Having difficult conversations with your spouse or partner is not easy, but it’s mission-critical for a healthy and successful relationship. Avoiding those conversations can cause resentment and tension, which can ultimately harm your relationship. So, it’s essential to learn how to master the art of having difficult conversations with your spouse in a healthy way. Communication is the foundation of any healthy relationship, but it’s not always easy to talk about difficult topics. There will be times when you and your spouse need to have a tough talk. However, these conversations can quickly become heated, emotional, and unproductive if not handled carefully.
Difficult conversations can be about anything from finances to chores to differing opinions on how to raise your children or religion. Whatever the topic may be, it’s crucial to approach the conversation in a way that respects your partner’s feelings while also getting your point across. As a life coach, I’ve worked with many couples who struggle to have difficult conversations without them turning into an argument. It’s easy to get caught up in emotions and lose sight of what’s important. However, with the right mindset and tools, you can master the art of difficult conversations and improve your relationship with your spouse.
Here are some practical life coaching tips to master difficult conversations with your spouse or partner
Choose the Right Time and Place
The first step to having a productive conversation is to choose the right time and place. Avoid having difficult conversations when you or your spouse are tired, hungry, or stressed. Instead, pick a time when you both are relaxed and have enough time to talk things through. Also, choose a place that is quiet and private, where you can talk without distractions. By setting the right mood and atmosphere, you can make it easier to have a healthy conversation. You might even ask your partner, “Is now a good time to discuss this issue with you?” If it isn’t, don’t press. Instead, set an appointment for another time.
Approach the Conversation with Empathy
One of the keys to having a successful conversation is approaching it with empathy. Put yourself in your spouse’s shoes and try to understand their perspective. When you approach a conversation with empathy, you’re more likely to have a productive dialogue instead of an argument. Think about your partner’s personal and emotional needs. Is there a way you can help your partner feel that their needs are being met first so they will be more receptive and open to working out this difficult issue with you? Susan Scott says in her excellent book, Fierce Conversations, “Emotions serve as the gasoline that propels us into action.” It’s essential to ask what your partner is feeling or your conversation may not go anywhere.
If you aren’t sure what your own emotional needs are you can take the free Emotional Index Quiz.
Use “I” Statements
One of the biggest mistakes couples make when having difficult conversations is using “you” statements. This can make your partner feel defensive and blamed, leading to more conflict. Instead, use “I” statements to express how you feel about the situation. For example, instead of saying “You never help with the chores,” say, “I feel overwhelmed when I have to do all the chores myself.” This way, you are expressing your feelings without attacking your partner.
Listen to Understand, Not to Respond
The most important part of communication is listening. However, when we are in the middle of a difficult conversation, we often listen to respond instead of listening to understand. This can lead to misunderstandings and hurt feelings. Instead, practice active listening by paying attention to what your spouse is saying, asking questions to clarify their meaning, and repeating back what you heard. This shows your spouse that you are genuinely interested in their perspective and want to understand their point of view. Try listening for a full three minutes before you say anything. Nod your head, murmur, “uh huh” or otherwise let your partner know that you are listening and engaged. (Yes, you will have to avoid looking at your phone for a few minutes!) Then, and only then, should you try to present your point of view.
Focus on the Issue, Not the Person
When having a difficult conversation, it’s important to focus on the issue, not the person. Avoid attacking your spouse’s character. Instead, focus on the behavior or situation that is causing the problem. For example, instead of saying “You’re lazy,” say “I feel frustrated when the house is always messy.” This way, you are addressing the issue without attacking your spouse.
Look for Creative Solutions Together
The ultimate goal of having a difficult conversation is to find a solution that works for both of you. Instead of trying to win the argument or prove your point, focus on finding a solution that meets both of your needs. Brainstorm together and be open to compromise to find creative solutions.
Years ago I read an article about a happily married couple that lived in two separate houses. They tried moving in together as most couples do. But because their dogs were incompatible to the point of nearly killing each other, they opted to keep their separate homes to keep the dogs apart. They discovered that having separate abodes enhanced their relationship because they didn’t hassle each other about the usual domestic things. It also kept their relationship feeling fresh and new as they didn’t see each other all the time. While this rather dramatic solution wouldn’t work for everyone, don’t let the conventional, unspoken rules (i.e., married couples must live together) dictate your life and marriage or partnership. Others may be mystified, but you may be happier.
By working together, you can find a solution that satisfies both of you. Sometimes though, you just have to decide to leave some subjects well enough alone as you may never find a way to agree.