You should see the pale look on my partner’s face any time I say, “we need to talk”.
It can be scary to have difficult conversations with your partner—especially if you’re wondering what you’ve done wrong or whether this is the end of the road.
But here’s the deal. Want a better relationship? You gotta talk about stuff.
The awkward stuff. The annoying stuff. The painful stuff.
Here’s how to set the stage for a real, juicy, honest conversation that feels good and serves both of you.
1. Figure out what you want to say.
Awesome communication starts with getting clear on what the problem is. If you don’t tell your partner what’s going on for you, they can’t do anything about it.
So what’s on your mind?
Meditate or grab a journal and do some serious self-reflection.
Ask yourself what:
- Emotions am I feeling right now? (e.g. “I’m feeling angry and sad”)
- Thoughts am I having right now? (e.g. “it’s like being in a relationship with a wall”)
- Event seems to have triggered this? (e.g. “he wouldn’t tell me how he was feeling yesterday”)
- Role am I playing here? Do I want this to change? If so, how? (e.g. “I’m lashing out, but deep down I just want to understand why he’s blocking me out”)
- Role is my partner playing? Do I want this to change? If so, how? (e.g. “he’s closed off, but I’d like him to open up instead”)
The clearer we are on our thoughts and emotions, the easier it is to communicate these to our partner.
I’ve also learned to ask myself the following question:
“What story am I telling myself about what’s happening?“
There’s often a big difference between the running commentary in our head versus the facts of the situation.
For example, I might tell myself that my partner is ‘acting like an emotionless robot’ (LOL), whereas an objective bystander might say, ‘he didn’t say anything when she asked him how he was feeling’.
Looking at the situation objectively helps you avoid using judgmental language which might cause your partner to get defensive.
2. Set a ‘talking date’.
Once you’re clear on what you want to say, set up a dedicated time and space to have your convo.
In other words, don’t accost your partner when they’re not expecting it. Trust me, you’ll rarely get the attention or compassion you want when you do this (been there, done that).
I always—okay, almost always—ask my partner when might be a good time for him to chat before I launch into my spiel.
These are the best circumstances I’ve found for creating real intimacy during a talking date:
- Only the two of you are present
- You’re both relaxed and in a familiar environment
- You can give each other your full attention and switch off your devices
- Neither of you has anything planned in the immediate future, such as a meeting to get to or the kids’ bedtime
- All of your basic needs are filled (i.e. you’re not hungry/thirsty/exhausted)
The calmer you both feel, the more likely you are to hear each other and ultimately resolve the issue between you.
3. Maintain physical contact.
Once you’ve set up your talking date, use the following suggestions to help you both open up in a safe and supportive way.
First, agree in advance that only one of you will talk at a time—so you share and your partner listens until you finish. Your partner then takes their turn to speak and you listen until they’re finished. Rinse and repeat.
During your talking date:
- Sit directly across from one another
- Look into your partner’s eyes
- Hold one or both of your partner’s hands
- Then take turns speaking and listening until you both feel you are ‘complete’
Eye contact helps to build intimacy and hand-holding maintains the connection with your partner (even if they say something that rubs you up the wrong way!).
4. Let go of the outcome.
Finally, try to release any expectations.
We share our thoughts and feelings because we’re hoping to achieve a certain outcome. But the truth is that the issue might be resolved after you talk about it… or it might not.
Your partner might say what you want to hear… or they might not.
My advice? Take whatever happens as a learning experience.
Having the courage to address issues in your relationship is an amazing feat in and of itself. So give yourself a big ol’ pat on the back for that one.
And remember that effective communication is all about practice, patience, and understanding.
These skills take time to develop; so if this is the first time you’ve been truly authentic with your partner, congratulate yourself on taking the first step to a better relationship!