We all know how important good communication is to a healthy relationship. While talking to your partner about your thoughts, feelings and concerns and listening to theirs may sound simple, there are some conversations that can trip up even the most open, honest and loving couples.
In this blog, we take a look at five of the most common difficult relationship conversations and give you tips on how to handle them.
Personal finances are something of a taboo topic in modern society. We’ve been conditioned not to disclose and discuss the ins and outs of our financial situations and, in relationships, this can translate to keeping details of your earnings, spending habits and debts from your other half. According to the Money Advice Service (MAS), almost half (44%) of all British adults are hiding an average debt of £4,164 per person from their partner, family and friends. This reluctance to be open about money can cause serious relationship rifts. In fact, a poll by legal firm Slater and Gordon suggests that money is the top cause of marriage and relationship breakdowns.
Sex is a highly personal, sensitive and emotive topic, meaning it’s not always easy to have a sincere conversation about it, even when we’re talking to the person we’re doing it with. From bringing up the subject of sexual health and contraception in a new relationship to talking about differences or changes in libido in a marriage or long term relationship, conversations around sex can be challenging and can lead to embarrassment for many individuals. Throughout life, there are certain points where the issue of sex can become more challenging too, for example in the months following the birth of a child, during and after the menopause and as we grow into old age.
Commitment looks different for everyone but there are certain outward markers that many people aspire to. Perhaps you want to date exclusively or you’re hoping to move in with your girlfriend or boyfriend. Or maybe you’re looking to get married or start a family with your other half. Whether commitment to you means being ‘Facebook official’ or having a joint bank account, the subject of commitment can be hard to broach. Many of us are afraid to ‘show our hand’ and say what we want out of fear of rejection. This can be especially tricky if your partner seems reluctant to commit.
4. Feeling unhappy in your relationship
There are many reasons why a once loving and functional relationship can start to suffer, from reaching the so-called seven-year itch to struggling to maintain a healthy work-life balance, to alcohol abuse. Feeling unhappy in a relationship can be an incredibly lonely experience if you don’t open up and talk about the cause of your dissatisfaction. However, many individuals are reluctant to ‘rock the boat’ by confronting their problems as they fear they’ll hurt their partner’s feelings or cause disruption to their relationship, household or family. This can lead to a breakdown in communication and feelings of frustration and resentment.
5. The future
Whether you’re planning your gap year or your retirement, the future can be a difficult subject to tackle as an individual, never mind as a couple. Having frank conversations about what you want your life to look like a few years down the line can be frightening as they can expose mismatched priorities or differences in outlooks. Perhaps you’re keen to get married in the next five years but your partner wants to spend time travelling before settling down. Or maybe you want to focus on your career but your spouse is hoping to start a family. The future is a scary prospect for many of us, but that doesn’t mean we should avoid talking about it. Whether you want to move abroad, you’re thinking of going back to university or you hope to take early retirement, it can be tough to make decisions about the future and realise your dreams if you don’t open up and talk to your significant other.
Practical tips for broaching difficult conversations
If you want to raise a potentially touchy subject with your partner but you don’t want to start an argument or cause them to feel hurt or offended, here are some good rules of thumb to follow for broaching difficult conversations:
1. Choose an appropriate time and place
Your other half is unlikely to respond well to you bringing up a difficult conversation after a stressful day at work or in the car on the morning commute. Pick a time when and place where you know you’ll both be relaxed and have the time to focus on each other.
2. Set a time limit
Emotional conversations can be tiring. To avoid reaching a boiling point, set a time limit of no more than an hour. If you need to pick the conversation up another time, decide on when is best for both of you.
3. Stay calm
Shouting, being aggressive or overly emotional can put your loved one on the defensive and lead to arguments. Instead, do your best to communicate in a calm and reasonable manner.
4. Be specific
Saying that your significant other ‘always’ does this or ‘never’ does that is rarely helpful. Try to focus on specific instances and tell your partner exactly what you’d like from them.
5. Use ‘I’ statements
Avoid outrightly blaming the other person by taking responsibility for your own feelings. Do this by using ‘I’ rather than ‘you’ statements. For example, instead of saying ‘You make me feel neglected when you stay late at work’, try ‘I feel neglected when you stay late at work’.
6. Make the time to listen
Take the time to listen to your partner’s perspective and be open to changing your outlook.
7. Check your understanding
To avoid crossed wires, paraphrase what the other person says so you can make sure you understand what they’re trying to communicate.
8. Don’t focus on ‘being right’
For the best chance of avoiding conflict and reaching a positive outcome, go in focused on what can be done to solve a problem or reach a decision rather than how you can ‘win’ an argument.
9. Decide on next steps
Before you end your conversation, decide on what the next steps are. Perhaps you’ve set a goal of creating a family budget, scheduling a weekly date night or writing a list of your personal goals for the future to share at a later date. Keep your goals achievable, realistic and set a time scale to achieve them by.
10. Remind them you love them
Difficult conversations can bring up uncomfortable feelings but it’s a good idea to remind yourself and your partner why you’re making the effort to have these challenging discussions. Avoid carrying any negativity into day-to-day life by reminding your other half of how you feel about them.
Not every conversation with your partner will be easy, but if you want to have a healthy relationship, it’s worth putting the effort in when it comes to communication.