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  • Writer's pictureRachael Hands, LCSW, Certified EMDR Therapist

How to Approach Difficult Conversations with Your Partner

In a relationship it is often assumed that your partner should inherently know the way you think and feel. This assumption can lead to frustration. Both sides feel tired, unheard and unappreciated. It’s important to realize that if you are having the same conversation to no avail than perhaps it’s time to take a look within.

(My advice would be to try the following steps in slow incremental steps for increased success.)

Step 1: Communicate about Communicating

It’s important to be clear and consistent about the goal of improving communication. Our partner may not be on the same wavelength so we will want to prepare them by conveying our intention.

Before attempting to have the challenging conversation, it is encouraged to preface your partner with a statement about your intentions of having this conversation.

“I would like to talk about ‘X’ with you. I understand that in prior conversations we have had challenges discussing this however I am ready to keep an open mind, fully listen to what you have to say and reflect. When can we revisit ‘X’?”

It is important to ask your partner if they are ready to have this conversation. If they are not, it is crucial that you respect this. Perhaps ask to set aside some time to discuss the matter at a later date.

Step 2: Change of Scene

Have you ever noticed where your arguments take place? Always in the kitchen? Bedroom? Via text?

The issue with having a conversation about difficult topics in the comfort of your home is multi-faceted. A private setting can allow for raised tones. It can be too comfortable meaning we don’t have to be mindful of others and our surroundings.

By taking your partner on a walk to a park or out to dinner we inevitably force ourselves to be mindful of the tone of our voice and direction of our conversation.

Step 3: Did I Get That Right?

Once you have implemented the above steps, it’s important to summarize what you’ve heard from your partner. This is a skill called reflective listening which presents the opportunity to correct any mis-communication while making your partner feel validated that you hear their side. The purpose of this new strategy is to not assume the conversation will go the same way it has in the past. With that, it is important to make sure we don’t assume we understand what our partner is thinking without confirmation.

At the end of your next conversation try incorporating these questions and strategies:

· Ask questions like: Did I get that right? Is there anything you would like to add?

· Summarize what was discussed.

· Make a plan going forward to check in on progress.

Step 4: Notice What Changes Have Been Made

Sometimes we are so focused on the negatives in our relationship we overlook the positives. The problem with this is that by overlooking the good we can feel unappreciated and resentful. Some may say “what is the point of making changes/improvements if no one is even noticing or caring?”. And sometimes it may be a challenge to come up with a small positive change that you’ve noticed.

Here are some questions to ask yourself when trying to notice a positive change:

Have you noticed your partner been more open? Even in the slightest?

Has your partner implemented any feedback given?

Have you noticed your partner integrate more self-care into their routine?

Have you incorporated any forms of self-care into your routine?

Have you integrated any feedback provided from your significant other?

Can you grow?

Just because a conversation has gone poorly in the past doesn’t mean it always has to. The next time you attempt to confront your partner it’s important to take your time, breathe and slow down. Be mindful of your tone. Remember that you are a thermostat in that you have control over the temperature of the conversation. Being humble and upfront about your flaws at the beginning of your conversation provides validation of your partner’s past experience and will show them your desire to grow and evolve.

Changing the setting reminds us to be level headed. It also forces us to do something actively positive together while having a serious conversation. Ask questions when you don’t understand something being said. Notice the small changes being made. They may seem small now but they will add up in time. With time and practice, having controversial conversations will be approached with more ease.

Please email me questions, comments or blog post ideas to

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