Navigating Difficult Conversations

I recently listened to a podcast titled Why Hard Conversations Are the Key to Building an Exceptional Relationship from the Rise Together Podcast with Rachel and Dave Hollis. This had some excellent tips and truths about why it’s so important to have these tough conversations and how to approach them. If you have that nagging feeling that one of these conversations is needed with a loved one in your life, check out the podcast and read below on my take-always to address issues and make your relationships stronger.

Don’t let it fester

Nobody enjoys calling someone out on bad behavior or addressing difficult topics when we fear the other person’s reaction or possible consequences. This problem is, if we don’t address it, those feelings will fester and could show up in unintended ways if not addressed. Ever start a fight because your partner was chewing too loud? Yeah, it’s not the chewing that’s the problem, it the fact he hurt your feelings with a thoughtless comment 2 weeks ago and you haven’t addressed it.

Address it quickly and with a cool head

The sooner you can address this issue, the better. I find that waiting can cause confusion as in “why didn’t you say something then rather than stomping around the house all week?” Or “I assumed we were good since you never said anything.” Conversations and slights can be forgotten as in “I never said that!” or “I don’t remember even doing that.” Address as soon as is appropriate. If it’s a heated situation, let the fire die down before approaching the subject to avoid another boil over of emotions. It’s also a good idea to check in with your partner from time to time as an opportunity to get things off their chest they might not feel comfortable talking about. My husband and I sometimes do this on our monthly date night or sometimes randomly. We ask if things are good, if there’s anything we need to discuss or revisit. This leaves an opening to air out issues before they become bigger problems. But if you don’t use that opportunity to work through it, you can’t continue carrying that anger or resentment. Once it is settled, you have to let it go and not bring it up 3 months from now. Nobody likes having things held over their head and your partner will stop talking with you if this is expected behavior from you.

Why are you really upset?

Figure out what the true issue is that YOU are having rather than focusing on what they did wrong. Come at it from your perspective and how you viewed the situation and validate with that person if that was their true intention. Often, we misconstrue actions and words. I can quickly diffuse my anger or hurt by calmly saying “It really hurt when you made that joke in front of your family. I feel like you were trying to embarrass me. Was that your intention?” Most of the time they didn’t realize what they were doing or how it would make you feel. Now they have the opportunity to explain their intentions or actions from their perspective and apologize if necessary. They are also now more aware of their actions. If they truly meant to hurt you and say so, I’ve got nothing for you. You need to leave that person alone if they are intentionally trying to hurt you, period.

Come with honesty and truth

When approaching the issue, come from a place of honesty and truth with care for that person. Let them know you want to discuss the matter with them because they are important to you and you value the relationship. People will be more open to listening if they understand where you are coming from and why it’s so important to you. You have to go into humbly and ask them to hear you out. Come with the approach of “I love you enough to talk this out to save or improve our relationship.” Present truths of actual things that have happened, how you perceived them and how if affected you. They can’t argue with how you feel about things or the actual things that happened. Stay away from blaming or accusing them of some sort of intention which may not have been the reality of the situation.

Give them a mental picture of consequences

Give them a mental picture of what the relationship will look like if things don’t change. This issue may not seem like a big deal to the other person, but if you give them a picture of the relationship in the future, they might get the point. For example, maybe you have an family member who drinks way too much at family get togethers at your home. You could go along the lines of “You are an important part of our family and we absolutely want you here at Thanksgiving, but we can not tolerate you being drunk in front of our kids. This is our home and our kids safety and protection is our number one priority. We will not invite you back if this happens again. We don’t want our kids to miss time with you, but this is a hard boundary for us and for the respect of my family and home.” This brings the attention of the behavior to the person and puts the ball in their court. They may not like it, but hey, it’s your home and their choice. The same goes for going to someone else’s home. Let them know you will not be there if X, Y or Z happens because you can always opt not to be there. That’s your choice and right, no matter how much grief they give you.

The right time and place

These conversations can be exhausting and it takes a lot of emotional energy just to get your own thoughts straight and to come at the conversation in just the right way so they hear you with it getting defensive. It’s a good idea to pick a time and place where you won’t feel interrupted or rushed. You will both be processing feelings and will be emotionally spent afterwards, so pick a time when you can get a little space afterwards to get back in a normal headspace. Take the time to process everything afterwards and think of what you have learned about yourself and your partner.

Tough conversations are never easy and can feel so uncomfortable but they are necessary for better relationships. You really are showing that person how much you love them by striving for more than just ‘okay’. Strive for exceptional.

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