Having uncomfortable conversations with your spouse can be awkward. It can be hard to know how to approach a tough subject. When the topic of conversation is uncomfortable, it’s often difficult to keep communication calm and productive.
This is all completely normal and valid, but even though it’s tough, it’s crucial we don’t avoid these conversations. Being open with your spouse is key to keeping that bond strong and ensuring you’re both happy.
Research shows that when couples have good, open communication, they not only feel closer to each other, they also:
- Feel more able to share their thoughts and feelings
- Feel more intimate and connected
- Are more likely to enjoy spending time together
Here’s how to tackle those uncomfortable conversations in an effective way.
1. Let Them Know You Need To Talk
Often letting your spouse know you need to talk can be useful. Rather than the dreaded phrase ‘we need to talk’ which can instill fear and immediately make your spouse tense, you can approach this in a different way.
Mentioning that there’s something you’d like to discuss to strengthen your bond can be helpful. You can let them know it’s important to you and even say that you’re a bit nervous about it.
This lets them know that they really need to pay attention and be ready to listen. It also informs them that you need support during this conversation.
2. Make Sure You Have Plenty Of Time
You don’t want an important conversation to be rushed, as this can enhance stress and lead to confusion. Set aside a time that works for both of you, when you can both give the conversation your full attention.
If either of you are already having a stressful day, it’s probably not the best time to chat about something in depth. Emotions may already be heightened which can make the conversation less productive.
If you’re unsure if your spouse has the time or is in a good place emotionally, you can simply ask: “is this a good time to talk?”
3. Be Honest And Open
To get the most out of the conversation, it’s important you’re completely honest and open about your feelings and thoughts. It can be challenging to be so vulnerable, but honesty is the best way to move forward and build trust.
Being honest doesn’t mean being cruel, so ensure you’re being sensitive and tactful in how you phrase things.
Remember that you’re both on the same team and fundamentally, you both want the same thing: to make each other happy and to make the relationship work.
4. Stay Calm And Clear
When the conversation topic is something you care deeply about, it’s natural to get emotional. However, it’s crucial you keep your communication as calm as possible.
Assigning blame and making accusations doesn’t serve any positive purpose. Instead, it causes tension and increases the likelihood of an argument rather than a productive discussion.
As tempting as it might feel at times, it’s crucial not to bring up problems from the past: instead, stay focused on the issue at hand.
Try to find things you agree on during the conversation: looking for the positives and focusing on resolutions is beneficial.
Being clear with your partner ensures you get your point across and helps them understand where you’re coming from. Try to phrase things simply and stick to the main points you want to make.
A 2021 overview of effective communication within marriages explains that clear communication enhances understanding between married couples and increases their ability to support one another.
5. Make Notes or Practice
If you tend to get very nervous during this type of conversation and you’re worried you’ll forget something, you could make some notes to help keep you on track.
Remember when you were at school and you’d make notes before a presentation? It’s a similar technique to remind you of your key points.
Keep your notes simple and short so you can just glance at them if you get lost during the conversation.
If you’re very anxious, you could practice what you want to say beforehand, either in your head or out loud. This can feel silly at first, but it can help you to feel more prepared.
6. Talk While Doing Something Else
Something I find really helpful when talking about serious topics is to chat while doing something else together. For me, this is typically when we’re on a walk. I find this keeps things relaxed and helps us to open up more.
It’s best to do this with an activity you would usually do together, that’s ‘run of the mill’ or relaxing (so you can still focus on the conversation).
It can make the conversation less awkward and give you something else to focus on while you talk, which often gets rid of that nervous energy.
7. Reassure Them
Sometimes when our partner is talking to us about something serious, especially if it refers to a behavior that we might need to examine and change, it can feel very negative.
To counteract this, ensure that while you’re talking you reassure your partner. Let them know you love and respect them throughout the conversation. This can be as simple as inserting a phrase like ‘I love you and this is something I feel will improve our relationship even more’.
Make sure to talk about positives to balance out negatives. It can also be helpful to use positive body language, such as holding your partner's hand, smiling now and then, and giving your partner eye contact.
8. Really Listen
Conversations work both ways: that sounds obvious but it can be easy to forget when you’re trying to get a serious point across.
When your partner is talking, ensure you really listen and try to understand their point of view. It’s important not to interrupt them and to give them the opportunity to express their thoughts. Try to empathize with how they feel and see things from their point of view, even if it’s the opposite of yours.
Reflective listening can be useful: this refers to skills that let your partner know that you’re open to what they’re saying, you’re paying full attention, and that you understand them.
The following tips can help you to listen reflectively:
Use appropriate body language
Body language tells a lot about how you’re feeling. For example, if you’re fiddling, rolling your eyes, or tapping your fingers, it can give the message that you are impatient or aren’t paying attention. Instead try to look engaged and use positive, affirming body language such as nodding, leaning in closer, and making eye contact.
Stay quiet while they’re talking and don’t interrupt, allowing them to fully express themselves.
When they’re finished talking, briefly summarize what they’ve said to emphasize that you understand where they’re coming from and have really heard them. You can start with a simple phrase to make this natural, such as, ‘I think what you’re saying is…’ or ‘Am I right in thinking this is how you’re feeling…?’
9. Take A Break If Needed
If things start to get too emotional, it’s best to take a break. When our emotions are too high we tend to stop listening to each other properly and are unable to really process what the other person is trying to say.
Talking when emotions are heightened is likely to lead to arguments instead of allowing you to come to a resolution together.
You can let your spouse know that you’d like to take a break to cool down and that you can resume the conversation later when you’re both calmer.
10. Summarize The Conversation
Once you’ve finished your conversation, it can be helpful to go over what you’ve talked about and summarize your plan going forward.
This ensures you’re both on the same page and that both of your needs have been addressed. It can also enhance the feeling of being bonded as a team, ready to tackle the problem together and make any changes needed.
11. End On A Positive Note
It’s always best to end the conversation on a positive note, even if it’s been tough. It can be as simple as telling them you love them, saying ‘I’m glad we talked’, or even letting them know how happy you are that you can talk to them about anything.
12. Do Something Fun Afterwards
Sometimes transitioning from a serious conversation back to ‘normal’ life can be a bit awkward. Doing something fun afterward can ease any leftover tension and help you both get in a more lighthearted mood. Why not watch a film, play a game, or go for a walk?
Don't Be Afraid to Have Uncomfortable Conversations!
Although uncomfortable conversations are hard, they’re necessary to ensure you understand one another and are on the same page moving forward. By being open with each other, you’re able to strengthen your bond and grow closer together over time.