You need to know how to argue, disagree, and work through your problems. You need to know how to talk to him and actually get the answers you need.
Sometimes you can do it in one conversation, sometimes it takes several. Some issues will come up over and over again during the years of your relationship.
The following 9 steps will show you how to talk to him about ANY difficult issue…
1. Choose the right time
This step could save your relationship. Why?
Because a man named John Gottman has figured out how to accurately predict, with 91% accuracy, whether a couple will divorce… After listening to them for just 5 minutes.
Gottman’s ability to accurately figure out who will stick together and who won’t is based on how harsh the beginning of their tough conversations are.
And since the harshest conversations are usually the ones you have without planning, the trick is to actively CHOOSE a time to bring up difficult issues, a time that’s convenient or workable for BOTH of you.
Here are some basics:
- offer your guy more than one possible time
- let him know (in a non-inflammatory way) what issue you want to address
- offer times when there will be the fewest interruptions
- try to pick neutral ground when possible
Choosing a good time for your conversation often eliminates your anger-of-the-moment, but don’t be fooled. Make sure you BEGIN the conversation well, too.
2. Have a specific goal
- solve a problem
- share how you feel about something
Figure out exactly what OUTCOME would be ideal for you, and SHARE that with your partner.
Now he knows whether all you need from him is to listen, or whether you also want him to help you solve a tricky issue. AND he knows what specific “fix” you’re hoping for. What a difference this one tiny thing can make.
3. Whittle it down
Don’t overload your partner by dumping a giant pile of emotional laundry on them. Yes, you may have lots of stuff that needs to be dealt with, but Rome wasn’t built in a day. However, it WAS destroyed in one.
You’re working on learning how to talk to him, so take it one need at a time.
Try these tactics to get your topic down to size:
- Pour it out: Create a master list of all your thoughts or issues that you want to talk to him about. Dump it all out. Let it be messy if it’s messy.
- Group it up: Are some of the items you wrote down similar? Group by similarity.
- Separate feelings from fixes: Separate your list into feelings and specific puzzles or problems you want to solve.
- Consider results: If you can’t figure out what behavior or other specific thing needs to be addressed, ask what new results you’d like.
- Prioritize: Put them in order of importance. What’s at the very top of the list?
- Pick one: If it’s still important, you can always go back and pick another one later.
4. NEVER say “always” and “never” 🙂
When you use these words in the middle of a conflict, you magically eliminate all the good things your partner has done, and all the positive experiences you have had.
Why do we use them? They seem pretty powerful, after all.
We use them because we’ve tried to communicate about a particular issue before, and have not felt really heard. So we try to ramp up the power with any tool we have.
Always and never – and their cousin, “every” (as in, “You do this EVERY single time!”) – are blunt instruments that might make you feel better for a moment, but rarely accomplish any constructive goals.
If you are expecting your conversation to be really complicated and difficult, script it out in advance and try to keep it as clean of these damaging little sledgehammers as possible.
5. Go hard on the issue, easy on the person
If you’ve successfully nailed numbers 1-4 above, you should be doing really well at learning how to talk to him. You are ready to focus on one issue, whether it’s a problem that needs to be fixed or a feeling that needs to be shared.
Rather than thinking “I want Ben to stop being late for everything,” (which uses “everything,” see number 4 above), try thinking “I love Ben, but I feel incredible anxiety around trying to get somewhere on time.”
6. If you name a problem, offer a possible solution
Sometimes our arguments crumble into a long list of complaints about how “you aren’t doing/being _________.” Instead, use “I” language to show how you feel, and ask for what you need or would like to see happen.
Less of this: “Once again, you didn’t get home in time for us to be at the play when it started. Do you not even care that we missed the first 20 minutes of the show? And we even paid for season tickets!”
More of this: “I really feel frustrated when I miss the first part of the plays we have tickets for; what do you think about me going on ahead and meeting you there?”
7. Let go of your “shoulds”
Everyone has a list of “rules” in their mind about how we “should” behave, think, live, etc. Those “shoulds” are not always helpful to us, either, ESPECIALLY when you’re new at figuring out how to talk to him in a way he can best hear.
Here are a few of the regular villains in the “shoulds” list:
- He SHOULD know what I want, without me having to tell him.
- This is his fault to start with; why SHOULD I be the one to deal with the fallout?
- Sex SHOULD be awesome, all the time.
- If I’m attracted to another person, it means I SHOULDN’T stay in this relationship.
- This SHOULDN’T be so difficult.
- He SHOULD accept me the way I am.
- I SHOULDN’T be angry about this.
- Relationships SHOULD be easier.
Ask yourself the following questions about your “shoulds”:
1. Is this way of thinking helping you and/or your relationship, or hurting it?
2. How hard would it really be to stop thinking this way? What exactly would it take?
3. What could you do to help shift this dynamic?
8. Invite feedback (and listen fully to it)
Whoops, did you forget this part? It’s obvious, once you think of it. You’re figuring out how to talk to him, but you also need to be sure to ask your husband or boyfriend to tell you what HE thinks, how he feels about what you’ve said.
And of course, you should listen to what he has to tell you. Don’t interrupt to clarify or defend; let them get a chance at the conversational floor before you take another turn.
9. Remember that listening is not the same as agreeing
How many times have you said, “You’re not listening to me,” when what you really meant was “You’re not agreeing with me”?
It costs so little to listen fully to what your partner is saying, to validate their feelings (which can’t be switched on or off like a light switch), and to show respect for what they’ve shared. It doesn’t mean you agree, but it does communicate your love for them when you listen with an open heart and mind.