Compassionate Confrontation:
“He said he’d spend more time with me, but has not followed through.”

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Live the Life you Desire

The ability to confront someone compassionately becomes essential when the other person has agreed to a behavioral change, but has not followed through. No matter how justified your anger, hostile confrontation or withdrawal will only result in more disappointment, withdrawal, and pain for you.

The goal of compassionate confrontation is to generate mutual understanding before taking action. This kind of dialogue is far more effective than hostile withdrawal, attacks, or hysteria.

State of Mind

To effectively confront someone, you have to start the conversation when you’re emotionally able to manage your stress and reactivity. You have to resist blaming or judging. An effective discussion starts from a position of appreciation, that is, you have to find a way to value and understand the other person and want what is best for both of you.

To know what action to take, you’ll need to have a full understanding of what’s going on for both sides. Keep your emotional focus on valuing the other person even if you don’t like what he or she is saying. It’s crucial not to take things personally when the other person speaks from a position of fear or contempt.

Communications Professor Dr. Dalton Kehoe suggests that in a situation where you’re hearing negative attacks to view yourself as a matador with a raging bull coming at you. Simply step aside rather than stand in its way.

Arrange a Meeting

Arrange a meeting with
~ adequate time for full discussion,
~ in a safe place,
~ without other people or the kids around,
~ not right before going to bed, and
~ not when either of you is exhausted.

Ask the other person to agree to give the discussion a certain amount of time so that neither of you leave before the time is up, and to avoid attacking each other and interrupting. Then when you are attacked or interrupted, don’t get angry. Just say, “Hey, I thought we agreed to do this without attacking or interrupting each other.”

Starting the Discussion

Ranting may temporarily relieve your stress but it is totally ineffective. The whole point is to get a deeper understanding of the other person’s view of the situation.

To start the discussion, you can say, “I think this affects us both.” Describe the situation briefly and factually, being as neutral as you can. For example, “Two months ago, I asked you to spend more time with me. You agreed to come home earlier, but haven’t.”

State your concern with only one sentence, so that the other person doesn’t close down or become defensive. For instance, “I’d like to be in a relationship where we enjoy more time together.”

Active Listening

Then ask how the other person views the situation. “How do you see it?”

Be sure to actively listen to gain understanding. Don’t become defensive. Try to understand the other point of view, even if you don’t agree. Encourage a full explanation of his or her view without interjecting judgment or arguing back.

Reinterpret what’s being said into neutral language. Taking negative content and re-framing it without the negative emotion neutralizes the unhelpful tone of a confrontational discussion.

For instance, if he says, “I work like crazy, and get home to your nagging me to do more work,” you can re-frame it by saying, “So you have a problem with the way I treat you when you come home?”

Your Point of View

Once you’ve gotten the full story and the other person has run out of emotional heat, then you can ask if he or she minds if you explain how you see it. Again keep it neutral and descriptive as to gain his or her understanding.

Once May Not Be Enough

While this is the most effective method for dealing with conflict, it may take a few times before there’s enough trust built up for the attacks and critical defense to diminish. At that point, people may become more comfortable in being open and honest to themselves as well as to each other.


Don’t rush into solving the problem when you only understand part of the story. Once there is true understanding, problem-solving becomes a relatively easy and minor part of the discussion. Problem-solving can only occur when people really understand the problem from both points of view. The solution then becomes obvious, although it may still be painful. Life often demands that we adjust our dreams and hopes.

by Alison Poulsen, PhD

Recommended and Reference: “Effective Communication Skills” by Professor Dalton Kehoe from The Great Courses.

Read “I don’t want to get angry anymore.”

Read “Conversation and Active Listening: ‘It seems like I do all the talking.’”

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2 Responses to Compassionate Confrontation:
“He said he’d spend more time with me, but has not followed through.”

  1. Pingback: Displaced Anger: “All you think about is your career!” | Healthy Relationships and Solutions to Happiness and Love © 2012

  2. Pingback: To fight or not to fight: “After a fight, we barely talk to each other for days.” | Healthy Relationships and Solutions to Happiness and Love © 2012

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