How to have Difficult Conversations
In this post I will talk about how to have the difficult conversations we avoid. Even in the best of relationships, there are usually subjects that are difficult to address. The issue is that if these subjects are not addressed, they can cause resentments which can end the relationship. Briefly here are some of the reasons we avoid conversations; we misjudge what needs to be addressed, we want to avoid conflict, we have a low sense of worth (don’t believe my concerns are important) and we have tried and felt missed so we are fearful to try again.
To have difficult conversations you have to get to a reasonably healthy place of strength because most likely you will be triggered. To be in the healthiest place, sometimes a person needs to work through some of the issues listed above. At a minimum, one must acknowledge their presence. Here are some “ground rules” for how to bring these conversations up and what to do in the midst of them:
- Setting (Some couples need a neutral place to talk about hard issues so it minimizes the negative response.)
- Soft statements (I feel , in my opinion, it seems to me; putting these at the beginning soften the blow of the content and can allow the other person to hear the issue more cleanly.)
- Anxiety management (Either before or during the conversation, anxiety can rise so dealing with that is very important. This can be done with breathing and sometimes the breaks I describe next.)
- Take breaks (this relates to being emotionally flooded and having the fight or flight response engage. When that happens, the very best thing is to call a timeout and calm down and work on physiological calming.)
- Goal setting (The goal of these conversations should be to let the other person know how you feel and not to change their behavior. When that becomes the goal then resentment is typically the product.)
The big hope with these conversations is that the other spouse hears them and is influenced by them. When that doesn’t happen that is hard but not bringing up the issue to begin with is much worse. We know that high negativity levels in our relationships are the best predictor of divorce, and yet an important way to defend against that is to address issues as they arise.