When we are married, we would all like to believe that we can talk to our spouse about anything, without reservation, but the reality is, there are times in our life that we need to talk about unpleasant situations. You might worry about an upcoming discussion on finances or be nervous talking to your partner about something that has been bothering you about your relationship. You may be afraid of an ensuing fight or of hurting his feelings.
No matter how good your relationship is, there are times you need to have one of those “difficult” conversations. While it is tempting to just put the conversation off and save it for a later time, this isn’t the best way to build and maintain a loving and strong relationship.
There are ways to help make those difficult conversations a little easier:
Write down what you want to say. During my marriage, I have found that I often become defensive or sound as if I am attacking my husband, even when that is not my intention. I have found that writing down what I want to say beforehand helps me stay on track: focused on how I feel about the topic rather than stating what he should or should not do.
Think about what you want to accomplish. Before you begin, think about what you would like to accomplish. Are you trying to change your spouse’s behavior? Are you letting him know you are unhappy with something in your relationship? Are you looking for a common solution on the household budget? Do you want to know how he feels about a situation? Knowing ahead of time how you would view a successful end to the discussion helps you stay on track and not become distracted by other relationship issues. Remember, if you think the conversation will go badly, it will. Keep your expectations positive.
Decide where and when the conversation should take place. It is never good to have a serious discussion when either you or your spouse are tired or hungry. Choose a time when you can be alone, without children, and can quietly discuss the situation. Don’t have the conversation in a restaurant or other public place unless you are sure your spouse agrees. Make sure you have plenty of time to complete the conversation.
Begin your conversation with openings such as, “I have been thinking about…and would like your opinion.” or “I would like to discuss something with you.” Avoid saying, “We need to talk” as this usually signals something bad is going to follow and your spouse may immediately become defensive.
Mirror your spouse’s communication style. If your partner prefers simply facts, don’t add in story after story to make your point. If he relates to stories, however, use this method to illustrate your point. If your spouse is a “toucher” sit close and touch his arm while talking. On the other hand, if he becomes uncomfortable with a lot of touching, sit close but don’t make him more uncomfortable by continuously reaching out to touch him. People react more favorably to those who are alike.
Keep the conversation positive. Being negative will most probably turn your spouse off. Make sure to keep the conversation full of solutions, rather than reiterating all the negatives.
Listen to your partner’s ideas and opinions. Conversations are a two-way street and after you initially state what you want to say, take time to listen to your spouse’s reaction. Pay attention to his body language as well as what he is saying. Repeat back what you think he means to be sure you understand. A resolution comes only after you both know how the other person feels.
Stop yourself from becoming defensive. Difficult conversations end up with you or your spouse becoming angry or hurt. Often, our reaction is to become defensive and attack. Be alert for signs you are becoming defensive and remind yourself to stay positive.
Communication is one of the most important, if not the most important, ingredient in a healthy loving relationship. When situations require one of those “difficult” conversations, don’t put it off, force yourself to talk with your spouse. Show your partner the respect he or she deserves by talking about everything that impacts your life together. If you are having problems and no matter what you do, you can’t seem to resolve your communication issues, you may want to suggest talking with a marriage counselor.
This article was written based on the strategies I use within my own marriage and through talking with other married couples about what works best for them.
Eileen Bailey is a freelance health writer. She is the author of What Went Right: Reframe Your Thinking for a Happier Now, Idiot’s Guide to Adult ADHD, Idiot’s Guide to Cognitive Behavioral Therapy, Essential Guide to Overcoming Obsessive Love, and Essential Guide to Asperger’s Syndrome. She can be found on Twitter @eileenmbailey and on Facebook at eileenmbailey.