How To Talk About Problems In Your Relationship Without Making Them Worse

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couple sitting on the couch talking about their relationship problems

Tonight, I have to have a difficult conversation with my boyfriend. And honestly, I am dreading it. I am sitting here thinking about what to say and what he is going to say and how he could hate me, maybe even break up with me, by the end of it.

Talking about relationship problems with your partner can feel scary, but learning how to do so is essential if you want your relationship to last.

The life coach in me knows that, while my concerns are real, there are many approaches that I can take that will allow us to have a successful conversation, no matter how difficult the issue — one we will both walk away from in the best way possible.

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Here are five tips on how to make talking about relationship problems easier on you both.

How to talk about problems in your relationship without making them worse

1. Let go of assumptions

As I sit here thinking about what tonight will look like, I am visualizing all sorts of reactions from my boyfriend around what I will say. Some are calm, some are angry, and some involve tears. And they are all that I can think about — more even than the content of the talk. I just don’t know what will happen, and it worries me.

To make difficult conversations easier, first, let go of those projected outcomes. You have no idea how he is going to react, so to spend even one minute perseverating about what might happen is a complete waste of time.

So, let them go. Accept that whatever happens will happen and that you can't control the outcome.

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2. Choose a good time and place

When my kids were little, and I had to discuss something difficult with them, I always did it in one of two places: in the car or on a walk. I have found it very effective to have difficult conversations with someone when side-by-side instead of face-to-face.

This posturing makes each participant less vulnerable and gives them more time to react to a statement. The eyes can say so much, sometimes quickly, which can cause the conversation to devolve in some way.

Also, always choose a time that's not stressful. Tonight my boyfriend is coming over for dog therapy, pizza, and football — his top three things in this world. He will be happy, and then we will begin. Softly.

3. Don’t attack

Your goal in this situation is to have an effective, difficult conversation — one that lands on its mark and has a satisfactory end result. To do this, it’s important not to attack your partner.

My boyfriend is struggling with a few issues in our relationship. I will ask him if he is happy on a scale of 1-10. Doing so will (gradually) get him to open up to me about what is happening. From there, I can ask him probing questions that will lead to us being able to discuss how to get through those relationship problems.

I will not say, "Why are you doing these stupid things over and over?" I can guarantee that the only thing that will do is shut him down and make him want to leave. That's not the end goal.

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4. Be sure to listen

This is so important. You need to be very careful to listen to what you are hearing back from the person with whom you are talking. Not only could you get some valuable information but by letting them know that you are paying attention, you will be more likely to get the outcome that you seek.

Try reflective listening. Many people find it difficult, but it really works. After they speak, say, "I hear you saying that …and I get it." These words will allow them to feel heard, validated, and empathized with.

Often, all people want to be is heard. Not feeling listened to can make them angry, shut down or storm off. Again, not the end goal.

5. Know that everything is going to be all right

I know this difficult conversation tonight with my boyfriend seems to like it might be the end of the world, but really, no matter what, it’s all going to be okay. What is the worst that can happen?

For me, I know that the worse that could happen would be the death of my child. That, I don’t think I could survive. But you know what? I probably could. Regardless, that won't happen tonight because of this conversation.

So, yes, difficult conversations might bring about pain and discomfort — and maybe even produce some short, or long, term effects — but really, everyone will be okay.

As I have mentioned, pain is a part of the growing process. This conversation with your partner will be part of the growing process. And growing is the end goal. I am definitely nervous about tonight’s conversation because the topic is a difficult one, but the conversation is necessary.

Now that I am done worrying about possible outcomes, I have my list of relationship problems I want to address and will do so carefully and with love. And while there might be some tears and discomfort, I know that, really, everything is going to be okay. We will still love each other, and life will go on.

You can do this. I promise.

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Mitzi Bockmann is an NYC-based Certified Life Coach and mental health advocate who works exclusively with women to help them be all they want to be in this crazy world in which we live.

This article was originally published at Let Your Dreams Begin. Reprinted with permission from the author.