We’ve all been there. There is something burning on your heart that you need to discuss with your significant other, but you’re not entirely sure how to start the dialogue. Maybe you’ve had tough talks before that have ended up in an argument, or maybe you aren’t sure how they will react to your specific needs – either way, the conversation needs to happen.
Before you begin a difficult conversation:
What are you hoping to accomplish by having this conversation?
First of all, begin with the end in mind. Specifically, is this a topic that will eventually elevate the quality of your relationship? Do you intend to ask for help? Being clear about your intentions of this conversation can be helpful to guide you through it and keep you to your point or the end-goal. Having difficult talks may also improve you and your partner’s ability to be vulnerable with each other, which can create a deeper connection and a safe space for each other in the future on your relationship.
Do you have any expectations about your partner’s responses?
Look inside yourself. Be mindful of your own attitude on the topic and how you are anticipating your partner’s reactions. Assuming a particular response may feel like you’re protecting yourself, but then you may be missing out on offering significant context or other information. You may feel anxious, intimidated, or like your needs are being overlooked, but also be aware that this might not be the intention of your partner. They may be feeling similar emotions and may also be trying to protect themselves. Try to be open and accepting of the dialogue with an understanding that you are two individuals with your own separate life experiences.
Think about the things you want to say and the points you are wanting to get across.
It could help to practice saying certain parts out loud, or write down your questions and concerns, as well as how you think your partner may react. Also let yourself be accepting of going “off script,” and letting the conversation move naturally.
Tips to Begin a Difficult Conversation
There are many ways you can start the conversation. Using opening lines such as “I’d really like to talk to you about ___,” or “I could use your help working through ____.” Beginning with a request can be less intimidating and help the conversation feel less threatening. Be mindful of your language and how it can present in certain situations. Using statements that begin with “You,” such as “You made me feel…” can feel accusatory to a partner and they may begin to get defensive early in the conversation.
Use “I” statements
It is important to take ownership of your needs. Using “I” statements can help your partner to understand what your needs are than can help the relationship flourish. For example, saying things like “I would love more help with chores,” or “I need more time together,” creates an ownership of the problem and a non-blaming environment for your partner, which can help them to be more open to listening to your concerns and wanting to work through them with you. Acknowledging where you have struggles of your own and need help can also help your partner feel like they hold more value in the partnership. When you both feel at-ease in the discussion, it can create space to feel safe with one another and handle the issue together.
Actively Listen to Your Partner’s Response
Try to keep it a dialogue with paying attention to your partner’s responses to your requests. If they have any questions or issues with what you are asking for, be sure to explain your reasoning with intent to reach an agreement. Validate your partner’s feelings about the topic and do your best to stay calm and respectful, avoiding defensiveness.
Stick to the Issue
Try to keep your focus on the issue you are bringing up and avoid bringing up past conflicts or any other unrelated problems that you may have or have had in the past. Keeping each topic separate can help minimize unfavorable reactions and maximize problem-solving. If the topic veers off into something else, try to remind yourself and your partner of the purpose of this dialogue. Work together to find solutions rather than focusing on the problem.
Check in with Each Other
After the conversation, follow up with your partner to check on progress and revisit the topic if needed. Remember that new patterns and behaviors take time, practice, and patience, and often might not be completely resolved after one conversation. Give your partner space to work on meeting your needs in the way you’ve requested and discuss how you may need reminders in the future to not lose sight of the overall goal.
Don’t Be Afraid to Seek Professional Help if Needed
If the topic is something that you and your partner struggle to resolve or compromise on, it may be helpful to seek outside support. Friends and family could hold biases and “take sides” on the issue. Working with a couples’ therapist to identify patterns in your dialogue and help find common ground can be incredibly helpful for specific issues, working through past disagreements, as well as helping you and your partner face any future conflict in a helpful and healthy way!
Difficult conversations can be an opportunity for growth and understanding in your relationship. Creating and maintaining open and respectful communication is key to building a strong and healthy partnership. If you or your partner have had difficulties with confrontation in the past, this could be a great time to re-learn that difficult discussions can end with understanding and empathy.