions, emotional reactions and behavioral reactions to having a conversation.  Any discomfort or departure from how you normally react probably means your dealing with high-stakes issues.

Identify your level of feeling safe to be vulnerable and honest.  Usually the more high-stakes the conversation, the less we feel safe to be vulnerable and honest.  Are you becoming silent, demanding, judging or convinced that your way is the only way?  If so, you’re most likely having a high-stakes conversation.

Look for the other person’s level of feeling safe to be vulnerable and honest.  Is the other person suddenly silent?  Maybe the other person is becoming demanding, judging or convinced that their way is the only way?  If so, you’re most likely involved in a high-stakes conversation.

Anytime you’re greatly concerned with the outcome of a conversation or a decision you have to make with someone else, you’re involved in high-stakes issues.

To be aware if you’re involved in or about to have a high-stakes conversation identify:

  • Your physical reactions, emotional reactions and behavioral reactions to having a conversation.
  • Identify your level of feeling safe to be vulnerable and honest including threats to feeling safe by becoming silent, demanding or judging.
  • Identify the other person’s level of feeling safe to be vulnerable and honest including threats to feeling safe by becoming silent, demanding or judging.


Choose what you Want and Don’t Want Most!

The only person you can control is yourself.  Start high-stakes conversations by deciding what you want and don’t want most and the best way to interact with someone else to get it.

First, identify what you really want.

What do you want for the other person? What do you want for the relationship from this conversation?

Ex. “I want my boyfriend to follow through with what he says and not flake on his commitments to me.”

Second, identify what you don’t want from the conversation.

Ex. “I don’t want to have a heated, useless argument, make demands or judgments on myself or the other person, or lose my temper and say something hurtful.”

Third, combine what you want and don’t want and use this information to brainstorm the many possibilities for successful high-stakes conversations.

Ex. “How can I talk to my boyfriend about him following through with what he says and not flaking on his commitments to me and not have a heated useless argument or say something hurtful?”

“How can I talk to (the person) about (what you want) and (what you don’t want)?”

Take Control of Your Emotions by Questioning Your Mind’s Demanding/Totalizing Stories

We all have inner conversations almost every minute of every day.  We have inner conversations with our parents, our loved ones, deceased loved ones, our boss, our anger, our anxiety, etc.  We have these inner conversations with people that we are directly talking to while talking to them out loud and with people who are not present or are even deceased.

These inner conversations lead to our beliefs about what we should do or say, who we should be with, how we should treat our children, if we worthy or not and so on. We have these inner conversations or “chitchat” constantly and these inner conversations lead to the way we feel and act.

Demanding/Totalizing stories come from our inner conversations.

Your mind’s demanding stories include anytime you believe inner thoughts that turn your preferences into demands, musts, and shoulds.

Totalizing stories include anytime your mind labels or judges a person, place or event as completely and totally awful, as something you can’t stand, or based on a person’s mistakes, successes or behaviors.

First, write down your thoughts about what’s bothering you.

Start to question each story or belief individually.

There are 6 Questions and 1 Action to Take Control of Demanding/Totalizing Stories.

1. Is it true?

2. Does it argue with what happens or happened?

3. Can you really know that for sure?

4. When you believe, that how do you feel? How do you treat yourself? How do you treat others?

5.  Does it strengthen or weaken your relationships?

6. Who would you be if you simply couldn’t believe it anymore?


Respond and talk back to the demanding/judging beliefs with Wanting/Accepting statements.

Start High-Stakes Conversations with the Don’t/Do technique!

When starting a high-stakes conversation, start with the don’t/do technique.  You can also use the don’t/do technique anytime during the conversation to resolve misunderstandings.

First, you tell the person what you don’t intend or mean by having this conversation or voicing your opinions.

The DON’T Part


“I don’t want you to think that I’m suggesting this problem is all yours to fix.”

“I don’t want you to get the idea that I don’t value all the good things you do.”

“I don’t want to suggest that I’m not happy in this relationship.”

Tell the person what you do appreciate, want, intend or mean by having this conversation.


The DO Part


“I do think you care a lot about me.”

“I do really appreciate everything you’ve been doing.”

“I do want you to know how happy I am overall.”


Finally combine both parts:

Ex.  “I don’t want you to think that I’m suggesting this problem is all yours to fix or that I don’t value all the good things you do.  I do think you care a lot about me and our relationship and I appreciate everything you’ve been doing.”

State the problem as you see it by sharing your observations

At first, forget about what should or shouldn’t be happening or what you think might be happening.  When something is bothering you, stick to sharing only what you’ve observed.  Focus on visible, undisputable behaviors.  Beginning with your observations helps to avoid defensiveness and blame.


“You’ve been coming home hours later than before.”

“I saw a charge on our credit card that said entertainment club.”

“You’ve been staying up later than normal and having friends over.”

“I noticed you poured Vodka into your coffee the last few mornings.”

Express how you feel about these observations tentatively and vulnerably

Next you want to tentatively and vulnerably tell the other person the story that’s been playing in your mind about these observations.  Be careful not to become defensive or blame the other person here.  You just want to tell them the conclusions you’ve been making based on your observations.  Use “I” statements while expressing how you’ve been feeling about these observations.  Remember, this is your story about what has been happening, it’s not a fact!  Present your story as just one of many possible explanations or stories for what you’ve been observing.

Ex.  “After seeing those charges on the credit card and you coming home late, I’ve been feeling sick to my stomach and beginning to wonder if you’re out with other women or cheating on me and I can’t seem to get this out of my head.”

Genuinely seek to learn the other person’s story

After sharing your observations and feelings about the situation, genuinely ask the other person to express his or her story or views of the situation.  It’s important to stay curious and want to learn the other person’s point of view rather than be right or win an argument.


“I’d really like to hear your opinion on this.  Could you please share it with me.”

“I want to know how you see the situation.”

“What is actually going on?”

“Don’t worry about hurting my feelings, please just tell me your thoughts and feelings?”

“What am I missing here?”

“Am I totally off here?”


With generosity and vulnerability, discuss each person’s hopes, goals and dreams for the future in regards to the situation or issues at hand.

Listen to each other’s hopes, goals and dreams that are related to the situation.  Often we argue about something trivial because we feel we’re losing sight of one of our goals or dreams for the future.  At the very least, get these hopes out into the open so each person can acknowledge them.

Brainstorm possible solutions and decide how you will make decisions or continue to talk about the issues or differences.

Brainstorm all the possible solutions to make both people happy.  You also want to discuss how decisions will be made regarding the situation going forward.  Does one person decide?  Is it a consensus by both people?  Is there a timeline for these decisions?

You may not even make a decision at this point.  The main goal is to get all of the information, emotions, hopes, and dreams related to the issues out in the open.

Remember, some issues in relationships are solvable, but many others are ongoing issues or differences that you will have conversations about throughout your relationship.

In Conclusion:

The most important part of successful high-stakes conversations is the safe expression of all thoughts, emotions, worries, fears, desires, and goals of all the people involved.  Each person should feel that it’s safe, although possibly uncomfortable, to be vulnerable during the communication.  Follow these 9 steps for how to improve your communication and you’ll be able to talk about anything, anywhere and with anyone,

Say Yes to Love,

Dr. Michael Arn & Dr. Ashley Arn