Not all conversations are created equal. You know this. Some are light and airy, bringing joy and happiness. Some are a bit more serious, needing focus and deliberation. Others are even more serious, in fact critical, and can have weighty implications.

Most of us prefer the light and airy conversations. I know I do. Many of us avoid the conversations that are weighty, and yet avoiding them often leads to even weightier ones in the future. Avoidance leads to feelings of resentment, irritability and tougher conversations later on.

There are three different kinds of conversations, each having progressively increased levels of intensity and implications. Let’s look at each one and the role they play.

Casual Conversations. On an Intensity Level of 1-3, these conversations are easy, having to do with routine aspects of life. An example of Casual Conversations are:

          “Would you mind picking up your bath towel when done taking a shower?”

          “Would you please remember to wash your dishes?”

          “Would you mind helping out with the laundry this weekend?”

          “I’d really like your help with the children today.”

Typically, these conversations go smoothly and don’t lead to any conflict. If they do lead to conflict, it is important that they become a Collaborative Conversation.

Collaborative Conversations. On an Intensity Level of 4-7, these are conversations that often involve some level of conflict and intensity. Couples are often serious when talking about these matters, with each sharing their feelings and seeking an agreement that is suitable to both partners. An example of Collaborative Conversations are:

          “I’d like to talk to you about how you express anger toward me. I need your anger to decrease and want to hear your thoughts about this.”

          “I want to talk about my feelings of jealousy. I’m uncertain about your use of social media and want to find something that works for both of us.”

          “I want to address our differing feelings about your use of alcohol.”

Typically these conversations have more ‘voltage’ and must be dealt with in a way that values each person’s point of view. In Collaborative Conversations couples value each other’s perspective, listen carefully to each other’s feelings, validate the other’s point of view and arrive at solutions acceptable to both. Ideally, most relationship conflict is dealt with within a collaborative conversation.

Critical Conversations. On an Intensity Level of 8-10, these conversations are often marked by seriousness. There are significant implications involved in these conversations. These conversations are often called ‘boundary management,’ where one partner is making clear a boundary they must have respected. An example of Critical Conversations are:

          “I want to talk to you but will only talk to you when I feel respected. I haven’t felt respected at times and will let you know when that occurs.”

          “I want to share my feelings with you but can only do so when I feel safe. I haven’t always felt safe in sharing my feelings and want to let you know exactly what I need to be able to do so.”

          “I’d like to spend time with you but I’d like to do things we both enjoy.”

Notice there is a boundary being set with these statements along with the underlying desire. Each has implications—if the partner doesn’t feel respected, safe or has a sense of mutual caring, they may not engage with their mate until they do so. A relationship could be temporarily ‘broken’ until the boundary has been respected and repaired.

Of course the Casual Conversations are the easiest ones to have. We all want to have light and airy conversations. However, we need to be able to have Collaborative Conversations where we settle issues that arise in relationships. Finally, we also need to have boundaries and Critical Conversations occur to establish and reinforce healthy boundaries.

In every conversation, no matter the level of intensity, it is imperative to recognize our conversation must be marked by a ‘wholesome’ attitude exemplified by the Apostle Paul: “Do not let any unwholesome talk come out of your mouths, but only what is helpful for building others up according to their needs, that it may benefit those who listen.” (Ephesians 4:29)

Please let me know what you think about these levels of intensity in conversation. Please also read more about The Marriage Recovery Center on our website and You’ll find videos and podcasts on sexual addiction, emotionally destructive marriages, codependency and affair-proofing your marriage. You are free to email me at

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