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By Kira Asatryan
February 10, 2016
IDEAS
Kira Asatryan is a relationship coach and author of Stop Being Lonely

It’s one of the most uncomfortable places to be – deep in a fight with the person you love most. You’d do anything to come to an understanding. You’d like nothing more than to stop the bickering and get back to having a good time. But as we all know, it’s difficult to end a fight once it’s underway.

Sometimes fights with your partner are about core issues in the relationship that need to be hashed out, and these types of arguments can be productive. But other times fights are the result of people trying desperately to get their point across, while failing to understand the other person’s point.

These types of fights are far less productive. Luckily, there’s one question that can shift the dynamic of these fights almost instantly. That question is…

“What do you need from me?”

Why does this question (said, of course, in the most loving and compassionate way possible) have the power to neutralize unproductive fights fast?

1. It shifts the focus from trying to explain yourself to trying to understand your partner.

One of the biggest mistakes people make when they fight is they spin their wheels trying to explain their point of view. They explain it one way, and if that doesn’t work, explain it another way and another way until both parties are frustrated and exhausted.

“What do you need from me?” interrupts the pattern of repetitive explaining and actively asks the other person to take the spotlight. It basically communicates, “I’m going to be quiet for a moment and let you tell me what matters to you.” Though simple, this is a profound shift.

2. It works no matter what you’re fighting about.

Much of the advice that couples receive about how to communicate is topic-specific. “How do you think we should handle our finances?” is a great question to ask your partner when you’re discussing finances, and “How could we make our sex life better?” works when you’re discussing sex. But “What do you need from me?” works no matter what aspect of the relationship you’re discussing.

3. It captures the big picture.

When you’re fighting with someone with whom you share a life, it’s easy to get lost in the details. You likely have lots of day-to-day minutia to dredge up in the fight. “What do you need from me?” helps you stop debating the details (which often lead nowhere) and see the big picture.

It asks: What does your partner really need from you? What do you need from her? This shifts the conversation from wants to needs. He may want you to clean up the house when you say you will, but the underlying need may be: I need to know you will keep your promises. This is what the fight is really about, and getting to the core of the issue is the first step towards resolving it.

4. It implies willingness to change.

Notice that the question is not simply “What do you need?” which puts the burden of fulfilling said needs squarely on the other person. Instead it’s “What do you need from me?” which, although subtly, implies that you are open to helping your partner get his needs met. If stubbornness has infiltrated the fight, this small gesture can open the door to resolution.

5. It’s neutral.

First of all, “What do you need from me?” holds no assumptions – except that the two people in the relationship need certain things from each other. And when you think about it, all people in relationship need things from each other.

A woman may need her coworker to complete her fair share of work. A parent may need his child to own her schoolwork. If you don’t need anything from each other, there’s likely nothing to fight about in the first place.

Beyond assuming that needs are involved in the relationship, this question is completely neutral. It’s not something that only wives can say to their husbands or only parents can say to their children. Anyone can say it to anyone and yield productive results.

6. It communicates caring.

The final reason that “What do you need from me?” can save your relationship is that, imbedded in it, is a profoundly caring sentiment. If you didn’t care about the other person’s happiness and well-being, you wouldn’t bother asking what she needs in the first place. While your partner may not consciously pick up on this sentiment, she will sense it subconsciously. She will feel it in her heart and it will stop her in her tracks.

The next time you find yourself knee-deep in a messy fight, whip out “What do you need from me?” Say it with the most compassionate tone you can muster and watch the magic unfold!

Contact us at editors@time.com.

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