While having a difficult marriage conversation probably isn’t something either of you looks forward to, avoiding certain conversations can cause problems to worsen later on. You and/or your partner might become bitter or angry when things go unresolved, so it’s best to address any issues with honest and direct communication.
Throughout your marriage, there will be times when you need to have “must-have” conversations. These are the conversations that you both may not want to talk about. These are conversations about difficult issues and situations. These are the conversations that may make you both angry, defensive, sad, and hurt.
Reasons to Have Difficult Talks About Your Marriage
Pretending that there is nothing wrong will likely cause you and your partner to walk on eggshells around each other—you won’t know how to act around each other if you can communicate with honesty. Ultimately, ignoring your issues can cause your marriage to fail.
It’s common for people to use avoidance tactics when they don’t want to talk about something. But putting off conversations can build resentment over time, making it even harder to address your issues over time.
For instance, if you and your partner are having financial trouble, or you disagree about the ways you want to parent your children, not talking about these things isn’t going to make them disappear. If you don’t decide how you want to proceed together as a unified front, one or both of you will likely feel alienated from the partnership—or even feel neglected or left out by your partner.
Putting off these conversations only makes them harder. For example, avoiding talking about difficult issues with money or parenting can lead to arguments and conflicts down the road. When you talk openly with your partner, it allows you to develop candid and open communication that strengthens your relationship.
Important Things to Consider
Here are tips for when you have to have that difficult talk. Learning how to have hard conversations is the first step.
Look at Your Expectations
If you expect the conversation to go badly, it will. If you assume that having a big talk will make the situation worse, it probably will. You need to define your expectations of the conversation and think in positive terms.
Understand Your Motivations
Know why you want to have the talk. Do you want to talk with your spouse about a difficult issue to gain a better understanding of your spouse’s perspective on the issue? Do you want to clear up a misunderstanding? Do you need to confront your spouse about a suspected lie or hurtful behavior? Are you concerned about your level of intimacy with one another and want to be closer to your spouse?
Be Ready for It to Be Difficult
Accept that it will probably be a stressful conversation. Although you don’t want either one of you to be stressed, hurt, or angered by the conversation, it is important to realize that you both may be defensive and emotional as you talk.
How to Begin the Conversation
Below are suggestions for how to start your conservation:
- Don’t say “can we talk? or “we have to talk.” Start your conversation with a statement that acknowledges that the topic is difficult, sensitive, confrontational, or touchy. Clarify that you know that you have different perspectives and that you want to work together to have a better understanding of those perspectives.
- Think about how you’ll begin the conversation. A few intros you might consider are: “I’ve been thinking about …”, “What do you think about …”, “I’d like to talk about …”, “I want to have a better understanding of your point of view about …” Don’t beat around the bush. Keep it simple. Stay on topic.
Choose the Right Time and Place
- Don’t manipulate your spouse Don’t invite your spouse out to the movies when you really plan on having “the talk” at a restaurant. Be honest — not manipulative.
- Time the talk well. Pick the right time for the conversation. Don’t ask your spouse to agree to a time to have the talk without having calmed yourself down first. Don’t have a difficult conversation before or after sex.
- Don’t expect to have the talk immediately. It is important that you give your spouse some time to think about the topic you want to talk about, but this shouldn’t be postponed for a long time. Mention you would like to have the discussion within 48 hours.
- Don’t trap your spouse. If you have the conversation in the car or on an airplane, etc. you are trapping your spouse.
- Agree on where to have the talk. Unless your spouse agrees to have the talk in a public location, such as a restaurant, take your kids to a babysitter and have the talk at home.
Important Conversation Strategies
- Show respect for your spouse. Don’t speak down to your spouse. Don’t assume your spouse knows what you want to talk about. Don’t interrupt when your spouse is speaking.
- Be aware of non-verbal communication.2 Maintain eye contact. Acknowledge what you hear with the understanding that acknowledgment is not necessarily agreement.
- Be prepared. Back up your concerns, thoughts, and ideas with research and facts. Keep your conversation on the topic you agreed to discuss. Don’t talk on and on.
- Reach an agreement you both can live with. Then set a time to follow-up to see how you are both dealing with the issue.
- Know when to get help. If the issue or situation continues to create problems in your marriage, the two of you may have the need for a counselor or a mediator.