Every relationship has to face some tough conversations from time to time. These could be big decisions where you don’t see eye to eye with each other. They could be some unhealthy dynamics in the relationship that needs to be sorted out. Or a bad choice that one of you has made that has to be faced. And many things in between.
Whenever these situations come up it is important to neither avoid the conversation nor treat it like a winner-takes-all battle. Pushing it under the carpet simply delays dealing with it and risks it becoming a much bigger issue later on. Fighting just pushes the couple into two sides and when one ‘wins’ and the other ‘loses’ it can never be a good outcome for the couple.
Here’s a few tips about handling such difficult conversations.
Decide together on a time for the conversation. Dealing with it when one, or both, of you are feeling intense emotions is never a good idea. It is impossible to stay flexible and open to each other when there is emotional heat in the situation. There is nothing wrong in the heat and, in fact, this simply indicates the topic is important and needs addressing. But the heat rarely serves a productive and connecting discussion.
So find ways to get some emotional support, maybe outside the relationship, and find a time when you are both calm and relaxed. Ask someone to mind the kids if you sense the conversation might be a long one. And choose the time and place that gives the maximum chance you can approach the topic with lightness and postive energy.
- Dialogue not debate
Approach the conversation as a dialogue. This means you are both aiming to build a combined understanding and means giving space to the other and really listening. What is their experience and perspective? What is really important to them in this situation? And yours?
Debate on the other hand is about presenting arguments to defend a position and attacking the arguments of your partner. While this may be entertaining in a TV court room drama, it does not have a place in a relationship based on building a life together.
- Ideal Future
One approach I recommend is to imagine that time has passed and you have completely solved the topic. Made the decision. Dealt with the situation. Moved on from the bad choice. And not only have you moved passed it, but it turned out very well. Maybe even a bit better than you could have hoped for.
What will that look like? What will be happening between you when you solved it? How will you both feel? What helped you solve the situation?
Spend some time focusing on this. It can really help bring in a constructive energy into the conversation.
- Don’t rush
Unless the situation is an emergency, take the time to be with it together until you are both satisfied with the outcome. Resist the temptation for a quick fix which is likely to just need an even bigger fix down the road. Also recongise the discussion does not necessarily need to be done in a single attempt. Take several bites at it if needed.
- Identify Needs
What needs are important for each of you in this situation? When you can identify these then you can collect them together and keep them as a point of reference to check the effectiveness of your solution.
Does the outcome take care of all the needs? T
his is important because only then will the solution be truly sustainable. If an important need of one of you is not considered then it is likely that person will not be fully behind the decision or outcome.
- Get Curious
I think curiosity is SO important in a relationship. Getting curious means being genuinely and deeply interested in what the other thinks and experiences. It means asking for (and listening to) their ideas as though they were your own. It means watching each other for the subtle clues and not only the grand gestures.
I’ve found learning Nonviolent Communication (NVC) to be a game changer when it comes to these types of difficult conversations (and not only). If you’re curious about NVC and would like a introductory taster then you might be interested in a 3 hour online introduction I run every couple of months in English. Details here.