Before Saying ‘I Do:’ Tips for Discussing Tough Topics
You’ve probably heard of the importance of discussing certain topics before getting married. For instance, in another piece on Psych Central, relationship expert and psychologist Silvina Irwin, Ph.D, mentioned five key areas: finances; family planning; religion and faith; location (where you’d like to live); and career.
But sitting down to discuss these topics is definitely not easy.
In fact, according to Irwin, “these topics are [often] wrought with anxiety, worry and fear.” The biggest worry centers around: What’ll happen if we disagree?
You also might worry about how to have a peaceful and productive conversation in the first place.
These are Irwin’s tips:
- Remind each other that this is your most important relationship, and this conversation serves as a “proactive way of caring for the relationship.”
- Pick a time to talk when both of you are physically and emotionally available – not when one partner just had a hard day at work.
- Discuss your fears about having this conversation. For instance, you might worry that your partner will end the relationship if you disagree with their perspective. Also, let your partner know how they can help you. Irwin gave this example: “I need you to remind me that we can work through this together and we can figure this out, that just because it’s difficult doesn’t mean you are giving up on us.”
- Be honest about where you stand. As Irwin said, “the last thing you want to do is just acquiesce to avoid conflict.” Be respectful, but share your perspective. If you feel strongly about a specific topic, maybe your partner can shift their position because they don’t feel as passionately about it, she said.
- Really listen to your partner. This means that after your conversation, you understand their stance on the issue, and they understand yours, Irwin said. Remember, that “understanding does not mean agreement or that you see it the same way.”
- Ask questions to help you better understand your partner’s position. For instance, you might say: “Help me understand why it’s important for you to adopt a child as opposed to conceive” or “I am confused as to why it matters so deeply to you to live near your parents.”
- Repeat your partner’s position to them. “It’s amazing how often people think they’ve understood something, but when they repeat it back it turns out they missed a key point.”
- Take a break. “[D]on’t expect to solve all the differences in one sitting, especially if it’s a very emotional one.” Agree to return to the topic, and reflect on your own perspective and potential solutions. And use this as another opportunity to talk about how you feel. Acknowledge “what’s happening on the inside for you, and what’s happening between you two. Acknowledge that it’s hard or scary to disagree.” This is an important time for couples to reach out to each other and “reassure one another that they can find their way through this together.”
Taking the time to listen and understand your partner tells them that what they think and feel matters to you, said Irwin, who also runs workshops for couples.
“When a person feels heard and understood, they are more flexible and open, which again, increases the chances of successful navigation of difficult issues.”
And if you’re still having a hard time navigating these topics, schedule several sessions with a therapist who specializes in working with couples. “[C]ouples often feel more connected and confident moving forward knowing that they have gotten through these tough conversations together.”
Tartakovsky, M. (2013). Before Saying ‘I Do:’ Tips for Discussing Tough Topics. Psych Central. Retrieved on April 25, 2015, from http://psychcentral.com/blog/archives/2013/10/03/before-saying-i-do-tips-for-discussing-tough-topics/