In any relationship there are times when you and your partner will need to talk about difficult subjects. The ability to discuss complex and controversial issues is a sign of a healthy relationship, but that doesn’t always mean it’s easy. Here are some tips for having those difficult conversations and to strengthen and support your relationship.
Before you go into a tricky conversation, identify what you’re hoping to accomplish. Make sure that your expectations are mutually beneficial and allow room for differences. Prepare yourself by resisting any urge to criticize and remind yourself that the problem can exist without there necessarily needing to be a “bad guy/gal”. Additionally, a goal of proving to your partner that your point of view is correct is likely to end in hurt feelings and resentment for both of you, while an expectation of (for instance) identifying areas of overspending and developing a better budget is a goal you can both work towards together.
Prepare both sides
Chances are that you’ve been thinking about this conversation for a while, so allow your partner the same benefit. Let them know ahead of time what you’d like to talk about, and set a time so they can organize their thoughts, come up with ideas, and be prepared to discuss the topic. When asking them to prepare, be sure it’s a request, not a demand.
Be positive and honest
Although you want to be honest when talking to your partner about difficult subjects, try to keep it positive too. An easy way to start your conversation off on the right foot is to express appreciation to your partner for taking the time to discuss this topic with you. Express that the subject is important to you and has been weighing on your mind, and thank them for their willingness to talk it through together.
Be calm and respectful
The issue you want to talk about may be causing strong negative feelings, so recognize that and take steps to keep those feelings under control. Pay attention to your voice and body language, and if you feel the conversation starting to get heated, acknowledge it out loud. Say something like, “I realize I’m getting upset. This is just something I feel really strongly about.” Recognizing when things are escalating can help both you and your partner to tone things down before they get out of hand.
Express your feelings openly and honestly, but encourage your partner to do the same. Try to keep an open mind and accept that it’s okay for the two of you to feel differently about things. Never interrupt your partner when they’re talking. Show your partner that you’re paying attention to what they have to say by making eye contact, and once they’ve expressed their view make sure that you understand it. One way to do this is to repeat what you heard them say. “So, as I understand it, what you’re saying is…” and then summarize what they said in your own words. “Is that right?”
Stay on topic
This is not the time to bring up old grievances, make accusations, or drag other topics into the conversation. Be strict about keeping the talk on the subject at hand and not wandering into other issues. Help your partner to do the same by respectfully getting the conversation back on track if they begin to bring up other issues. Keep your expectations in mind and table anything that isn’t going to help you meet the goals you and your partner have for this conversation.
Set a goal or make an agreement
As you talk, make it clear that you want to reach a resolution of some kind. Work together to set a goal or come to an agreement about how you can move forward on this issue.
Be accountable to each other
Few conflicts are resolved by a single conversation. After you’ve put your plan of action into effect, come together often to see how it’s working and if it’s helping you to reach your goal. Don’t be afraid to open the discussion again and adjust your plan.
Talking to your partner about difficult subjects is a natural part of your relationship, and can help both of you to work together, strengthen your relationship, and communicate more effectively. By following these tips, you can approach hard topics with greater confidence that you and your partner can learn to manage or resolve issues and move forward.