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Clearing the Air

Getting clarity with someone about something that happened between you
Michael Porcelli
December 30, 2022

the course of your relationships, you’ve likely experienced things that have felt uncomfortable, challenging, or difficult. You’ve probably brought some of these things up at various points, probably with varying degrees of success.

If so, I have some good news for you: you can improve your ability to clear things up more effectively. I’m here to share with you the best approach I’ve found.

Many people share honesty as a human value, and most of us recognize the difference between honesty and revealing absolutely everything. Yet people differ along a continuum regarding how we choose to bring up difficult issues. Toward one end, some of us share less often, favoring politeness and “picking battles” carefully. Toward the other, some of us favor sharing more often, “keeping things real” with “brutal honesty.”

No matter where you are along this continuum, as you improve your ability to clear things up more effectively, the quality of your relationships will improve. You’ll find greater ease, clarity, kindness, and freedom from the downsides of excess politeness or brutality with your words.

When you do, you will have more of the kinds of relationships you want — a core promise of MetaRelating, a toolset for healthy communication and relationships.

I invite you to make yourself comfortable and take a deep dive with me into this practical guide to clearing the air. I’ll take you through the intricacies, pitfalls, and best practices I’ve gathered by learning from my own mistakes as well as years of coaching and facilitating others through conversations like this.

Signs You Might Want to Clear the Air

When we don’t clear the air, withheld communication can accumulate, blocking our connections with others. You might feel like something is weighing down the relationship or like something is stuck. It can seem like some dirt or gunk on a windowpane between you. The more it builds up, the harder it is to see each other clearly or find ways to connect. We see the gunk accumulated from past issues instead of how they appear in the present. You may feel a sense of avoidance. You might find the interactions between you unsatisfying or turn into conflict quickly and often.

Other signs to clear the air could be a sense that the relationship is lacking some positive qualities or that it hasn’t quite fulfilled its potential. When things are clear, the relationship feels right. The connection feels healthy and harmonious. You have a shared understanding of the information necessary for a smoothly functioning dynamic. You have a sense of each other’s values and motivations, and you feel mutual affinity and respect. You can more easily find creative solutions and effective ways of coordinating your activities towards shared goals and purposes. Greater possibilities with them feel easy to imagine.

In order to notice these kinds of signs, I recommend a practice of Relational Mindfulness , which involves “tuning in” to the quality of the connection between you and someone else. Putting your attention on the relationship in this way might surface the nuances of how the connection feels, or it might bring up specific memories of things that remain unresolved.

Beyond resolving any issue in particular, effectively clearing the air is essential to fostering healthy, thriving, and mutually beneficial relationships that last.

Reasons We Don’t Clear Things Up

When we don’t clear things up, it’s often with good intentions. We might withhold communication in order to play nice, get along, and not rock the boat. Maybe we’ve had challenging experiences when we’ve revealed difficult things, and then decided it’s better to conceal them in the future. Perhaps we’re not sure saying something is necessary for a specific relationship. Maybe we think a particular individual won’t be able to handle it well.

Or maybe you have a belief that good relationships should just happen with ease and minimal effort, indefinitely. From this standpoint, the accumulation of unresolved issues signals doom for the relationship rather than a need to clear things up. If this is your orientation, you may be selling yourself short in terms of having more meaningful and healthy relationships, and you might want to consider how relationships could be an opportunity for growth .

Of course, saying all the possible things we could say about each other to each other would take all day, every day, to the detriment of all other activities. So there’s some limit to how much it makes sense to share as opposed to leaving unexpressed.

Still, most relationships require some clearing of the air in order to last and remain strong. Given we will eventually experience difficulties, how do we assess which cases merit the effort and potential risk in resolving them?

I don’t think there’s an easy answer or simple universal criteria. But I do have some guidelines to share with you.

Choosing to Clear Things

Choosing to clear something up depends on several variables. A central one is who the person is to you. Begin by considering those with whom you’re in regular contact and share mutual goals and purposes. Family, friends, colleagues, and intimate partners often fit this category. For folks like these, I think it’s worth regularly clearing up even small issues. You will help keep these relationships running smoothly.

Other variables have to do with the nature of the issue. The bigger it is, the more there could be at stake in leaving it unresolved. Consider if it’s a repeating pattern of behavior, rather than a one-time event. Note if you’re actively withholding, maybe due to some emotional charge. Check if it’s blocking some desirable result, rather than being a mere nuisance. These count in favor of bringing it up rather than continuing to withhold it.

If you locate your personality towards the nice and polite end of the continuum, you likely bring issues up less often than you could. If so, I encourage you to lean a bit more towards raising them, particularly when these variables seem to be adding up.

Taking the Initiative

If you’ve decided it’s worth clearing, it’s time to take the initiative. As you choose to take the initiative more often, you’ll gain confidence, which will lead you to feel ease around clearing things up with more people. Here’s my recommended approach to getting started.

Consider an issue you have with someone you haven’t yet addressed with them. Get specific about what you would like to say about it, as well as your reasons for saying it. Finding these reasons is crucial. They should include something the other person is likely to care about and some possible benefits to your relationship. Ask yourself, “what’s in it for them?”

You must first imagine something good for everyone concerned coming out of this conversation if you want it to go well. It’s not critical that the specifics you envision come to pass. What you imagine gives you something towards which to aspire, and you will shift your state of mind through this aspiration in ways that will make your communication more effective.

If you’re finding this a bit hard to do, I suggest considering qualities you’ve liked best about them or your relationship or remembering some positive moment you shared in the past. Then feel any wish you have to experience more of these good things with them. Another way is to find a desire to make a positive contribution to them.

If you’re feeling upset, angry, or otherwise triggered, you’ll feel challenged in finding beneficial intentions for them. I recommend you hold off on bringing it up until you can. Without this, you’re unlikely to improve the situation. Before proceeding, clear your head by taking some time to journal or vent with a trusted friend or counsel. Do this to de-escalate your emotional charge a bit. Once you’ve done this to a sufficient degree, you’ll create some inner space. Then you’re more likely to find reasons which include good things on their behalf.

Begin making arrangements for the conversation only once you’ve connected to your positive intentions, inclusive of mutual benefit.

If you locate your personality towards the more “brutally honest” end of the continuum, you might have a tendency to bring things up with people without first connecting to positive reasons on their behalf. If this fits for you, I encourage you to make a habit of deliberately pausing a bit longer before bringing things up. Then allow yourself the time it takes to solidify your intention for something good on their behalf and mutually beneficial in service of your relationship. Then proceed.

Clearing the air often requires a bit of dedicated time. Consider scheduling a block of time to allow each of you to bring high-quality attention to your conversation.

For my treatment of the many considerations in setting up potentially challenging conversations, check out my guide to The Power of Context .

Beginning the Conversation

Just before you begin speaking, reconnect with the reasons you have in bringing the issue. You will align your state of being with your intended outcome. You will solidify a reference point to keep in mind as the conversation unfolds.

Begin with a quick acknowledgment of any key steps that have led to the convening of this conversation; for example, “Thanks for meeting up when I invited you to come.”

Instead of just diving into the issue, follow up with an explicit invitation to have this kind of conversation with you. Say something like, “I have something I’d like to clear up with you.”

Include a reference to some mutual benefit you imagine could come of this by saying something like:

“I think this conversation will be good for our relationship.”


“I think this conversation is likely to bring us closer and have us feel more connected.”


“I think this conversation is likely to improve our effectiveness at collaborating.”

Then check for consent before proceeding, saying something like, “I’d like to get into it if you’re willing. How about it?”

Before you continue, make sure you get their okay, with a nod or some other indication of affirmative consent. Sometimes, the other person might want to negotiate some rules of engagement before giving the go-ahead. If so, hear them out, then address their concerns promptly and briefly, to the degree you are willing to.

Be careful not to get into any details about the issue you want to share with them. This could just turn into sharing without their consent. There’s a possible pitfall when someone asks you for more details before giving their consent. If this happens, give only a succinct headline, and instead of more details, inquire, “It sounds like you’re ready to hear the details, are you?” Then await their response.

You might not get consent to proceed any further. A history of unaddressed tensions could be burdening your relationship. Or maybe this person may not value your relationship enough to want to hear what you have to say. In either case, be prepared to graciously let it go. You might say something like,

“Okay. I hear you. I’m grateful to have at least let you know I think it would be good for both of us to clear this up at some point. Let me know if you change your mind and would like to hear about it. I’d really like that.”

If you do have an indicator of consent, it’s time to get to the heart of the matter!

The Heart of Clearing

As you move toward sharing the core of the issue, you may feel uncomfortable, and you might feel some urgency to get the conversation over with quickly. However, attempting to rush through will likely undermine your success. Even with years of experience, I still notice a heightened awareness and intensity in my pulse, breathing, or stomach. I’ve learned to embrace these kinds of sensations near the beginning as a sign I’m off to the right start.

I suggest practicing relational mindfulness both at the beginning of the conversation and throughout until it’s complete. Not only can this practice bolster you through any discomfort, it will also give you a window into how things are going, including whether or not things are successfully clearing up. Your awareness of the quality of the connection between you can provide guidance in the conversation.

Begin by describing the situation and what happened in completely objective terms. You might start with the general circumstances, such as where you were or the day you’re referring to, and do your best to ensure they know what you’re talking about. Then, describe their specific actions — things the other person did or said. I recommend starting with “When you…”

It’s crucial that nothing you say at this point elicit a difference of opinion on the part of the listener. If you do, they may become defensive or interrupt to offer corrections to your account. You should be talking about the event in a way that, if a camera were rolling and we could watch the video, what you’re describing would be clearly evident. Expressing yourself in such a way that cannot be argued is also known as “owning experience” and is foundational to effective communication.

So instead of—

“When you bailed on the trip…”


“When you didn’t come on the trip…”

And instead of—

“When you got angry with me…”


“When you said…”

and then quote what they said as best you can.

This is also not the time to be getting into how the situation felt for you. You’ll be able to share your emotions in a moment, but not just yet.

If you’re attempting to address a pattern of behavior rather than a single instance, it’s best to include a specific example if you can. If you’re unable to think of a particular instance, you can try describing the pattern in general terms. However, I recommend caution if you choose this option, because it’s more challenging to characterize a pattern of behavior in general terms without slipping in arguable language. One guideline for speaking inarguably when referring to a pattern is to avoid absolute terms like “always” and “never.” Another is to avoid saying someone “is” something, which could be taken to describe someone’s identity rather than their actions.

Get affirmation they recognize the moment you’re referring to, on the other hand, the pattern of behavior you’re describing. You might ask, “you remember that?” or “you know what I’m talking about?”

Once you’ve confirmed you’re both talking about the same situation, share about your internal experience. You might choose to share about the impact the event had on you and any interpretations of their actions you were making in your mind. Perhaps you had some hopes or expectations that were disappointed. Maybe you were holding some kind of value that was unsatisfied or a purpose or goal unfulfilled. For any of these things that were happening for you on the inside, this is an excellent time to reveal them. You might start with “I felt…” or “I imagined that you…”

Just like how it was important to share inarguably in the step where you described what happened, it’s equally important when sharing about the impact the situation had on your subjective experience. In this case, speaking inarguably looks like including only information about your own experience, as opposed to implying claims about their intentions or their experience.

So instead of—

“I felt your anger” or “I felt that you…”


“I imagined that you were unhappy with me.”

Instead of—

“I was upset because you dropped the ball”


“I felt upset and lost a bit of trust in you.”

And instead of—

“It was lame that you left when you did.”


“I felt disappointment and was wishing you had been there.”

These alternative ways of phrasing may seem subtle or perhaps insignificant. Yet I’ve found it makes a difference. I do my best to own my experience because it is incredibly effective when clearing things up. I recommend you do the same. Otherwise, you’ll be much more likely to create more conflict and potentially inflict more significant injury to your relationship.

It may be useful to intentionally not own your experience in some rare cases and instead make arguable claims temporarily in service of greater freedom of expression. Use caution when considering this possibility, as it carries a risk of escalating tension further or creating a brand new issue that you’ll eventually need to clear up. If you have a sense that “venting” in this fashion would be helpful — and that there is sufficient trust present between you — check with your listener for an additional indicator of consent before proceeding.

Taking Turns

Once you’ve shared what happened and your internal experience of it, and your listener has heard you and understood you, it’s time to give them a turn to share their side of the story.

The importance of taking turns wasn’t something I fully appreciated until long after I first began attempting “clearing conversations” of the kind we’re discussing here. There are two sides to every story, at least. Truly clearing things up requires all parties involved have an opportunity to share their version of events and how the events impacted them.

Initially, it was a breakthrough just for me to say out loud what I was keeping bottled up inside. When I did, I felt more freedom and relief. Sometimes, it was others who shared what they had been keeping from me. That didn’t feel nearly as good, leaving me often feeling worse while the other person seemed to feel better. I began to notice that it was only when we took turns that we would more often achieve a breakthrough.

When only one individual tells their version and the other only listens, it’s like a game of hot potato, where the teller gets rid of something that burns by quickly tossing it to the listener. Conversations like this might help one person feel better temporarily, but I actually think they’re harmful more often than not.

Feedback in organizational life often follows this “hot potato” approach. Perhaps you expect merely to listen when a colleague offers feedback. Correspondingly, you may expect others only to listen when you’re giving them feedback. Either of these is a sign of an unhealthy approach to feedback in an organization that can harm a work culture as much as it might help.

Taking turns to clear things up will counteract the harm to relationships perpetuated by one-way approaches to feedback. It also satisfies a core principle of human relating, which is that relationships have value that transcends our value as individuals. In other words, what we can do together, and who we can become together, is greater than what we sum up to separately. Taking turns while clearing the air is a way to pay respect to that transcendent value.

So, if you’re the person who convened the conversation to clear things up, it’s best for you to deliberately hand off the turn to speak. I recommend this soon after your initial pass at sharing about what happened. You probably won’t get to share every last detail, so lead with the crucial information. Consider that the longer you speak, the more urgent it might feel for your listener(s) to get to tell their side of the story, which can make it harder for them to listen and understand you.

I recommend transitioning to their turn by saying something inviting, like:

“I’d really like to hear what was going on for you at that time.”


“I’d love to hear your perspective on what happened — your side of the story.”

As each of you confirms your understanding of each other’s version of events, you’re creating mutual understanding. I describe this as “shared reality ,” which I think of as the raw building material of our social world. As you weave more shared reality, you will find points of agreement as well as disagreement, which can include similarities and differences not only in how you understood the original situation but also in your values and intentions at play at the time. You’re also likely to uncover how each of you contributed to how things played out.

The more shared reality you create, the closer you become to resolving the issue.

When Someone Else Requests to Clear the Air

Let’s switch gears to have a look at how to respond if someone approaches you to “clear something up” or “offer feedback.” Before agreeing to listen, I recommend asking them to agree to give you an opportunity to share your perspectives as well. This might be redundant if you have a relationship where you’ve agreed to practice two-way clearing conversations. In general, I recommend avoiding conversations where you are merely going to be a receptacle for what someone has to say about you or your behavior without the opportunity to respond eventually.

I also recommend that you make contact with your intention that something mutually beneficial will result from the conversation, just as I recommended this for the initiator. Ideally, both parties will both be so oriented as the conversation gets underway. Whether or not the initiator has done this, I recommend that you hold this orientation as the receiver.

If it’s difficult for you to make contact with a mutually beneficial intention, perhaps because of some block you experience in the relationship, you might consider declining the conversation and initiating a clearing conversation of your own. Keep in mind, though, that the issue they’re raising may be related to what’s blocking you, and that you’ll get to share your side of the story if you both agree to the two-way discussion. I recommend revealing that you’re having this experience as an intermediate step on your way to consenting. Do this by saying something like—

“I’m noticing I also have something I may want to address with you. I’m letting you know because perhaps it will have me feel more receptive to what you want to share with me.”

There may be reasons other than feeling blocked to decline their request to have a clearing conversation with you. Perhaps at the moment, you’re feeling physically or emotionally impaired in a way where you’re unlikely to listen well. Or maybe you simply have other priorities. I recommend you consider these factors because it’s vital to bring a high quality of attention to a clearing conversation. Consider revealing some of your experience as you decline their request, saying something like—

“I’m not feeling available to hear you right now. I need some time to get into a mindset more receptive to what you might have to say. Can I get back to you so I can hear what you’ve got at another time?”


“Let’s find a different time. I do want to hear what you have to say, but right now isn’t good for me because…”

If you do postpone, my advice is to generally orient toward hearing what someone has to say sooner rather than later. The one exception is when you cannot foresee ever having the capacity to listen with a mutually beneficial intention, which might a sign the relationship as you know it is over — something I’ll get into a bit later.

Once you have responded with affirmative consent, it’s time to listen to what they have to say.

Listening and Receiving

No matter whether you initiated the conversation or someone else did, you’re likely to be in the role of listening and receiving at some point. There are more skillful ways and less skillful ways to do this. Here are some recommendations.

When the other person is talking, I recommend placing a high priority on understanding them as clearly and fully as you can. Confirm your understanding as you go by interjecting with phrases like, “let me check to see if I understand you clearly.” Then repeat keywords or paraphrase what you’ve heard back to the speaker. Follow this by checking for confirmation. Sometimes this is pretty obvious if they’re smiling and nodding, but when it is not plainly obvious, you can elicit their confirmation by saying something like—

“Am I getting you so far?”


“Am I hearing and understanding you accurately?”

I also recommend expressing encouragement to the other person through affirmation and continued curiosity. As long as you’re speaking truthfully, you might say things like—

“I hear you.”
“I’m listening.”
“It makes sense that you would feel this way.”
“I’m curious to hear more about that.”
“I appreciate your sharing this with me.”

I call this proactive approach to listening and receiving getting their experience, another foundational component of healthy and effective communication. As you master this, you’ll begin to not only understand their words, you’ll get a sense of what it was like to actually be them.

As you listen, you may feel a growing sense of urgency to share your perspective. Holding off for just a bit often pays dividends, since the person sharing will likely become more receptive to hearing your version of things once you’re fully heard and understood theirs.

If you find it’s becoming too challenging to listen any further while maintaining empathy and understanding, you may need to interject with something like—

“I think I’m getting where you’re coming from so far, and it’s getting harder for me to continue listening without sharing some of my side of the story. Would you be open to transitioning to that soon?”
If the Going Gets Tough

Sometimes, things may start feeling worse than when you began. It can feel risky when tensions rise, as though all-out conflict might erupt at any moment. You might even sense the very relationship could be at stake.

When things seem to be taking a turn for the worse, you may feel like pausing or ending the conversation. Sometimes this is the best choice, while other times it’s better to continue on. Here are some considerations to account for when choosing.

You may want to pause or end the conversation if it has gone on for a long time and fatigue or exhaustion is high, or if hot emotions like anger and upset continue escalating unabated, especially if that’s happening for everyone. Another sign is when words become accusatory or otherwise cease adhering to the own-your-experience guideline. Or you may be unable to proceed if one person is incapacitated due to a significant traumatic response.

If you want to pause the conversation, I recommend saying something like—

“I’m concerned right now that our conversation could become worse instead of better. I believe we can get through this, but I prefer we pause for now and pick it up again at some other time.”

On the other hand, you may want to press on if you’re just getting started and have plenty of allocated time remaining or if at least one partner has the capacity to continue listening with understanding. So-called negative emotions like anger and upset can sometimes be illuminating and energizing, so I don’t suggest automatically taking them as reasons enough to stop on their own. Many of the most profound breakthroughs in relationships occur after successfully navigating these rough spots, with their difficult twists and turns, through to the other side.

If you do choose to continue, you may need to muster courage and embrace any discomfort or vulnerability you may be feeling as you press on.

You will also need to be capable of continuing to weave shared reality to get back on track. You might need more turns, or you might have each turn be shorter so you each have a chance to be heard more frequently. For each turn, carefully check for confirmation of understanding. Get even more rigorous with owning your experience. You might also try slowing the general pace of the conversation.

When the going gets tough, it can be easy to lose focus on shared reality and instead try to determine who is right and who is wrong, or attempt to achieve agreement on every last detail. If you notice that you’re beginning to prioritize any of these things above shared reality, you will likely prolong your difficulties.

Weaving shared reality through rough terrain is analogous to how a manual transmission works on a car. The lower gears move more slowly and are more powerful than the higher gears. These low gears are best when the climb is steep or treacherous. The higher gears are best for moving more quickly when the road is smooth, flat, or downhill. Once you’ve gained some traction in a rough spot, you can upshift again and move more quickly.

Often, it can be helpful to get some assistance from a third party to get through a tough spot.

If you have a mutually trusted friend nearby, you could invite them over to observe and just try again. You could say something like—

“Can we pause for a moment? I think it might be helpful to have our friend over here to observe, and that might help us make better progress.”

Or you might consider seeking a third-party facilitator who is familiar with this process or something akin to it. Propose this by saying something like—

“Can we put this conversation on hold so we can get a facilitator to support us?”
Pausing When It’s Going Well

Sometimes whatever gains you may have already earned simply need time to settle in before you’re ready to discuss the issue further. So, even when you’re not in a particularly tough spot, continuing for too long might reignite tension or conflict. You might find a natural break in the conversation, and say something like:

“Can we pause this for now? I think we’ve made some good progress, and I need some time to digest this and let it settle in. I’d like to pick it up again at some other time.”
Completing the Conversation

To sense whether you’re nearing completion, check whether the quality of your connection has shifted significantly for the better. Remember how I described tuning in to this quality at the outset and throughout? One sign you’ve succeeded at clearing things is when everyone feels as though the air is truly clearer in the relationship.

You might notice a more precise, detailed, and inclusive perspective on the situation under discussion. You may feel more connected to each other, or creative possibilities might begin to present themselves. Look for signs like relief, clarity, excitement, and care. These indications of shared reality will begin appearing as things are clearing between you.

You can also check to see if your reasons for having the conversation are now set up to be satisfied. For example, if you intended that this conversation would improve your effectiveness at collaborating at work, a sign that you’ve adequately cleared things would be that you feel confident in doing so going forward.

The moments after clearing the air are ripe with possibility. Consider the following bonus options prior to completing your conversation.

One possibility is to share how you would have liked things to have gone in the original situation, or, similarly, how you would like things to go in the future. This can help build further connection and pave the way for a better relationship going forward. You could say something like—

“What I would have liked is…”


“What I would like to be different in the future is…”

If you do indicate how you would want similar situations to be handled in the future, you’re in the territory of forming new relational agreements, which is a version of setting (or re-setting) context for your relationship. I recommend reading my how-to guide, The Power of Context , for more considerations and tips relevant to this process.

Another possibility is that, while clearing things up, one or both of you recognize that you violated an agreement you previously made with the other, or that you have betrayed a value or standard you hold for yourself. In either case, some repair is probably a good idea. Check out Restoring Relational Integrity for a complete approach to repair, but the simple version is to first declare explicitly that you consider your action(s) to have been out of integrity, and then to offer some kind of amends by saying something like—

“What can I do to make things right?”


“What can I do to restore your trust?”
The Debrief

After successful completion, I suggest having a debrief of your clearing conversation when possible, in service of improving your capacity as an individual, and as a pair, to resolve things quickly in the future.

If you do, be careful not to go back into the discussion about the issue, sticking instead to what you observed and learned about the process of having the conversation.

Share about your experience. Offer mutual acknowledgment for the contributions you made, noting specific moments when you particularly appreciated each other. Harvest what you can learn, taking note of what worked well and what did not, for future reference.

Relational Hygiene

Clearing the air is a practice of relational hygiene that works in much the same way as other kinds of hygiene: for the health of an ongoing relationship, it needs to happen frequently enough to minimize severe long-term problems.

To maintain good relational hygiene, you may need to overcome your impulse to withhold. When we withhold communication we don’t take the time to achieve mutual understanding about what happened. Instead, our minds guess as to each other’s feelings and motivations. Without a habit of addressing what’s been going on in a relationship, the gap grows between the narratives each person has about it, and the relationship becomes strained.

The strain will reach a breaking point if your relationship continues onward as your shared reality about it decreases over time. Eventually, one of you just won’t be able to continue withholding any longer, and this can set off an explosive chain reaction.

When this happens, the truth starts pouring out like from a bottle under pressure, suddenly uncorked. One unresolved issue after another starts coming out. Conflict rapidly goes into full swing. You’ve probably experienced this kind of chain reaction if you’ve heard yourself, or the other person, say things like,

“Well, I did that, because previously you did this…’
“When you did that, I thought you wanted this, so that’s why I didn’t say anything…”
“Well, I was only doing that because I thought I was doing you a favor!”
“Well, how come you didn’t say something back then?!”
“I didn’t say anything because I didn’t want to make a big deal out of it.”
“Well then, why are you making a big deal out of it now?!”


Unfortunately, many people take the wrong lesson from this. I know I used to. I would think, “I need to get better at withholding things because I don’t want that to happen again!”

Well, I have since given up on this strategy because I don’t think it allows for healthy relationships in the long run. The proper lesson is to clear things up early and often, and, as the saying goes, even the little things matter.

Withheld communication can become like a minefield. Landmines are hidden explosives, planted in the ground during wartime as a defensive measure. The idea is when an enemy steps on one, they’re injured or killed by the explosion. Unfortunately, armed landmines remain hidden long after the war has ended, remaining lethal even decades later. Efforts to clear and disarm old landmines continue to this day.

Regularly clearing things up is like disarming landmines. You will prevent accidental detonations in the future. You will disable your ability to weaponize an earlier moment in a future conflict. You’ll put an end to preventable chain reactions, meaning that conflicts that do erupt will be smaller in magnitude and carry less risk of causing major damage to the relationship.

Ending a Relationship

Throughout this guide, I’ve recommended what I think is most likely to have you regularly succeed at clearing the air. I advise this overall approach as long as you wish for the relationship to continue. Realistically, however, not all relationships continue, and ending a relationship is sometimes necessary. In some cases, you may come to realize this through your attempts to clear the air.

One way this can happen is when you reach a point when you need to protect yourself, or perhaps the other person, from any further harm. When your need to protect outweighs your motivation to continue trying to clear something, it is probably time for the relationship to end, at least in its current form. Another way this can happen is when you may no longer be able to imagine anything mutually beneficial from trying even one more time to clear something, even with expert assistance.

Whenever possible in these end-of-the-road moments, see if you can initiate a different kind of conversation, one where you fundamentally renegotiate your current relationship. This could mean something like altering the terms of a business engagement, romantic involvement, or living arrangement. Have a look at The Power of Context for my guide on how best to find your way through a mutually acceptable transition.

Transitioning to a new form of relationship may not be possible if the difficulties are too challenging even to have another conversation. Sometimes, you might be able to just walk away. At other times, this might require third-parties like arbitrators, attorneys, or state officials. I hope your relationships need not come to this, and if they do, only rarely.

If you practice good relational hygiene by regularly clearing the air, you make it much less likely that your relationships will break down in painful, messy, or expensive ways.

Relational Well-Being

I believe healthy relationships are a basic human need.

A core promise of MetaRelating is having more of the kinds of relationships you want. Some of the qualities I’ve learned that people commonly want for their relationships include authenticity, mutuality, satisfaction, nourishment, belonging, accomplishment, and growth.

Once established, an ongoing relationship provides at least some of these qualities. Typically we wish for it to continue, evolving naturally from one form to another, barring any insurmountable obstacles.

Not all of our relationships will attain their fullest potential, nor could they due to constraints of time, energy, and attention. At times, you’ve likely reached profoundly high-water marks with those nearest and dearest to you. Yet, I’m struck time and again by how much longing many people have for greater relational well-being. I find this troubling because I believe relational well-being is essential to the healthy functioning of civilization.

Clearing the air in your relationships requires many components of healthy and effective communication in concert, and it is challenging to become proficient at it. Even if you don’t fully embrace the approach I shared with you here, consider that clearing the air is necessary for you to have the relational well-being that is essential to being human, and which is irreplaceable.

MetaRelating is an innovative approach to communicating effectively about your relationships, whether personal or professional. We’ve designed our practices for individual professionals and organizations who are ready to develop emotional, social, and relational skills in a no-nonsense way that is easy to learn. Get our free e-book for a concise introduction, and opt-in to our newsletter to stay up to date with our latest resources, events, and training courses.