Last week we explored diplomacy, communication, and asking for what you want and need in your relationship with your significant other. This week, we continue that discussion with some tips to help you navigate the choppy water of those difficult conversations.
1. Get comfortable. Especially, if it’s a difficult topic you’re going to tackle, make sure to get comfortable.
2. Remember your 5 W’s (from our 5W series).
Consider the ‘where’. Is this a bedroom conversation, a dinner table conversation, or a ‘while we’re cuddled up watching T.V conversation? Don’t underestimate the impact of where the conversation happens.
Also, consider the ‘when’. While your partner is watching the final moments of a tense Superbowl is probably not a good time to broach your concern about lack of intimacy. If your partner is facing a crisis of confidence because they just got fired, consider whether it’s the best time to raise the fact that you want some alone time or girlfriend time in Italy.
Consider your ‘why’ and the ‘why’ of your partner. What’s really motivating you, beyond the stated issue? Why is this issue important to you? And what’s really behind your partner’s resistance?
3. Give your partner your full attention. This may seem obvious but we rarely do it. In our busy lives today, we don’t take the time we should to really connect meaningfully. Put down distractions – including your cell phone. Make eye contact. I’m not talking about staring them down. But show them you’re there. You’re engaged. And it also let’s them know you’re not afraid to face your partner.
4. Pay attention to your body language. Use it to create connection – especially if the topic is one that’s likely to push them away or create distance. Lean in towards them a bit.
5. Use ‘I’ statements, especially as an opener to the conversation. I don’t mean “I hate it when you …” No. You need to own your own feelings or reactions. “I feel this when this happens.” Using ‘I’ language shows that you accept responsibility for your own thoughts and behaviour.
6. Use questions effectively. Use open questions to elicit your partner’s perceptions, thoughts, and feelings (i.e. questions that don’t allow for a yes/no answer, but instead force your partner to offer more information). Use confirming questions to let them know you’re listening and really hearing them (i.e. “what I hear you saying is …”. Use hypothetical questions for problem solving (i.e “what if we were to …”).
7. Don’t interrupt. Again, that may seem obvious, but we often feel the urge to interrupt when we think we know what they’re going to say or when they seem obviously off-base. Resist the urge. Use active listening skills. Even if – especially if – you disagree with what they’re saying. Listen. Stay open. Remember the goal is to improve open, honest communication.
8. Treat the conversation as if there are three of you in the room – you, your partner, and the relationship. Recognize that sometimes what’s best for you, or your partner, may not be what’s best for the relationship. That doesn’t mean you sacrifice your needs for the relationship. But you need to be aware of it. Make informed decisions.
Practice these tips but always make sure there’s reciprocity in your relationship.
It doesn’t help if you’re taking the high road, and your partner refuses to grow with you. But also be prepared to teach them if necessary. Don’t expect them to just notice your change in approach and to emulate you. You may need to teach them how to change their communication approach.
Think about a conversation you need to have with your significant other. I invite you to try to implement these tips. Plan it. Go over the conversation in your mind and consider how you might apply each principle with forethought. Plan your opening. Consider your questions. Consider the where and when. It just may change your communication dynamic in profound and unexpected ways.