The Five Steps to Having Difficult Conversations

In our marriages, it seems the conversations we avoid the most are the very ones we most need to be having with our partners. There’s a lot going unsaid  or unheard.

Maybe we tried having the conversation previously and it didn’t go well.

Maybe we’re afraid saying what needs to be said will only worsen the relationship.

Maybe we’ve given up hope that anything will ever change.


We avoid having difficult conversations with our partners because almost no one enjoys confrontation, and we assume it will be confrontational. Maybe it does not have to be this way. I’m going to share with you five steps to having difficult conversations with your partner that will help you feel equipped to address the difficult topics in your relationship, without it being confrontational.


Step One: Prepare  The way you prepare for this conversation will make all the difference in how you show up inside this conversation. Most people think preparing is about what they want to say and how they want to say it to the other person (Hint: That’s why it hasn’t been working). Instead, prepare by getting clear about what you want to accomplish by having this conversation and by getting clear about how you want to feel when the conversation is complete. Do you want to feel like a good listener and a loving friend, or would you rather feel strong and confident? When you’re clear about the ending, you approach the beginning from a different starting place.


Step Two: Seek to Understand  Tell your partner you’d really like their insights on the topic you’d like to discuss and then listen to all that they have to say on that topic. Don’t sit there half-listening, waiting for your chance to say what you want to say. Be genuinely curious about their perspective and ask questions so that you can understand what’s really important to them and what aspects of this topic will be less important (this will give you good information when it comes time to explore solutions).


Step Three: Make Them Feel Heard  Before you can share your perspective in a way that they will hear you, they have to feel heard first; consider it the price of admission. Make sure they knows that you do understand their perspective. This doesn’t mean you agree with the perspective; it means you’ve made a genuine attempt to understand the perspective and find it valuable to the discussion.


Step Four: Share Your Perspective  Now you are able to share your perspective. Using a phrase such as, “Based upon what you’ve told me I can see why you see it that way. Here’s the perspective that I have on the topic…” or “ I heard what you said, and I understand how you see it this way. I am thinking this…”


Step Five: Explore Solutions  Now that you’ve both shared – and hopefully – heard one another, you can explore solutions together. Just like she got to share her perspective first, ask her to share her ideas on how the two of you could approach this topic differently in the future first. Then, whatever ideas she comes up with, take one of those ideas and build upon it, using the information you received about what’s really important to her and maybe what’s less important to her.


If you study and follow these steps, not only will the difficult conversations between the two of you be easier, you’ll be much more likely to come to solutions, rather than having recurring arguments that never seem to get resolved.


If you’re uneasy or angry about having to be the grown-up in the conversation, allowing your spouse to go first before you are ever heard…you need to get over that. You can talk AT your spouse, as you’ve likely been doing, but that has not worked. Instead, take the high road and the grown-up approach and be willing to do it differently in order to create a different result. Yes, it may be scary, and it might feel very uncomfortable when you first try, but most things feel a little scary when we have not done them before. This may just be the most productive conversation you two have had in a while.