Helpful tips for approaching difficult conversations with your partner

September 13, 2017 Providence Health Team

Every relationship has its ups and downs. Sometimes, the key to turning a difficult situation around is just to talk about it. But before you back your partner into a corner, remember that the cardinal rule of tough talks is to acknowledge that it’s going to be one. The thought of hurting your partner’s feelings might make you cringe, but avoiding certain conversations will inevitably make things worse down the road. Most unresolved issues in relationships morph into resentment and can manifest through heightened sensitivity, irritability and overall unhappiness.

You deserve to feel content in your relationship. That is why it’s so important to express yourself and share your emotions in a strategic, healthy way. Whether it’s addressing a conflict, insecurity, or expressing a need for time-off, adopt these methods for your next difficult conversation:

The right way to have a “tough talk”

  • Give up the notion of being right. Most issues in a relationship stem from perceptions not facts. It helps to remember that when you’re speaking to your partner, it doesn’t matter who’s wrong and who’s right. What truly matters is reaching an outcome and how you get there. Acknowledge that you are simply addressing an issue, and as hard as this is, relinquish control and try to leave yourself out of it. The goal is to share your “idea” of the problem and hear their side of it.
  • There is such thing as the “right time.” Not bringing up a sensitive topic impulsively is important. Remember that there is a time and place for every conversation and that mentioning your hurt feelings in the middle of a crowded airplane may not be the best idea. Taking some time to distance yourself from the situation may help you calm down and give you a fresh perspective on what issues really matter to you and are worth discussing.
  • Explore your expectations. How do you want the conversation to end? If you want it to result in an angry tirade, chances are, it might. Define your expectations and tell your partner exactly what you will be discussing and how you would like to structure the conversation. If you catch some resistance, maybe it’s time to take a step back and revisit. However, don’t let the feelings linger for too long.
  • Think positive, stay focused. Partners tend to mimic each other, so staying optimistic may send positive signals that will help the talk go smoothly. Try not to envision the situation as a hopeless one – the mere fact that you’re bringing up the topic in the first place is a good indicator that you still care, which is a good sign. It also helps to not stray too far from the issue at hand. Too many tangents could lead the conversation down a slippery slope, so save the unrelated issues for a different day.
  • Listen carefully. When you and your partner both feel a strong desire to be heard, it could result in inefficient cross-talk. Practice listening to each other, and take turns stating your point of view and what you would like accomplished. Be open to what your partner has to say, and don’t envision what you’re going to say next. The key to solving problems is through communication. Your partner will want to know that you respect what she or he has to say.
  • Use the right language. Never start a conversation with the phrase, “We need to talk.” Besides inciting fear in most people in relationships, it pre-emptively leads to negative thoughts from the beginning. Instead, start the conversation by acknowledging that the conversation is going to be difficult, however, you would like it to result in something positive for both of you.
  • Aim for common ground. Go into the chat knowing that you want to reach a shared goal. Find something common that you both agree on and if you need to, stop the conversation there. In cases where one person wants to end the relationship and the other doesn’t, it’s important to both agree on preserving the other’s emotional well-being. For other conversations, you may not agree with the entirety of your partner’s point of view, but even agreeing on a single aspect may be enough to turn the tide.

What tactics do you use when approaching difficult conversations? We would love to hear from you.

About the Author

The Providence Health Team brings together caregivers from diverse backgrounds to bring you clinically-sound, data-driven advice to help you live your happiest and healthiest selves.

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