Learn how to approach difficult conversations that results in true listening and deeper intimacy.
Most people dread those four little words when they hear them from the one they love. Yes, it’s the infamous “We need to talk” line. You know what it means. You know what you’re going to hear. You know that you’re about to hear one of the following messages—I’m not happy, my needs aren’t getting met, you were a jerk the other day, or we’re done. Now your defense mechanisms go into full gear. You either shut down, avoid the conversation altogether, start acting on your best behavior, or turn the tables and make your significant other the one who is to blame for anything and everything. Let’s face it—“We need to talk” usually is the beginning of a bad situation getting worse with each minute that passes.
So how do you approach these conversations in a way that will actually end on a positive note? There really is a way to approach difficult conversations that results in true listening and deeper understanding and intimacy. Here are some guidelines to follow to ensure that “We need to talk” doesn’t end up in “Go f*** yourself!”
1. Avoid starting the conversation with “we need to talk.” Instead, find a time when the conversation feels organic, not forced. Forced conversations already put people on edge and make them defensive. When the time is right, the conversation will occur naturally.
2. Take responsibility for your own feelings, needs, and reactions to your significant other. Don’t approach the conversation from the perspective of what they did wrong, but rather from the perspective of what occurred and how that affected you. For example, if he turned away when you went to kiss him, you could say “When you push me away when I’m trying to show my love and affection, I end up feeling rejected and unsure.”
3. Be concrete. When you are describing what they did or what you need from them, be as concrete and specific as possible. For example, if you feel she put you down in front of your friends, you could say “When you said _________ the other day in front of my friends, I heard that as an insult and felt embarrassed and upset. Was that your intention?”
4. Test reality. You may have interpreted your loved one’s actions incorrectly. Give your loved ones a chance to explain their intentions and their side of the story. Be open to listening with the intent to understand your significant other, not judge.
5. Be clear on what you need from your partner. For example, if you need her to make an effort to dress nicely when you take her to dinner, say so. If you need him to stop commenting on your driving, be clear. Remember, you have a better chance of getting your needs met when you both understand what it is that you need or want from each other.
6. For those deal breaker behaviors, such as, hitting, screaming, drinking excessively and driving, etc., be clear on the consequences if the behavior continues and follow through. For example, if your boyfriend or girlfriend has screamed obscenities at you in the past and you are clear that you will no longer tolerate this, you could say “It is unacceptable to me when you scream and call me things such as ______ or ______; if it ever happens again, I will end this relationship immediately.” If it does, make sure you follow through and maintain your personal integrity and boundaries.
If you are on the other side of the conversation, here are some guidelines for you.
1. Be willing to listen without defensiveness. This is the time for you to understand what is working and what is not when it comes to your significant other. This is an opportunity to get to know each other better.
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