I like to read advice columns and forums where people seek guidance and direction. It’s interesting to find where people struggle and comforting to find the universal life themes interwoven in many of the dilemmas.
But there is one common theme I don’t quite understand – asking a stranger a question that you really need to ask your partner.
“Would my partner be okay with…”
“Would my partner be upset if I…”
“How will my partner react if…”
“How will my partner feel…”
Now, I get it. Some conversations are difficult to have. It is scary to ask your partner an emotionally-charged question when you may not like the answer. It’s a leap of faith that your bond is greater than your bombshell. It’s trust that you can survive opening your mouth and exposing your heart. It’s courage to say what needs to be said even if the fallout causes pain.
I’m not one of those people.
And I don’t like to stir the pot.
But sometimes, that pot needs to be stirred.
Here are some of the strategies I have developed over the years to make those difficult conversations just a little bit easier:
Test the Waters
It’s okay to put a toe in first. There’s no rule that says a conversation has to entered with a full-on cannonball. Rather than laying out the whole ordeal, reveal just a snippet. Or express the scenario as happening to someone else. Gauge the reaction. Gather data. Back up and try again. Plan your approach better this time. You can initiate the conversation in drops rather than a deluge.
Write it Out
If you are fearful of your partner’s reaction (or your response to your partner’s reaction) or if you are concerned that you may not choose the right words in the moment, write your side of the conversation to your partner. Not a text. Or a Facebook message. But a letter. Or email. Be thoughtful in your word choice and in your timing. Your intent is to start a dialog, not a war.
There’s something about forward progress and lack of eye contact that makes discussion easier and less threatening. Plan your talk for a drive. Or a walk. Or a hike. Probably not a run though, unless you want to pass out from lack of oxygen.
Talk to Yourself
Have the conversation with yourself first. Practice. Refine your goal and your approach. Set a time limit for your rehearsal; if you take too long to contemplate before you speak, you’ll soon fall into rumination and only intensify your fear.
Table it For Now
It’s okay to start the conversation and then leave it for a while. Much like baking bread, sometimes a topic needs to rest to help it fully rise. Don’t let this be an excuse to ignore the difficult topic; make a commitment to revisit it in a day. A week. Or a month.
Bring Your E.Q.
That’s emotional intelligence for those of you that didn’t grow up surrounded by self-help books🙂 Bring an awareness of yourself and leave your defensiveness behind. Understand your triggers and be receptive to the idea that you may be reacting (or overreacting) to the past rather than the present. Be mindful of your partner’s past and triggers and their impact on the now. Consider the possessing speed that both you and your partner have; it may take some time for the real responses to emerge.
Use a Candle
Be Ready to Listen
It’s easy to get so caught up in thinking through what you want to say (especially if you’re nervous or emotional), that you forget to listen. It’s not all about you; be attentive to your partner’s responses.
Sometimes there’s a feeling that if we keep it inside, we keep it safe. But holding on to something you need you say only feeds it with your own fears and distress. And allows it to grow.
“We need to talk” isn’t an invitation to a torture chamber.
It’s part of a healthy, growing and evolving relationship.
Dear Abby may give good advice.
But she can’t have the conversation for you.
Use your words.