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  • Writer's pictureRachel Chiu

So…We Need to Talk: How Do I Approach Difficult Topics with My Significant Other?


Man of color with long braids looking at partner with worry. Both are standing in the kitchen.
 

Welcome Rachel Chiu, our first guest blogger! She is an experienced couples therapist in Greenville with a passion for serving the Hispanic community, and owner of Restore Therapy.


 

Welp. It’s happening. Or maybe it happened last night. Or it happened last week. You hit a wall in your relationship. A communication wall. You had to broach a really hard subject and well, you, tanked. I mean, it tanked. Now what?


We’re in the middle of a pandemic and turns out you can’t avoid the conversations that one of you or both of you have put on hold – you know the ONE. Maybe it’s talking about changing jobs. Maybe it’s that you don’t want a certain family member of theirs to visit (Later, in-laws!). Maybe it’s the “I want to have one more kid” or “Can we start trying to get pregnant?”


You know the conversation. It’s the one thing that needs to be said and the very thought of bringing this topic up makes your chest tighten and your stomach feels sick – like you shouldn’t have mixed that burger with those tacos and added that slice of cheesecake. Oy.

Firstly, know that you’re not alone. I’m hearing from so many couples in my office now – more calls and emails for new appointments – than it seems like has happened before. You’re spending more time together because of the situation in which we find ourselves and it’s becoming more and more tricky to ignore the fight you had over this or the realization that you can’t avoid this issue anymore. So, what comes next?


Woman of color grips kitchen towel standing in kitchen. Tension is present.

First, acknowledge to yourself that these conversations are hard. You’re opening up about sensitive subjects – it’s normal to feel exposed, anxious, concerned, or heavy as you wonder how your partner will react to what you’re discussing. Brené Brown, a researcher who studies shame and resiliency, describes vulnerability as “uncertainty, risk, and emotional exposure”. This thing feels big because, well, it is. Can you summon compassion, maybe even warmth, for this part of you that feels anxious, even “exposed” as Brown would call it? Yes? Good.


Secondly, think about what having this conversation means to you. Why is that this one topic is so much harder than the other things you’ve discussed? What does it mean to you that you need to have this conversation? Take a few moments and think through that. Maybe it means your partner says “Now isn’t the time for this change – can we press pause on this?” Or perhaps your partner gives you a flat out “No.” Ouch. Or maybe they react in anger. “How could you ask me this, right now? Do you know what’s going on with X (insert the situation here?!” You then tell yourself, “We’ll never figure this out. This is too painful.”


I hear you. I know you want resolution here for this painful place. I know that you both love each other but you don’t know where to begin. May I make a few more suggestions about how to proceed? Yes? Good.


Take a few deep breaths. Place your hand on your heart center. Ground yourself – meaning, yes, admit this conversation will likely be difficult but, can you imagine carrying the weight of this topic in your body for the next couple more months? No, you can’t and I don’t want that for you. Instead, I want you to set up a different kind of conversation.

Black couple sitting at table drinking coffee as man talks with concerned expression.

Try using these suggestions to create more understanding:

  1. Set expectations with your partner instead of blind-siding her or him. “Hey, I’ve had something important on my mind. I want to talk about X (whatever the hard topic is for you).”

  2. Express what thoughts this brings up for you. “You know, in even thinking about sharing this with you, I’m telling myself this may not go well and that’s hard to think about. This is a difficult subject for me and I don’t know how this will go.”

  3. Tell your person what having this conversation makes you feel. “Even as I tell you about this, I feel this heaviness in my chest. This is so important to me but I’m so worried we’ll miss each other.”

  4. Tell your person that you want to do something different than what normally happens when you both bring up hard topics. “I know that what normally happens is I repeat myself over and over … Or you get really quiet, then snap, or walk away. I want to find a way for us to really hear each other.”

  5. Invite them to listen and respond. “Can we take a few minutes to talk through this? I want you to hear my thoughts on this and I want to hear yours.”

  6. Admit that you may not solve this issue or get an entirely clear answer today and that’s okay. Let them know you plan to come back to this topic, if you or your partner needs a day to process this – but make it a point to circle back. “I realize this is an important decision to make and I / you may need more time to figure this out. That’s okay. Can we come back to this conversation tomorrow when we’ve both had some time to think it over?”

  7. Lastly, thank them for hearing you out and having this conversation, then affirm them and that you’re committed to sorting this out together. “I’m so thankful we can talk through this. I know this is hard and I love you. I know we can figure this out.”


Black couple in casual clothes embraces and feels relief.

Whew. It’s over. (Hopefully.) Take some time to rest. Clear your mind – after all of that stress building up in your body, you may need to rest or do something for yourself and that’s okay. Remember what I said earlier about practicing self-compassion? I want you to do that again, after this talk. That may look like taking a nap, getting a shower, sitting outside with a favorite drink and enjoying it, going for a run or some other form of exercise, etc.



If you still find yourself stuck and neither of you can figure out how to move forward, consider meeting with a couples’ therapist to make sense of how you’re getting stuck because maybe you both find yourself arguing about the same thing over and over or maybe just arguing too often. This is when having a person who doesn’t have a side to take can be helpful. If you want to find a trained, couples’ therapist in your area, I encourage you to check out ICEEFT’s “Find a Therapist” tool (see here: https://members.iceeft.com/member-search.php). There you’ll find a listing in your area of trained, Emotionally Focused Therapists (or, “EFT” for short), which is the most-researched, proven effective approach to treating couple’s distress. If you want to learn more about what EFT is and does for couples, check out their website to learn more (https://iceeft.com/what-is-eft/).


You’re also welcome to reach out to me through my website (www.restoretherapysc.com) to learn more about EFT and how I use it to help the couples I serve feel more connected and understood in their relationship. There you’ll also find resources for couples hoping to strengthen their relationship, too.


This pandemic won’t last forever. We’re going to get to get through this together. Until then, you and your partner are each other’s greatest resources. You got this.
 

Rachel Chiu, MS, LMFT

rachelchiu@restoretherapysc.com

864-214-5742


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