How clarifying conversation expectations could change your relationships.

Anyone who has been in a relationship with another human being can relate to this scenario. A person has a problem and they need to get it off their chest, they are seeking a comforting, supportive ear while they try to navigate something difficult. Instead of providing that comfort and support, the person they are talking to jumps immediately into problem-solving mode. The first person becomes frustrated that they are not being heard, and the second becomes frustrated because their solutions are not being well-received. The conversation becomes a conflict.

I saw this in a Facebook meme of all places. It’s cringeworthy to place this kind of credit there, but this is easily the best piece of relationship advice I have ever received.

Before you enter into a conversation with your partner, friend or loved one who is struggling with a problem, first ask this question:

“Are you seeking comfort or solutions?”

I know.

It’s almost excruciatingly simple.

But when I really started to think about it, most of the conversations that have escalated into arguments in my relationships can be traced back to a common denominator. Both parties had different expectations of how the conversation should go.

I have a busy brain. A lot is going on in there all the time. The one thing that is guaranteed to set me off is if I finally muster up the energy to talk it out is - instead of listening to me while I try to articulate what’s going on, the person I’m talking to keeps jumping in trying to fix things.

The number of times I have scream/cried at my husband — “I don’t want you to fix it, I just want you to listen to me!” once the “conversation” is now past the point of no return is ridiculous.

Imagine if we had just agreed on what the expectation of the conversation was before then? We could’ve successfully avoided 9654836 arguments over the course of our ten-year relationship.

You’ll probably have to explain yourself the first time. I did. My husband started venting to me one day after work, and I stopped him and said — “Before you go on, are you seeking comfort or solutions?”

He was understandably confused.

So I explained, “I don’t want us to argue, this is something you’re struggling with, and I need to know what you need from me right now. Do you need me just to listen, or are we problem-solving?”


It’s a work in progress, obviously. Relationships are tricky, and you won’t always get it right. But this straightforward hack can help to avoid painful confrontations or disagreements in any relationship. Romantic, platonic or familial. Next time someone comes to you with a problem, give it a try. It might be the most productive conversation you’ve had.

Skilled Rambler. Accidental Organisational Development Professional. Intentional Aspiring Author & Poet. Wife & Mother.

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