Heather emerged from the clothing store’s dressing room and looked in the three-paned mirror. Keith would love this dress. But would it be enough to ease the way for the difficult conversation they had to have?
How can I explain my feelings to him? she thought. How can I get him to understand?
Heather was convinced that she and Keith needed to wait one more year before they started a family. It was so important for her to finish college first. But she knew how much Keith wanted to be a father.
How could she begin such a delicate conversation without hurting her husband’s feelings?
It had seemed easy to begin a conversation when they were dating. But saying the difficult things had always been hard. Heather sensed that the time to learn how to open a discussion was now, in the early days of their marriage. She was right.
Starting a Difficult Conversation
Perhaps you, too, are having trouble getting conversations started with your spouse. Maybe you’re avoiding certain topics. Maybe you or your spouse isn’t much of a talker. It may be that you just don’t know how to begin.
Fortunately, acknowledging that can be an excellent way to start a conversation. Be honest and state your lack of confidence. For example, Heather might begin her talk with Keith this way: “I’m not sure how to say this. I’m afraid it might come out all wrong. But something is on my heart that I want to talk with you about. Is this a good time for you to listen to me?” Stating your concerns and fears can open the conversational door.
As Heather thought about talking to Keith, she knew she’d have to “keep to the point.” If she was too elaborate with details, he’d become frustrated and distracted. She also knew that giving too little information would frustrate her as well. It would leave her feeling that the conversation was incomplete.
So she went home and spent a few minutes at the kitchen table writing out her thoughts. That would keep her focused and ensure she was “covering all the bases.” If she got anxious, she could even read aloud what she’d written! That gave her confidence.
So did praying. After a quick request for help, she was convinced that the Holy Spirit would help her communicate what was on her heart.
How to Start a Difficult Conversation With Your Spouse
If this is a problem area for you and your spouse, consider the following steps to beginning a conversation:
1. Identify your concerns.
Put your thoughts on paper. Practice saying them in front of a mirror if that boosts your confidence. When you begin your conversation, you may even want to read aloud what you’ve written. That’s okay.
As you talk, don’t expect your partner to know what’s on your mind—and don’t make him guess. Keep clarifying things asking your spouse what he’s heard you say or read and what he thinks about it.
2. Get the timing right.
None of us likes to be inconvenienced. Look for the right opportunity to begin your conversation.
Is your spouse tired or preoccupied? It might be wise to wait until she’s rested and you have her full attention. If you have children, get them involved in some activity before you begin your conversation.
3. Honor your spouse’s time.
Don’t waste it. Be succinct. Don’t belabor your point. Make sure you have sufficient time to complete the conversation well. Allow time for feedback during your talk, too.
4. Use body language.
Look your spouse in the eye directly, lovingly, and respectfully, and state your desire to begin a conversation. Ask your mate to sit down with you; take her hand in yours and speak calmly. The eyes can truly be a window to the mind and soul, and touch can allow you to show loving feelings.
5. Keep your partner’s communication style in mind.
People find us most attractive when we communicate in their style—in a way that’s familiar and comfortable to them. If your partner likes facts, give him facts. If she likes details, tell the story. And if she values warmth, take time to connect relationally. If he wants choices, give options.
But if she needs time to process, slow down. If he likes a rapid pace, get to the point. And if she’s analytical, provide data.
6. Include your partner’s interests.
If your spouse is interested in football, finances, movies —start with that subject. It’s a most natural way to enter a conversation, even if the topic ends up veering in another direction.
7. Be interesting.
Ask yourself why your spouse would want to listen to your in the first place. Be a creative and stimulating partner. Discover how to capture your mate’s attention. If you’re boring and negative, your conversation will be dull and depressing. If this is the case, you have some work to do.
8. Be realistic.
Don’t set yourself up for disappointment. If the two of you find it difficult to start a conversation, keep it simple. Don’t assume you can have a deeply intimate, nurturing conversation immediately if you’ve never had one before.
Start with the basics. Do fun activities together. Laugh. Build a foundation for deeper conversations. Take one step at a time.
9. Seek to accept and bring joy to your spouse.
Beginning conversations is much easier when your spouse knows you won’t ridicule him or her. Learn to lovingly accept and enjoy each other, even when your opinions differ. Let your spouse know that you’re on the same team and that you support him or her 100 percent. Be your mate’s number one fan!
10. Be appreciative and infuse hope.
Thank your spouse for listening to you. Tell him he encourages you and that you want to encourage him.
Life on earth is difficult —sometimes awful. But we need to be “life-givers” to our mates. When we speak words of hope to our spouses, we speak life and love. Remember Philippians 4:8:
“Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy —think about such things.”
If all of this seems overwhelming, don’t be discouraged. Just start and be patient and persistent; pick one or two ideas and begin!
This article comes from the terrific book, The First Five Years of Marriage, which is a Focus on the Family resource. It is written by a number of Focus on the Family Counselors, and is published by Tyndale House Publishers. Even if you’ve been married for a number of years, this book can be a great resource to obtain. There are so many of the articles, which are relevant to every married couple. If you’ve been having problems in your marriage and you realize you need to start from the beginning to rebuild your marriage the right way, this resource could help in that process! Everything within it is aimed to help its readers lay a solid foundation based on Biblical principles in a practical way.
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