- End of life planning
What do these topics have in common? They’re some of the most common sources of contention in a relationship. They’re also some most uncomfortable and challenging to discuss with your partner. In other words, they’re the most avoided.
When it comes to relationships, no matter how close you are to your partner, some topics are just hard to discuss. They’re the ones that lead to big emotions, frustration, and arguments. This means that many couples ignore them, hoping they’ll somehow work themselves out on their own.
If you haven’t realized it yet, you will soon. They don’t.
One of the best things about a relationship should be that you’ve got someone who’s in it for the good and bad. This means that even when it comes to the hard stuff, they’re there with you, and no topic’s off limits. But for most couples, that’s simply not the case.
Step One: Understanding What Makes The Hard Stuff So Tough To Talk About
No one likes to feel uncomfortable. That cringy, squirmy feeling we get when discussing embarrassing, distressing, or depressing things can make the strongest of us look for something – anything – else to focus on.
So, if you suddenly realize the dishwasher needs a detailed cleaning when what you should be doing is discussing the household budget, you’re not alone.
But if our relationship is good, why do we often avoid certain topics? Understanding the why can help when it comes to dealing with the hard things.
- Fear of the reaction. Even if you and your partner seem to always be in sync, dealing with difficult topics can elicit reactions we’re not prepared to face. Seeing your partner hurt, angry, disappointed, or even scared is very disconcerting. It also interrupts feelings of happiness and contentment that we all covet.
Difficult conversations create subliminal questions like, “Will she still love me?” “Will he look at me differently?” “Will this change how we feel about each other?”
- Fear of change. Tough conversations are often challenging because they surround a need for change. Money problems, bedroom issues, parenting approaches – if these conversations are awkward, it’s probably because something is amiss and needs fixing.
Change of any kind is uncomfortable, and when it comes to sensitive areas, it can be very difficult.
- Feeling at fault. If there’s a problem that needs attention, it can be easy to feel like somehow you’re the reason for it – even if you’re not.
- It seems too big. Some things seem overwhelming and too big to deal with. We don’t know where to start, so procrastination and avoidance become the fallback.
Understanding where your discomfort comes from is the first step toward facing those difficult conversations.
Step Two: Recognizing Why Getting Comfortable With Uncomfortable Topics Is Crucial
Dealing with uncomfortable topics is crucial to a strong and healthy relationship. There’s no ah-ha here for most of us. We may nod and say, “Yep, of course, it is. They must be dealt with,” and then go back to scrubbing the dishwasher filter – again.
The second step in making these conversations happen is understanding the repercussions when they don’t.
- Problems get bigger. Avoiding things doesn’t make them go away. It makes them worse. Finances don’t manage themselves, sex lives don’t miraculously improve, children know when parents disagree on parenting decisions and take advantage of it, etc.
By not talking about things, you’re not keeping the peace. What you are doing is quietly throwing fuel on the fire.
- Stress. People often think they avoid stress by not discussing difficult topics, but it’s the opposite. Unaddressed issues actually cause more stress than confronting them head-on. This stress increases over time and can lead to misplaced anger.
- Resentment builds. Avoidance of difficult topics is usually the fault of both partners. That being said, as those tough topics sit there unaddressed and problems fester, resentment toward one another builds.
- You grow apart. Unresolved issues act like an invisible barrier to closeness in a relationship. Regardless of how much you love one another, the complicated topics will sit between you, preventing you from achieving the best version of your relationship. Eventually, the issues and resentment can become large enough to drive a wedge between you.
Step Three: Creating A Plan For Tackling The Topics You’d Rather Avoid
Now that you’ve looked at the reasons for avoidance and the repercussions if you continue down that path, how do you tackle those uncomfortable topics?
Every couple is different, so every method will be different. There are, however, some things that are likely to help things go more smoothly.
- Be clear with yourself about the need to address things. If you’re wishy-washy or give yourself an out, it won’t happen.
- Invite your partner to talk, and be clear about what you want to talk about. Invitations illicit more cooperation than demands or proclamations. And no one wants to be blindsided.
You’re both adults who care about each other, so saying something like, “Can we have dinner and talk about the budget tomorrow night?” or “Are you available to meet me for coffee and talk about options for how to deal with Johnny’s grades?” is reasonable.
- You’re not right, and you’re not in charge. Tough topics need a collaborative approach on an even playing field. So, make sure your strategy is positive and team-oriented. Defensive or accusatory rhetoric will be met with the same, and nothing useful will come of the conversation.
- Listen as much as you talk. While you may have ideas and opinions on the topic, this isn’t an “I” situation – it’s a “we” situation. In the same way you’d like to be heard, so will your partner. So, listen and be open to their viewpoints, even if they differ from yours.
- Be prepared to table things and schedule a follow-up. Not everything happens all at once. And you’re discussing topics that bring up big emotions. You may each need some time to regroup and reapproach. Just don’t forget to set a time and place for the next conversation.
Remember, tough topics are a part of life, so when someone is in your life, those tough topics should be faced together. Discomfort is normal – for both of you. But by getting uncomfortable together, you’ll only strengthen your relationship and move it forward.
This Post is republished on Medium.
Photo credit: iStock