It’s common knowledge that good, open and honest communication is a necessary component of any happy and healthy relationship. However bringing up difficult subjects can be a major challenge. Often we’ll procrastinate, trying to find the best time to break the ice and talk about it, waiting until the other person is in a good mood or being extra nice to get them ready for the bombshell of a conversation that (you think) is going to take place when you finally get the ball rolling. The longer we wait to talk about important stuff the worse it gets as we go over and over the conversation in our head and the anxiety builds and builds!
Some examples of difficult conversations might include:
- We need to talk about your drinking…
- Birth control options/safer sex…
- I’m not ready to move in with you…
- If you don’t stop playing World of Warcraft for 7 hours a day I’m leaving…
- I really don’t want to go to that dinner with your extended family…
- You need to stop bullying me…
- I’d like to try something new in the bedroom…
And of course the granddaddy of hard subjects:
- I’m breaking up with you…
If we don’t bring these things up in a timely fashion our partner will often consider our silence to represent an acceptance of their behavior. “Why didn’t you tell me earlier?!”, “I though you were fine with this!” will be their defense and who can blame them? Even if their behavior was unacceptable, if you don’t make your voice heard you can’t blame someone for continuing to act they way they do. The other issue we face is that when we do decide to come out and say what the problem is, we often sabotage our own argument by the way that we put our points across. Here are some common problems that can occur when you finally do break the ice:
- Things come to a head and you have an angry outburst instead of a reasoned discussion.
- You initiate a conversation about the problem but in your nervousness you lose your ability to communicate effectively, you stutter, your mind draws a blank and you forget all the great lines you had rehearsed in your head.
- Your partner cuts you off and doesn’t hear you out, turning the focus instead onto you and an argument ensues.
- You let your emotions get the better of you and it becomes a blame fest. Instead of talking about what you require, you simply list all of your partners faults.
- You cry uncontrollably. You really want to talk about some important stuff but whenever you do you simply well up and can’t do much else but sob.
So what can we do to bring up important subjects with our partners in a timely fashion and in a way that we get our points across effectively and open the door for reasoned and respectful negotiations? I call it…*drum-roll* The Email Solution!! So let’s say we have a difficulty in our fictional relationship that needs to be sorted out, we want to get all our points and concerns across in a calm and concise manner that is non accusatory and leaves things open for further discussion and work. Let’s write an email! For this example I’ll pick the video game dilemma. Our partner is playing World of Warcraft between 7 and 10 hours per day, I’m a gamer so there’s no judgment there, however it’s easy to see how this could lead to relationship problems. It’s time to write our carefully worded email. Here we go:
There’s something I’ve wanted to bring up with you for a while. I wasn’t sure of the best way to talk about this so I’m sending you an email. This way I can get all of my point across and then we can have a proper discussion.
I feel that your gaming habits are putting a strain on our relationship. I like you a lot but I’m finding it difficult to continue to be with you now that you spend most of your days playing games and not engaging in you work or with me. I want to continue to be with you but I will need things to change. I don’t mind if it takes time but I can’t keep going the way things are now.
I know this is a difficult subject and I’d like to hear your thoughts. Please take some time to consider what I’ve said and email me back. Then later on we can have a proper sit down and talk about things, work out what’s best for the both of us and make a plan.
That is a short example of such an ice breaker email. Of course some issues will be much more detailed and require a longer message, but it’s best to keep things short and to the point. This is really just a less confrontational way to kick things off and start a dialogue. Let’s look at the elements that make up a great relationship problems email:
* I Statements. Start every sentence with “I need…”, “I believe…”, “I can’t” etc. This way you are telling them what you require, and not blaming them which simply results in back and forth accusations which helps no one. Always use I statements, never accuse.
* Non Emotional Language. There will be plenty of time for that later. Don’t be too robotic but try and get your points across in as efficient and concise a manner as is possible. Sentences filled with words like sorry, love, forgive, horrible, terrible, awful etc, weaken your argument. Keep things dry and factual with a hint of humanity and empathy.
* Keep It Short. This is just part one of a greater discussion. Don’t write the Mahabharata in email form. Try to whittle the email down until it’s at its most functional and potent. Get the important points across and don’t bombard your partner with too much all at once. There will be plenty of time to talk in further emails and one on one discussions.
* Ask Them To Email Back. The discussion can stay in email form for a long time if your wish, before bringing it to the personal, conversational negotiation phase. Getting an email back allows them to put their points across which is only fair, and you can move on from there. Move away from emails when it feels right.
And there you have it. A guide to breaking the ice with regard to relationship difficulties. I’ve done this myself on multiple occasions and I’ve always been happy with the result. This is also a great way to find out what kind of person your partner is. If they listen to your “I Statements” and engage in a calm and balanced negotiation with I statements of their own, most likely you are dealing with a pretty decent person. If however bringing up the subject causes the person to rage and engage in physical, emotional or verbal abuse you might be dealing with a bully/psychopath.
Here’s a simple equation to remember:
If things improve after talking about them and you feel better, you are most likely dealing with a decent human being.
If things get worse after talking about them and you feel worse, you are most likely dealing with a bully/psychopath.
Thanks for reading and good luck to you in your relationships with friends, family, partners and everyone else! How do you bring up difficult subjects with people?
All the best.
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