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How to Have Challenging Conversations With Your Partner

Phil and Maude talkingMAUDE: Last week we wrote about how important it is to check in regularly with each other. On one of our recent check-ins, I shared with Phil that I was becoming deeply distressed about an area of importance to me that I felt we were not attending to. We have been talking about creating a trust, health care directives, and other related documents for what seems to me a long time now. But we haven’t done it.

We have done enough talking to know that we have different approaches to these issues. They are deep-seated opinions that impinge on our core values, and there is a challenge to integrate our different cultural realities.

I don’t know if a fear of dissonance between us is what has contributed to our not taking care of these things, or whether it is the fact that, at least in a projected reality, these are among the things in life and relationship that are not as much fun to do. And yet, doing them clears the way and opens a path to great relief.

In both cases, we are being motivated by both projections and fear. In checking in and talking honestly about what is important to each of us, these stress points have become revealed. Relating from what you project or are afraid of gets in the way and restricts you alone and together from tackling things and experiencing the liberation that comes from having them handled – getting these issues behind you rather than still lingering in your present.

Our reticence to deal with these things is odd, as we are quite experienced in finding mutual solutions to issues and we both know how satisfying this process is. We always find better solutions when we work together in this way on problems and decisions. Yet, we still haven’t done it in this case. So we looked at what is happening and this was so helpful and brought us both real comfort.

We know that we are able to work through anything together, so giving energy to a fear of dissonance between us, even when it may arise from topics of large meaning to both, is out of character. We seem to have buried it under all the many things we need to do and want to do.

My feelings in this area come from several difficult past experiences, and the recent unexpected deaths of several close friends, both of whom had to complete these plans and legal documents in the very last minute while being very ill.

When I shared with Phil that I was feeling increased distress over this issue, it made a big impression on him. That information seems to have outweighed his reticence to dive into this area. He does not wish me to experience such discomfort and understands now the degree of it that I was experiencing. By checking in with each other without any fear of reprisal, we were able to broach this and are now both so happy to work together on it.

What is our take away from all this? Communication is vital in relationships. If you don’t bring up what is really important to you, your partner will not know. No matter how well you know your partner, none of us are mind readers! If you avoid things because of fears or projections of dissonance and difficulty, they will fester and instead of becoming another area you worked out together, they can cause greater distance and misunderstandings.

Trust your partner and speak your heart.

PHIL: When we were checking in on our anniversary trip about our coming year (we wrote about this last week), Maude shared how frustrated she was that plans like a trust, wills and advance health care directives kept being deferred rather than being addressed. In the following days, I reflected on what Maude said and came to think of these topics as large, challenging conversations, but that when we eventually came to tackle and resolve them, it would leave me feeling open and free, as if large boulders had been removed from my path.

I am reminded of what Tara Bennett-Goleman wrote:

If it is pleasant, be aware without clinging. If it is unpleasant, be aware without resistance. If your response is indifference, precise awareness can prevent it from becoming boring.

It’s not that we are in conflict about these things. We have different feelings and culture. Maude is very close to her children, is a people person, and her Jewish culture is very much about supporting family. I haven’t had children, bring more financial assets and am more of an abstract thinker.

These might sound like the components for a soap opera, and I think we have a lot of work to do to find a place that works for both of us, but I know it is possible, even though I have no idea where it might be. This is because, time after time, we have sat down together, talked about our feelings and our positions, and found a solution that has worked for both of us. These latest issues will be no different because underlying all of that is the connection that we have. It’s her and me. We recognize each other’s goodness and caring, and that is a better way to live than to fall back on the defensiveness of an ego that tries to survive alone in the world.

These talks will be a challenge for both of us. They will involve looking deep within ourselves at the assumptions and attitudes we have held. What we won’t do is defend our existing positions by attacking those of the other person. Instead, it is an opportunity to know ourselves more fully. This is the path to growth and wisdom. Wish us luck and a good journey!

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Photo credit: Andy Samarasena, StudioSB

Successful Relationship Reading Corner

BookshelfWe wrote this week about how to have challenging conversations with your partner and shared some of our own challenges. Here are some other interesting comments on this topic.

We Have to Talk: A Step-By-Step Checklist for Difficult Conversations "Think of a conversation you’ve been putting off. Got it? Great. Then let’s go. What you have here is a brief synopsis of best practice strategies: a checklist of action items to think about before going into the conversation; some useful concepts to practice during the conversation; and some tips and suggestions to help you stay focused and flowing in general, including possible conversation openings."

How to Have Difficult Marriage Conversations "Having a difficult talk shows you care enough about your spouse and your marriage to have the conversation. Here are tips and strategies when you have to have that difficult talk — THE talk."

How To Make Difficult Conversations About Relationship Problems Easier On You Both "Talking about relationship problems with your partner can feel scary, but learning how to have difficult conversations with the person you love is essential if you want your relationship to last."


Spreading peace one relationship at a time
Phil and Maude
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