Tonight, I have to have a difficult conversation with my spouse and I was wondering about ways to make a difficult conversation easy.
I was dreading the conversation because he hates to talk about things but there are things that need to be talked about.
I sat here thinking over and over about what to say and how to say it and what he is going to say and how he could hate me, and our marriage, by the end of it. I was petrified.
Fortunately, the life coach in me knows that, while my concerns are real, there are many approaches that I can take that will allow us to have a successful conversation, one we will both walk away from in the best way possible.
What can I, and you, do to ensure that the conversation is a good one?
#1 – Stop obsessing.
As I sat there thinking about what tonight was going to look like, I was visualizing all sorts of reactions from my spouse around what I was going to say. I thought about how he would react and what he would say. And then I thought about what I would say next. And then what I might do when he storms off. And what we will do afterwards when it’s time to go to bed.
I ran the scenarios over and over in my head and, for a while, they were all that I could think about. More even than the content of the talk. I just didn’t know what would happen and it worried me.
But I knew that I had to let go of those projected outcomes. I had NO IDEA how he was going to react and to spend even one minute perseverating about how he might was a complete waste of time. And, if I thought about it too much, I knew I would go into the conversation with heightened anxiety, which was sure to sabotage the outcome before I began.
So, I had to let go of these ruminations and go into the conversation with a clear head, willing to accept that whatever happened would happen and that I couldn’t control the outcome.
#2 – Timing is everything.
When my kids were little and I had to discuss something difficult with them I always chose to do it in one of two places: in the car or on a walk.
I have found it very effective to have conversations with someone when side by side instead of face to face. I think that perhaps it makes each participant a little less vulnerable and gives them a moment more to react to a statement. The eyes can say so much, sometimes quickly, which can cause the conversation to devolve in some way.
I also always chose a time that was not stressful. If you raise the topic after a really stressful bedtime with the kids or after he has had a disagreement with his mother or when she is exhausted, your conversation could be doomed.
So, choose a time carefully. Tonight is pizza night, no cooking and no dishes, and my spouse is always happiest when there are no dishes. Afterwards, we will go on a walk and he will be relaxed and I will bring up what I want to talk about. Softly.
#3 – Do not go on the offensive.
Your goal in this situation is to make a difficult conversation easy, a conversation that lands on its mark and has a satisfactory end result. To do this it’s important not to attack.
My partner and I are struggling with a few issues in our relationship. Instead of leading in with all of the things that he is doing wrong, I will ask him if he is happy. On a scale of 1-10, perhaps. Doing so will (hopefully and gradually) get him to open up to me about what is going on with him. From there I can ask him probing questions that will help me understand where he is coming from.
I will not say “Why are you doing these stupid things over and over?” I can guarantee that the only thing that will do is shut him down. And, certainly, he will not be interested in listening to what I need if I go on the attack right away.
#4 – Do not go on the defensive.
This is so important. We need to be very careful to listen to what we are hearing back from the person with whom we are talking and not immediately start defending ourselves before they are finished. Not only could we get some valuable information but, by letting them know that we are paying attention, we will be more likely to get the outcome that we seek.
Try reflective listening. Many people find it difficult but it really works. After they speak say “I hear you saying that….and I get it.” Words that will allow them to feel heard, validated and empathized with. Often, all people want to be is heard and not feeling so makes them angry and makes them shut down or storm off.
It’s also important to just listen if that is what your spouse wants. Sometimes, as our spouse tells us what is going on, we do one of two things – we push back and defend the situation or we try to fix it. Sometimes, neither one of those things is what is needed in the moment. Sometimes, our spouse just needs to be heard.
Most importantly, if you want your spouse to start to communicate with you, they need to know they can do so knowing that they will be heard, and not just deflected. Wouldn’t you be way more willing to talk to someone if you knew that you were safe and respected?
So, listen, listen, listen. Don’t go on the defensive. I can guarantee you that your conversation will not be effective if you are the one doing all the talking.
#5 – Be confident.
I know this conversation tonight with my spouse seems like it might be the end of the world but really, no matter what, it’s all going to be okay.
I always ask my clients to consider ‘What is the worst that can happen?’
For me, I know that the worse that could happen would be a divorce. That I don’t think I could survive. But you know what? I probably could. Regardless, that won’t happen tonight, because of this conversation. As a matter of fact, divorce is a more likely outcome if we are unable to talk about our issues so I keep that in mind as the night grows closer.
So, yes, a conversation might bring about pain and discomfort and maybe even produce some short, or long, term effects but really, everyone is going to be okay.
Pain is part of the growing process. This conversation will be part of the growing process and, hopefully, at the end of it, we both will be on the way to understanding each other just a little bit more, with the goal of working things through, together.
And growing is the end goal.
Looking for ways to make a difficult conversation easy is the key to a successful relationship. Without communication, your relationship will most likely fail.
So many relationships fall apart because partners can’t communicate with each other and instead they grow further and further apart until their marriage is irreparably broken.
Make sure that you go into this conversation in a good place, without making assumptions about the content and the outcome. Choose a time and a place that won’t be stressful. Make sure that you don’t attack and that you not get defensive but that you listen to what is being said. And know that, no matter what, the world won’t end because of the conversation. Life will go on with what needed to be said out in the open instead of stuck in your head.
You can do this. I promise.