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Doing Relationships: How and When to Have Tough Conversations

By Lori Jackson

How do we “do” relationships? They are so complicated and layered and ugh, I just want to go to sleep sometimes when thinking about them. I am a really strong proponent of being honest (sometimes to a fault — my filter is a little short). So in turn, I have to understand and know when to speak and when to zip it — an art I have been working to master for nearly all of my life. But in relationships, we also have to be able to have hard conversations. We must be able to talk about the things that no one wants to talk about. We must be able to hear one another and know what our partner is feeling in order to feel supported, validated and ultimately, important. The key is, as I very well know, the when and how to have these conversations.

Most often, we let the little things go. The age-old expression to “let it roll off” often comes in handy when our partner does things that are annoying or frustrating. The trick is, when we “let it roll off,” we have to either really let it roll off and let it go down the stream, and into the ocean to be gone from us, OR we need to talk it out. But many of us have a tendency to take note about a particular incident. I call this keeping a card. Then, when we’re really angry or upset or want to prove a point, we show our partner all of the cards we have been keeping. We play them all and yell, “Look, I have a full house!” Our partner most often didn’t even know he or she was playing cards in the first place.

We all need to have our feelings heard, and to know that the other person at least understands where we are coming from. The trick is to be able tell one another what we are feeling and if something bothers us without it turning into a fight or feeling like we have to get defensive about it. Often times, when we tell our partners how we feel about something, we are simply looking for them to understand that it hurt — not to fix it, not to change who they are, but just to understand. It’s important to be able to tell one another our pains and to respond with, “I had no idea that is how you heard that; I didn’t mean it to come out that way. I am sorry that you feel hurt and that my words hurt you.” Wouldn’t this diffuse a fight rather quickly? I think so.

The other trick is to know when to have this conversation and when to move forward to diffuse a fight. I challenge each of us (myself included here) to stop and check the following items before moving forward in a conversation:

  1. Am I feeling really hurt right now?
  2. Am I getting very angry?
  3. Am I about to say things that I probably shouldn’t?
  4. Are my emotions really high right now?
  5. Is my partner upset right now?

If you answered “yes” to any of the above questions, this is not the time to have a conversation. By answering in the affirmative to these questions, we are essentially saying that our body (and potentially our partner’s) is in an emotional place and we are likely to react versus respond. When we are reacting, we tend to say and do things that are not in our normal realm of self. On the contrary, when we respond to conversations, we are being intentional about what we say and think. When we are in this space, we tend to get what we need out of the conversation and often don’t find ourselves hurting others because of our emotional state.

So I encourage you — and I will take a long look at myself at the same time — to think about the questions I posed when you feel hurt or are thinking it’s time for a tough conversation. Think about your best self in the relationship. Focus on the emotions within you before having hard conversations, and don’t forget to bring them up when you are doing well and about to talk about difficult things. I think we’ll both be surprised by the outcome we experience.

Be sure to create time for you and your partner on a regular basis so you can ensure that there will be opportunities and that not too much time has passed in between. This will help to prevent avoiding talking about hard things when we have regular time allotted to do so.

Live in love, be intentional, and always work on being your best you.

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