Having a conversation about a difficult topic can bring up a lot of anxiety for both partners. Additionally, if there is already a history of difficult conversations ending in argument, partners get into a cycle of avoiding sensitive topics, creating a ticking time bomb in their relationship. Arguments are a natural part of all relationships, but if they occur too often or include unhealthy aspects, the partnership suffers. Here is a step-by-step guide on how to address sensitive topics — and avoid them turning into heated fights.
Identify a good time to talk. If you want to bring up a topic, ask your partner if now is a good time to talk. As the partner who is asked, be sure you are truly relaxed and ready for a conversation; otherwise your unrelated stress will come out in the discussion and make the situation more tense. If there is any doubt, suggest another time. For example:
Sanjana: I wanted to talk to you about something. Is now a good time?
Kapil: What is it about?
Sanjana: Preparing for your parents’ arrival to visit us in a couple of months.
Kapil: (thinking for a minute) That sounds like a serious conversation. I had a really long day at work and I was hoping to de-stress tonight. Can we do it later?
Sanjana: Sure. When is a good time?
Kapil: (looking at his calendar) How about Thursday night?
Use "I" statements to explain how you feel. Speak slowly, clearly and carefully. Starting softly ensures that your partner will be less likely to act defensive, and is more likely to listen carefully to what you say. If either of you feel defensive, take a break (even if the conversation started 5 minutes ago) and resume in 20 minutes when you have both calmed down.
Instead of: "You become really distant whenever we're around your parents and always take their side," Sanjana should try: "I am worried that our relationship will feel stress when your parents arrive. It makes me feel sad and alone when they come because I feel like we lose our connection."
She's saying the exact same thing, but focusing on how his behavior makes her feel, instead of blaming him for doing something wrong.
As the listener, ask clarifying questions. If you don't understand something that your partner said, ask him or her to clarify. If you notice yourself becoming upset by something said, take a break immediately. Walk away for at least 20 minutes and then resume your conversation. Talking through feelings of defensiveness and hurt only leads to flooding, which often ends in arguments and hurting your relationship further.
Kapil: I don't understand. What, specifically, do you think we lose in our connection?
Sanjana: I feel like we don't talk as much as we normally do, and I sometimes feel as if you think your parents are right more often than I am.
This allows your partner to have an open forum to discuss his or her concerns and feelings, and for you to truly understand what he or she is trying to say.
Summarize. As the listener, once you have gained clarification on what your partner is saying to you, summarize what you heard your partner say. This will help identify any sources of miscommunication before you attempt to resolve the situation. Miscommunication and misunderstanding is a source of repeated arguments between couples. If you find yourself becoming resentful during the summary, stop immediately and take a 20-minute break. If you have been listening without thinking about your response back to your partner's feelings, there should be minimal misunderstanding.
Kapil: So let me see if I got this correct. You are worried that when my parents come, I think of you as less important to me than they are. You feel like I like them better than you; you feel like the 4th wheel and as if you don't belong in the family. Is that right?
After the summary, always ask if you got it right to allow your partner to make any corrections. It is their experience, so they should be able to correct it to help you better understand. Once corrected, repeat this step until your partner feels you understand. Keep Reading...
More relationships advice from YourTango: