Communication is part of any healthy relationship, romantic or otherwise. Sometimes this can mean having hard conversations. It can feel uncomfortable to bring up things that make you unhappy. If you’re frustrated with your partner, want something different from your relationship, or are thinking of breaking up, you might not be sure where to start. Getting ready for a hard conversation where someone might feel hurt, afraid, or unhappy can help things go smoother.
Setting aside time to talk
It can be tempting to send an email, a text, or a letter, but these can be easy to misinterpret. So it helps to have what could be a hard conversation in person, face-to-face. These talks can take a lot of time and energy, so it helps to find a time when you aren’t in a rush. Choosing a time when neither of you is stressing about anything else also helps. Some people prefer to talk in a place with fewer distractions. You can make this kind of space by turning off the TV, muting your phones, and choosing a quiet place.
It’s common to get emotional, angry, and even exhausted in these conversations, so it’s OK to ask for a break. You can take a walk, listen to music, or go to the other room if that’s what you need to do. You can tell your partner why you think this might help so they understand that you’re not shutting the conversation down forever. Let them know that you hope to come back to the conversation when you’re both ready.
While your partner is talking, you can communicate with your body language that you’re listening to them. This may make your partner more likely to express themselves. If you face your partner and make eye contact when you’re speaking then they can read your emotions better. It also shows courage and confidence in what you’re saying.
Avoid having objects between you and your partner, and try not to take phone calls or texts while you’re talking to them. This can help show them that you’re present in the moment. It also shows that you’re being respectful and taking the conversation seriously. Letting your partner talk without interrupting them can make them feel heard.
“I” statements: watch out for being on the attack
It’s easy to come across as harsh and have the other person feel attacked, even if you don’t intend it that way. Phrases like “you are…” can make your partner defensive and be less willing to have a conversation with you. Instead, you can try to communicate using “I” statements. For example, saying something like “I feel lonely” can be a better start than “You don’t spend enough time with me.”
It can also be helpful to communicate things such as “desires” or “wishes”. Expressing things as “needs” can sometimes feel like a lot of pressure on your partner.
With a hard conversation, it’s helpful to say exactly what you’re feeling. Talking about something openly can feel good, especially if you have kept it bottled up for a long time. If your partner does something that frustrates you, it’s helpful to talk about that thing directly, rather than talking about their behavior generally. Try to avoid talking about your partner’s behavior in broad or general terms. That can put them on the defensive, because people rarely act one way all the time. It also makes it harder to talk about what you may want to change.
For example, it can be tempting to say “You always cancel our plans”, especially if that’s something that happens often! But it may be more helpful to say “I was upset when you cancelled our plans last week, because I feel like that happens a lot. I want to be able to rely on the plans that we make together.”
Boundaries, Negotiation and Compromise
Often hard conversations are about boundaries. Boundaries are the conditions or limits of what feels reasonable or safe when people interact with you. Some boundaries are hard, which means you’re not willing to negotiate them. Others are soft, you and might be more open to compromise on them. When someone pushes or crosses our boundaries it can bring up a lot of negative emotions. Clearly stating our boundaries can help the people around us to respect them.
A lot of having a healthy relationship comes down to communicating and negotiating our boundaries. Sometimes we can’t come to an agreement. Either our partner refuses to respect our boundaries or your boundaries conflict. If you can’t find a way to compromise, you may not be right for each other. We have to accept people where they are at. It’s not okay to try to change them. Everyone deserves relationships that make them feel happy and good about themselves.
This is a general guide and you know your relationship better than anyone else. If you are in an unhealthy or abusive relationship, it can be helpful to talk to someone you trust or call a helpline before you attempt a conversation. If any of these tips could put you in danger, don’t try them.