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Can We Talk? -- Tips For When You Have to Talk

Strategies for Difficult Conversations

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Difficult Talk
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Throughout your marriage there will be times when you need to have "must have" conversations.

These are the conversations that you both may not want to talk about. These are conversations about difficult issues and situations. These are the conversations that may make you both angry, defensive, sad, and hurt.

Pretending that there is nothing wrong will keep both of you walking on eggshells and will ultimately cause your marriage to fail.

Having the difficult talk shows you care enough about your spouse and your marriage to have the conversation.

Here are tips and strategies when you have to have that difficult talk.

Don't Put Off Having That Difficult Conversation

  • Look at Your Expectations. If you expect the conversation to go badly, it will. If you assume that having the big talk will make the situation worse, it probably will. You need to define your expectations of the conversation and to think in positive terms.
  • Know Why You Want to Have the Talk. Do you want to talk with your spouse about a difficult issue to gain a better understanding of your spouse's perspective on the issue? Do you want to clear up a misunderstanding? Do you need to confront your spouse about a suspected lie or hurtful behavior? Are you concerned about your level of intimacy with one another and want to be closer to your spouse?
  • Accept It Will Probably Be a Stressful Conversation. Although you don't want either one of you to be stressed, hurt, or angered by the conversation, it is important to realize that you both may be defensive and emotional as you talk.

Ways to Address the Difficult Conversation

  • Don't Say "We Have to Talk." Start your conversation with a statement that acknowledges that the topic is difficult, sensitive, confrontational, or touchy. Clarify that you know that you have different perspectives and that you want to work together to have a better understanding of those perspectives.
  • Suggestions for Beginning the Talk. "I've been thinking about ...", "What do you think about ...", "I'd like to talk about ...", "I want to have a better understanding of your point of view about ..." Don't beat around the bush. Keep it simple. Stay on topic.

When and Where to Have the Difficult Conversation

  • Don't Manipulate Your Spouse. Don't invite your spouse out to the movies when you really plan on having "the talk" at a restaurant. Be honest.
  • Timing of the Talk. Pick the right time for the conversation. Don't ask your spouse to agree to a time to have the talk without having calmed yourself down first. Don't have a difficult conversation before or after sex.
  • Don't Expect to Have the Talk Immediately. It is important that you give your spouse some time to think about the topic you want to talk about but this shouldn't be postponed for a long time. Mention you would like to have the discussion within 48 hours.
  • Don't Trap Your Spouse. If you have the conversation in the car or on an airplane, etc. you are trapping your spouse.
  • Agree on Where to Have the Talk. Unless your spouse agrees to having the talk in a public location such as a restaurant, take your kids to a babysitter, and have the talk at home.

Strategies to Use During the Difficult Conversation

  • Show Respect for Your Spouse. Don't speak down to your spouse. Don't assume your spouse knows what you want to talk about. Don't interrupt when your spouse is speaking.
  • Be Aware of Non-verbal Communication. Maintain eye contact. Acknowledge what you hear with the understanding that acknowledgment is not necessarily agreement.
  • Be Prepared. Back up your concerns, thoughts, and ideas with research and facts. Keep your conversation on the topic you agreed to discuss. Don't talk on and on.
  • Reach an Agreement You Both Can Live With. Then set a time to follow-up to see how you are both dealing with the issue.
  • Know When to Get Help. If the issue or situation continues to create problems in your marriage, the two of you may have the need for a counselor or a mediator.

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