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The best way to bring up hard topics with your partner (if they are receptive)

Updated: Dec 8, 2023

I don't typically give advice.


This often frustrates couples in my practice.


Many of them seek a straightforward answer from me, wanting guidance on how to express themselves in a way that won't provoke anger, frustration, or upset in their partners. It's understandable; we all desire the "right" way to communicate with our significant others.

Couple standing back to back being emotionally distant
Photo by Henri Pham on Unsplash

Despite this, I generally avoid giving advice.


Why?


Because past experiences have shown that it usually doesn't work.


Usually, two things happen.


Sometimes, one person goes to great lengths to express things with respect and kindness to their partner. Speaking to your partner with respect and kindness is genuinely important. Keep doing that. The trouble arises when, even when you speak to your partner with respect and kindness, they still get frustrated and respond poorly.


In those cases, it's not up to you to change. Your partner has to want to examine why they are getting so angry. If they are unwilling to do that, there's nothing you can do.


I know. Not good news for you.


The other thing that happens is, I give advice, and then when a fight ensues, one person says, "You know you were supposed to use Dr. Harris' advice! And you never do it!" My advice has become a weapon to hurt the partner.


That's never my intent. If you ever use therapy advice like that, then, sorry, but you're doing it wrong. Therapy advice/guidance is meant to bring you closer to your partner. If you use it to attack your partner, you've missed the point.


So, with all that being said, I want to give you some advice.


With that said, I recently came across this article that outlined a helpful framework for broaching challenging topics with your partner. I actually thought it was pretty good.


The basic idea involves four steps:

  1. Express that you want to talk.

  2. Share your fears about what might happen.

  3. Communicate what you want to occur.

  4. Finally, convey the necessary information.

For instance, if you feel your partner hasn't been consistent enough with disciplining one of your kids, you could say:

  1. "I'd like to discuss what happened last night with our daughter."

  2. "I'm afraid that talking about it might lead to a fight."

  3. "I genuinely want to address this so we're on the same page."

  4. "Her bedtime is 7:30, and she was up until 8. We need to ensure she goes to bed on time."

So, if you're wondering how to approach difficult topics with your partner and feel confident about doing so respectfully and kindly, this is my recommended approach.


In some ways, you can think of this as a self-test. If you can use this skill to resolve issues, you and your partner are likely doing well. However, if employing this skill still results in conflict or the silent treatment, it may be time to consider seeking professional help.


Best,


Dr. Jordan Harris.

 

Dr. Jordan Harris is a Licensed Professional Counselor and Licensed Marriage and Family Therapists who works in the Northwest Arkansas area, servicing Rogers, Springdale and Fayetteville. With over 10 years of experience, he's worked in various fields from addictions, to kids, to psychiatric wards. Currently his specialty is working with couples with young children.


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