You know the one I mean…that issue. The one that’s been on your mind. A lot.
Maybe it’s his spending-spree habits. Maybe it’s her way of disappearing when she comes home. Maybe it’s his “close friendship” with his ex.
Whatever it is, big or small, it bugs you and it just HAS TO CHANGE! Or at least, that’s how you feel sometimes.
Tough issues are hard to bring up effectively. You might have every intention of talking calmly, figuring out solutions, and reassuring each other, but it turns into a fight.
How can you bring up your next tough issue so your partner will listen and consider a change? There’s no magic formula, but these 8 steps are a great way to start the conversation right:
- Take a deep breath: Instead of turning into the Hulk or retreating to wallow when you find that credit card bill or he takes 5 hours to text you back, take a moment to breathe and sort out your thoughts. Ask yourself why you’re upset. Get curious about your reaction.
- Before you speak, figure out what you DO want: It’s easy to complain or accuse—“You bought WHAT? You are out of control!” or “You obviously don’t have any energy for me or this relationship!” It’s much harder to say: “I want us to be free of money worries, to build a secure financial future together” or “I love when we do something fun together in the evening, and I’d love to find time for that this week.”
- Time things well and ask if it’s a good time: Bring up your issue strategically: when your partner is well-rested, feeling good, and has time to talk. After 10pm or right before work are not great times for an important conversation. Try your partner over coffee on Saturday morning, or during an after-dinner walk. Say something like, “I’d like to talk about a request I have—would now be an OK time for that?”
- Touch your partner while you talk: Tough conversations often go better if you can hold your partner’s hand or touch them somehow while you talk. Touch conveys reassurance and helps you both soften and remember that you care about each other. (If your partner is not a big touch person, though, skip this part!)
- Start with affirmation or appreciation: Instead of launching right into the issue, start with how you feel about your partner and what the relationship means to you. “I love you a lot and our relationship is really important to me. I know you love me and want me to be happy, too, and I appreciate all you do to take care of us.”
- Express your frustration in 1-2 sentences, if at all: It’s often more effective to skip this step and launch straight into asking for what you want. Most people react better to a positive invitation. If you do need to reference the problem, keep it short. Use “I-statements” and express it in terms of your opinion and preferences, not as something you’re right about or that your partner is doing wrong. “Lately, I’ve been feeling like we’re spending too much and I’m really worried.” Or, “I’ve been feeling a little sensitive about your friendship with Sally. I know you’re with me and not her, but sometimes I feel jealous of the time you two spend together.”
- Move quickly to what you DO want: Suggest 1 or 2 specific solutions and encourage your partner to choose one. “I would feel so much better if we kept track of all our spending for the next two months, or if we went to see a financial planner together” or “I would feel really reassured if I knew Sally better and if we spent time with her as a couple. Maybe we can meet her for breakfast this weekend or could invite her over for dinner next week?”
- Then, stop talking, and listen as your partner replies.
If you make it to this point, then props to you–you’re already succeeded in bringing up your tough issue. You’ve communicated in a way that invited your partner to listen and consider change. No matter what happens next, you’re already talking solutions, and that is progress.
Have a tough issue you want to bring up? I’d love to hear about it. Shoot me an email (melissa at luvwise.com) and tell me what you’re planning to say. I’ll do my best to respond with thoughts and encouragement.
Or, leave a comment below to tell us all what effective communication strategies have worked in your own relationship.
Here’s to great relationships!
Want to solve problems, connect better, reduce frustration, or get over a breakup–from your couch? I offer down-to-earth relationship coaching for daters, by phone, Skype, Google Hangout, whatever works. Click here to find out more!
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