Brianna Rodgers, LMFT
Starting Hard Conversations with the People You Love
How do we address the hard stuff? How do we tell this person that we love that they hurt us? What if they get angry with us? How do we address an issue with a person we respect? Sometimes the answers to such questions seem overwhelming, so it feels easier to just go without addressing them. The problem with this is – we cannot change what we are unaware of. If a person does not know a certain behavior of theirs is hurting us, they will likely continue the behavior. Because people are not mind-readers, let us look at some anxiety-reducing conversation prompts to help us begin addressing conflict.
“I feel this situation deserves a conversation. When can we talk?”
This is an unalarming way to let a person know that you are unwilling to allow the issue to go unaddressed. This approach also prompts the other person to provide a time to talk. If we just left it to, “Let’s talk later”, the chances of the conversation never happening are high. This respectfully assertive approach is most helpful in the workplace, with authority figures, and with acquaintances.
“Hey, can I be vulnerable with you for a moment?”
This approach alerts your conversation partner to the sensitivity around what you are about to say; it also gives them permission to say “no” or let you know if they are not ready. This softer approach is most helpful when you are wanting to convey matters of the heart in romantic, familial, and platonic relationships.
“When you ___, I feel…”
An alternative to “You make me feel…”, which implies the other person is responsible for your emotions, this approach lets the other person know the emotion their behavior triggered without giving them the power to control your emotions. This approach is especially helpful when addressing conflict with the people you are most often around, as an abundance of time together increases the opportunity for their behaviors to impact you more than others might.
“I love you and I value you. This is also why I must be honest with you.”
Affirming the value of the relationship reinforces the necessity for the conversation. This approach is most helpful when giving constructive feedback to a loved one.
Some common reasons we may avoid tough conversations:
We don’t want to offend
We hate conflict
We fear being misunderstood
The other person is unapproachable or has a history of lashing out when they feel challenged
We don’t trust our own emotions when dealing with conflict
We fear we will be gaslit
We fear our vulnerability will be rejected
Hard conversations with people who mean something to us are not necessarily fun, but they are important to have if the relationship is to remain authentic. Even if the conversation is to confirm the end of a relationship, you owe it to yourself to practice healthy communication. (Of course, you get to determine if the conflict or relationship is truly worth a conversation – especially if your previous efforts have been ignored or dismissed.)
When we internalize, suppress, and harbor resentment, we hurt ourselves more than anyone else. We are flawed, complicated, and a little quirky sometimes. As we learn ourselves, may we be more graceful in learning others. As I like to say, may we know peace because we chose it, truth because we told it, and love because we sowed it.
Disclaimer: This article is pertaining to relationships among non-abusive individuals.