In every relationship, there comes a time for hard talks. These come in many shapes and sizes: from the touchy subject of whose family to spend Thanksgiving with to the intensely vulnerable confession about a health problem. The discussion, early in the relationship, may simply be about how you feel with where the relationship is going, or it might be time to disclose some information about your past, like an addiction or some kind of trauma that still affects you.
Avoidance Is Poison. We often postpone or avoid these conversations because we’re afraid of the fallout. Will it change how he or she feels about you? Will it invite conflict into your lives? Maybe it’s better to just forget about it…
Just kidding. However awkwardly you stumble through the conversation, however you might miscommunicate or even cause conflict, trying is miles better than not trying. Numerous studies have found that being emotionally disengaged and uninvested is much more harmful to a relationship than conflict or hard truths.
Communication Is a Skill. Communication certain truths MIGHT hurt or end a relationship. Failing to communicate important things WILL hurt or end a relationship. Never fool yourself into thinking that avoidance is actually a strategy.
The good news is that communication, especially communication in specific relationships, is a skill. Therefore, you can learn great communication skills and techniques. You can go from being wretched communicators now, to becoming world-class examples of strong communication if you’re simply willing to try.
Try These Tips
The first step in effective communication is to be humble. Sure, you know your partner pretty well. But assumptions block communication. Never assume that you know how he or she will react. Never assume that they understand your actions and intentions without them being explicitly stated. Conversely, never assume that you completely understand your partner’s actions and intentions. Go in with an open mind, and run every assumption you have through rigorous screening. Is he actually angry right now? Or does he just seem angry because he feels like he’s being rushed?
Understand different communication styles
The ever-so-popular book Men Are from Mars, Women Are from Venus grandly illustrated the idea that we can get our signals crossed when we don’t understand each other well enough. However, communication differences go beyond simply “male” and “female” conversation styles. Your personality, goals, and background all determine communication style. For example, maybe he goes quiet and thoughtful when confronted with a challenge or dilemma in the relationship. He wants to carefully consider the problem before responding. Meanwhile, she’s taking his silence as withdrawal, and she’s desperately reaching for a reaction from him to show that he’s still invested and listening. In response, he thinks that she’s attacking him, and disrespecting his input.
Obviously, this can cause a perpetual spiral if it’s not countered. It’s important for her to understand that he needs some time and quiet in order to process things and offer her his best self. He needs to understand that she craves feedback and acknowledgement.
Some of us lead the charge for communication with our feelings. Others lean on logic, and others try their best to put a happy face on everything and gloss over communication challenges. Learn about your partner’s style, and your own. Make allowances for the strengths and weaknesses of each when you need to have a discussion.
I know that sometimes it feels calculated and controlling to rehearse or strategize a difficult conversation before the actual fact. But for many of us, it’s necessary. There’s a myth that what’s said in the heat of the moment is the truth, when actually, it’s often a defensive lie.
I personally have a tendency to avoid confrontation, even when I know it’s necessary. I’ve learned that if I reach out to the person in question ahead of time, or give them a “can we talk later?” it helps keep me on track and gives me an external motivator to stick to my guns and have the hard talk.
Additionally, it’s often wise to thoroughly think out a problem before going into confrontation mode. Is this really something that needs to be addressed? What do you actually want to change or share? How can you curb any language that might be accusatory? What are you actually wanting to say? For me, I often write it out first just to organize my thoughts, knowing that I can get stressed and jumbled when I’m on the spot. It can also help to talk it out with another friend just to make sure that you’re being fair and balanced.
Bridge the Gap with Love
The language that you use to approach the conversation can help remind you both that this is a temporary challenge inside the context of a bigger and better relationship. When we hear something like “I wish you wouldn’t smoke” it’s easy to exaggerate it in our heads to, “I think you’re stupid and weak” or “I’m ready to bail on this relationship” if we’re feeling insecure. Emphasize the things that you love about your partner, focus on care and concern. Help your partner feel your care with words, touch, and service.
By Christine Hill