Twelve Tips for Talking
The big theme this month seems to be communication – both in my own relationship and for my clients. Why is communication so difficult? Whether it’s with our families or our coworkers or our lovers, intentional discussions can be daunting. I want you to know that it’s all right if you sometimes feel uneasy talking to your lover. We all do, especially when we feel vulnerable, no matter how long we’ve been in a relationship.
Sometimes the problem is all of the little niggling things in day to day life, and sometimes it’s bigger. Your challenge is to find the communication style that works for you and your partner, for both the big and the small. Bottling things doesn’t work for anyone, though, so you’ll have to find some way to resolve your frustrations with the fact that he never vacuums and she never remembers to take out the garbage. Either discuss it and work it out or learn to truly let it go so that you aren’t bothered about it anymore. The choice is yours.
Often in a relationship there are Big Looming Horrible Talks you need to have. Talks like ‘Why Don’t You Want to Have Sex with Me Anymore’ or ‘I’m Tired of Always Being The Bad Cop with Our Children’ or ‘Our Financial Situation Is Really Messed Up.’ Unpleasant topics, for sure. In my personal experience, it doesn’t matter how fantastic your relationship is overall or how wonderful your lives are, some of these issues are going to crop up from time to time – partnership is hard work.
So here are some suggestions, thoughts, tips, and strategies I have found to be useful. Give them a try, see if they work, think about why they don’t and what might work for you instead.
1. Never ever talk in bed. Seriously, ever. Bed is for sleeping and having sex/making love/cuddling/being intimate. Don’t talk about serious matters in bed or you’re bringing and leaving all that tense energy right there where you’re supposed to be relaxing and enjoying each other. If you’re in bed and a yucky conversation starts, get out of bed and go into the living room.
* (Personal Note: I didn’t like this rule when we first adopted it and resented having to get out of bed. Ever since we’ve started it, though, we both sleep a lot better and have sex more frequently. Your mileage may vary.)
2. Discuss things when you’re calm, not when you’re upset. Make time that is separate from anything else, where you can be alone, just the two of you. Your relationship is a priority, right? Then schedule time for it, just like you would for a medical appointment.
3. If possible, touch while you’re talking. Even a simple touch, like your knees being in contact while you sit on the sofa together, is good. It will keep you grounded and connected on a mental and emotional level, as well as physically.
4. Remind yourself that you love this person and you want to work things out. No matter how upset you are or become in the course of a discussion, remember this underlying truth.
5. Breathe in and out before you say anything, anything at all. Speak slowly, with careful intention.
6. If you find yourself getting upset, say that you need to take a break before the discussion turns into a fight. Be proactive and moderate yourself.
7. Keep the end goal in mind – what do you want to be the result of this talk? What are you willing to change in your behavior or life? What would you like to ask your partner to change? What are you willing to compromise on?
8. Avoid the temptation to mentally script an entire dialogue unless you’re willing to give your partner his or her copy and have them act it out with you. (You never know – they might be game for it, and a bit of role playing might help lighten the mood.) Otherwise you’re just going to be frustrated when they don’t say what you want or expect them to say.
9. Which leads nicely into a big one – listening. Listen to what your lover actually says, not what you want to hear or think you’re going to hear. Confirm that you understood what was said before you fly off the handle: ‘Let me make sure I heard you – you said XYZ?’ Then ask questions: ‘How do you think we could work that out? What do you want to have happen here?’ Remember, this is a dialogue, not a monologue – stop rehearsing your lines and listen to your lover speak.
10. If you’re going to be the initiator and you have a complaint to make, remember that this isn’t a courtroom, it’s a relationship. Who is right rarely matters. So rather than go into the situation armed with a list of grievances and accusations, be sure that you also have a list of things you appreciate about your partner, for all the things they do right. If you mix your positives and negatives together, it will keep the mood less combative.
11. Scripting – here are some examples of useful phrases:
* Initiating: ‘I’d like to talk to you about XYZ because when the subject comes up, I feel upset. When can we make some time to talk about this?’
* ‘This is important to me and I’m glad that resolving it is important to you as well.’
* Closing: ‘Thank you for making this time to talk with me. I appreciate it because I know how busy you are.’
* And finally, no discussion in complete without ‘I love you. I’m glad we worked this out.’ And then snog them silly, or at least kiss each other on the cheek, even if you’re still a little peeved.
12. If you didn’t get everything said on the first go around, do it again. Really: you get do-overs in life! It’s totally all right to need some time to think about what was said and how you really feel and what you’d like to talk about next time.
Remember: take baby steps. Rome wasn’t built in a day. If you haven’t had a good conversation about sex/money/whatever in a long time, it might take a few attempts before you really get to the heart of the issue and feel safe doing so. That’s ok. You don’t have to get it all done at once, and you don’t have to get it right on the first try.
Keep in mind that you’re going to need to follow up, too. Check in and see how your partner feels about your Big Talk a few days after the fact. Even if you thought it all went swell and you’re happy with the outcome, he or she might not be. Ask. Keep talking.
Finally, if you’re still working up the nerve to even have a Big Conversation, here are some questions to keep in mind: what’s at stake if you don’t follow through on this? If you don’t have this conversation, will it get better? Where do you want to be on this issue in three months? How will you get there unless you talk about it?
You don’t have to do it alone! Give me a call and I’ll do whatever I can to support you. Just thinking about the subject, being mindful, becoming aware of what you need and what you want and how you might be able to create it, is a huge step in the right direction. Keep going and I know you’ll get there!
2008 Julianne N. Bentley All Rights Reserved.
Julianne Bentley, the original Wanton Hussy, works with individuals (and couples) who want to bring the passion and joy back into their bedrooms.
Drawing on over fifteen years of experience discussing the ins and outs of sexuality, in all its forms, Julianne brings compassion and energy to the process of supporting you in making the changes you need in order to have the sex life you want and deserve.