“We Need to Talk”

My husband had been so busy and so tired. He had been learning his new job and working hard to maintain a daily workout schedule, and would often come home exhausted. The problem was, I was working a couple of jobs as well, and I was getting home exhausted too. When he got home, he would go take a shower, have dinner, and sit and “vegge” while watching TV or enjoying social media. I would get home from late meetings or teaching lessons, often late as well, cook or pick up dinner, clean up the kitchen, tidy up the house, fill or empty the dishwasher, make lunches for the next day, and spend the weekends running laundry, cleaning bathrooms, straightening the house, ironing shirts, as well as planning for the week ahead. It was too much.

Of course, I didn’t say anything because I knew he was having a hard time keeping up with things, and was so tired at the end of each day. And I kept not saying anything. Until one day, the words exploded out of my mouth.

“We need to talk.”

Let’s face it, in my experience, it’s usually us women that use those words. I can’t remember a time when a significant other has ever said those words to me. Perhaps I’m lucky in that sense. Whatever the reasons for the phenomenon as I have experienced it, I would dare say women use the phrase much more than men. And for most of us, that phrase may invoke immediate feelings of anger, defensiveness, frustration, hurt, disappointment, aloofness, and perhaps even, “here we go again”-ness in our partner, even before we realize it. Those are normal, physiological reactions that take place in our brain even before we have time to process. So how can we ease up the effects of using that phrase?

Saying the words.

For those of us who use the phrase, it’s usually because we have something we feel is important to bring up. Can we agree that often it is when we are fed up about something? Perhaps we’ve let an issue fester for too long before saying anything? Then the stinging words that follow the phrase are sometimes accusatory and resentful. But the truth is, even if we followed the phrase with, “you’re an amazing person, you smell like roses, and your lips are as sweet as candy,” the person receiving the words would not hear your florid words because their defense mechanism is already up. Here are a few tips I have learned for when “we need to talk.”

Don’t use that phrase.

As much as you might be tempted to do so, don’t use it. It automatically puts up walls between you and the person to which you’re saying them. Instead try phrases like:

I have something I’d like to speak with you about.

I have something on my heart I’d like to share with you.

There’s something that’s been on my mind that I’d like to share with you.

I’ve been thinking about something, and I wondered if you might hear me out.

You get the picture. Think of a more “friendly” approach to say that you need to talk.

Think ahead of time of what you will say after you use the starter phrase.

We know we “need to talk,” but we don’t always think of how we are going to phrase what we want to say. Remember, once the conversation is initiated, the other person may immediately feel defensive. We need to choose our words carefully so that they are well received and don’t feel like daggers being thrown. Use phrases such as:

I feel hurt when . . .

I know you mean well . . .

I know you have our best interest in mind . . .

Start with something positive about your relationship, something good that the other person is doing, or something you appreciate about that person. Then move into the area of concern. Once the area is addressed, don’t drag it out forever. Say what you need to say, and be done. Reiterating the point does nothing to solve the issue. Finish the conversation with something positive about your relationship, about the person, or about how you feel. I call this the “sandwich approach.” Put the area of concern between the good stuff. It will be easier to swallow.

Be willing to listen.

Initiating a conversation that has the potential of being hurtful doesn’t give us the right to do all of the talking. We state our concern, and then back out of the way and let the other person react to what you are saying. And really listen. Take notes if you have to. But do listen.

Be willing to table the conversation if necessary.

Many issues wont’ be resolved in a one day conversation. Those of us who bring up the conversation need to be patient, understanding, and willing to table the conversation if necessary. It may be something you both agree to come back to at another time. Or it may be that you see the other person is irritated with the whole thing and isn’t able to think clearly about it at the moment. Maybe you’ve brought up a big issue and they just need time to process. Whatever the case may be, be willing to give the other person time to think, process, and possibly get back to you on the issue at hand.

Bringing up issues for discussion may be difficult. But with the right amount of thought to how we are going to say it, what we are going to say, and what will be the best method of delivery, the “we need to talk” conversations can be helpful and enlightening, and can lead to growth in a relationship.

On the flip side, what if you are the one hearing those words from your significant other? Stay tuned for the next blog about being on the other side and how to deal when someone says to you, “We need to talk.”

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