At some point in every relationship, you and your partner will need to have a difficult conversation with each other. Difficult conversations could be with differences of opinions, future planning, finances, parenting, etc. Whichever topic it is that you and your partner need to discuss, it’s important that you approach the conversation prepared. So, how can you have difficult conversations with your partner? Check out these tips and see how they can support you and your partner to have difficult conversations.
1. Identify What You Want To Communicate
Before having a difficult conversation with your partner, it is important to be clear and concise about what you want to communicate. Moreover, it is important to know what you are wanting to achieve from this conversation. Are you wanting to come to a compromise with your partner? Are you wanting your partner to simply listen and understand you? For example, if you and your partner are discussing finances, what do you want your partner to know about where you see finances going? What do you want them to know about your values and beliefs about finances? Before approaching your partner with difficult topics, be sure to have a clear understanding around what you want to communicate. By doing this, it will help you to avoid getting side-tracked by differences of opinion.
2. Remember That You Cannot Change Your Partner’s Opinions
This is a big one! Many times, after partners think about what they want to communicate, their goal is to say the “right thing” to change their partner’s opinions/beliefs about a certain topic. The reality is that both you and your partner are entitled to your own opinions. You can have a difference of opinion from your partner and still respect each other. So, how can you approach a difficult topic while remembering that you cannot change your partner’s opinions? To start, go into the conversation with an open-mind. In the conversation, remind yourself that your partner will likely have a different opinion than you do. Focus on listening to what your partner is saying and get curious about their opinion. Finally, show that you can accept what they have to say and validate that they have these feelings/thoughts. Moreover, don’t follow their statements with an argument or debate.
3. Make Room For Gathering Thoughts and Feelings Beforehand
It’s common in any relationship for there to be one person who is ready to have a difficult conversation and for another to need some time to process their thoughts and feelings about a difficult topic. What is the cycle in your relationship? Do you and/or your partner need time to gather your thoughts and feelings about a topic before addressing it together? If the answer is yes, then you and your partner need a system to allow time for processing. For example, if your partner is the one that needs time to process difficult topics before discussing their opinions with you, then how can you support them in having this time? Pushing them to talk and state their opinions when they are not ready is not going to get either of you closer to where you want to be. It may even make them frustrated or defensive.
So, do you need to let your partner know that you want to have a conversation about a difficult topic and then decide a time when you will talk meet again to talk about the topic? Find a system that works for both you and your partner so that difficult topics don’t get avoided, but are not forced either.
It’s never easy to have difficult conversations with your partner, but it does not have to result in arguments, debates, or avoiding difficult topics altogether. Before having a difficult conversation with your partner, identify what you want to communicate and be clear about what your perspective is. Second, remember that you cannot change your partner’s opinions. Respect and listen to what your partner tells you. Lastly, make room for gathering thoughts/feelings so that conversations aren’t forced, but also not avoided.
Amanda Cummins is an associate therapist with The Marriage and Family Clinic. She focuses on working with couples in distress as well as families and children in transitions. As a Denver Native, Amanda enjoys hiking, yoga, and spending time with her family.