How To Have A Difficult Conversation With Your Spouse (When They Don’t Communicate Well)

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Are you worried about having difficult conversations because you don't believe that your spouse doesn’t communicate well?

If this is the case, then you're likely going to struggle because your view is already negative on two levels.

Perhaps you've been dreading bringing up the topic for some time, or ignoring it altogether hoping it goes away. You may even feel resentful and worry it's affecting your relationship, as well.

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Sounds like the first thing you need to do is clear the path to have the talk by challenging your assumptions and previously drawn conclusions.

So, what exactly is the topic and why is it going to be a difficult conversation to have?

Before starting what you have labeled as "difficult" conversations with anyone, you’ve got some prep work to do. To ensure you understand your own assumption, ask yourself these questions:

  • What is the history of the topic?
  • How is it a problem?
  • How would solving it make things better for both of you?

Once you understand your assumptions and judgments of the issue, next challenge your assumptions and judgements about your spouse's ability to communicate well.

There are a few skills to help lead a conversation that can encourage someone who struggles with communication.

Here are 6 suggestions to help you take the lead in having difficult conversations.

1. Be confident.

Be confident in knowing what you want to say and the outcome you desire.

2. Ground yourself.

Ground yourself before you begin the talk, so that you can stay calm and avoid becoming frustrated by their communication style.

3. Remain positive and supportive.

Use positive and supportive language to encourage them to talk.

4. Ask questions.

Be curious and ask questions to evoke the sharing of their thoughts and opinions.

5. Be openminded.

Be open to receiving and discussing any differences of thoughts and opinions.

6. Focus.

Stay focused on the purpose of the conversation and in finding a solution.

Consider that it may be you who is the poor communicator, not your partner. 

You may not like the idea, but — what if — it’s not your partner who struggles with communication? What if you're the one struggling with this difficult conversation?

This may be hard to hear, but remember, you want to solve a problem. In fact, you've identified an issue worthy of a conversation that you believe will be difficult to have and with someone who doesn’t communicate well. So, leave no stone unturned.

Ask yourself, "What if the reason my spouse doesn’t communicate well is because I make it difficult for them to talk to me?"

The reason I ask you to look in the mirror is because this comes up frequently in marriages. A pattern emerges with some couples wherein they have learned a communication “dance.” And, no, the issues do not get resolved in this tango.

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One leads, the other follows — to simply get through it. The lead complains that the follower doesn’t communicate well; the follower complains that the lead is just complaining about something, doesn’t really want to discuss anything, and has a need to be “right.”

So, they dance to not fight. And so, the pattern of complain, submit, complain louder, submit, frustration, acceptance continues, until one waltzes out of the room.

The complainer says they can’t continue — it’s exhausting. The follower says they have learned to just go along to stop the music. Could this be the case in your relationship?

So, is it really that your spouse doesn't have the ability to communicate well?

Let’s go back to the beginning to the “difficult" conversation. If you are in a dance like something I’ve described, how might you be making it hard on yourself and your spouse?

First of all, is it difficult for you because you're worrying about it? If you have already labeled it “difficult” and labeled your spouse as having an “inability” to communicate, that means you're already worrying and expecting it to not go well.

What tone and posture might you be bringing before you ever start speaking? What signals are you sending? In other words, how well are you communicating?

Is it possible you're making this conversation difficult because you're not discussing the right issue?

Are you choosing the “thing” that happened this time, rather than the “dance” that happens every time? If the dance is happening, then it's possible this pattern is what's actually affecting your thoughts, feelings, and interactions with your spouse and is what you need to talk about.

Maybe the “right” topic is about how to talk to one another so that you can talk about anything, any time.

With awareness, you may recognize your focus has been cultivating negative energy in yourself and your spouse seeded with worry, assumption, judgments, and the subconscious need to be right while addressing the wrong topics like the thing that just happened, the thing that happened before, and the thing that might happen.

You don't have to keep putting up with difficult conversations; you can change this.

But when you focus on the actual dance and invite your spouse to a conversation from a posture of positivity, a tone of compassion and an intention of sincerity, you can turn a perceived difficulty into an opportunity to better understand and grow your relationship.

And if you really worry that you can't do this alone, then don't be afraid to seek out therapy.

You can do this. You can still take the lead; just change the music, and it will change the dance. You’ll like what you see in the mirror.

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Ann Papayoti, CPC, is a life and relationship coach helping people heal their hearts by untangling their past. For more information on how she can help you communicate better with your spouse, visit her website or connect with her on Facebook at SkyView Coaching.

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