3 Questions to Ask Yourself Before a Difficult Conversation with Your Partner

man and woman looking at each other sadly

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Regardless of how much you love your partner or how long you’ve been together, there are times when a difficult conversation is necessary. A little preparation can go a long way in making these talks easier for both of you. Here are 3 questions to ask yourself before you have a difficult conversation with your partner.

No matter the topic of your discussion, putting some thought into your answers to these questions WILL help. These preparations will help keep the conversation on track, keep the emotions in check, and push toward answers, results, or the resolution of the problem.

man and woman looking at each other as they have a difficult conversation

Why Must We Have Difficult Conversations?

I’ve been married to the same guy for thirty-one years. You’d think that after that much time, there wouldn’t be much we haven’t discussed, hashed out, or fought about. Surely we can read each other’s minds and respond instantly, right? No need for difficult conversations because it’s all been done. Ha!

We are still two individuals – as are you and your partner. Our perspectives and life experiences are not the same. Plus, we all grow and change throughout our lives, and sometimes this creates conflict where there wasn’t any in times past. This is just the nature of life and partnership.

It really makes no difference if this is your first, second, or seventh partner. The need for hard talks will happen from time to time.

“To effectively communicate, we must realize that we are all different in the way we perceive the world and use this understanding as a guide to our communication with others.”

Tony Robbins, motivational speaker and author
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According to the Science of People, the 5 most common sources of conflict between couples are:

  • Free Time
  • Money
  • Housework
  • Physical Intimacy
  • Extended Family

Of course, every couple is unique and will experience challenge in different ways. Some conflict may be about a particular event or situation, while others could be ongoing issues.

How You Can Prepare for a Difficult Conversation – Questions to Ask Yourself

Taking the time to find answers to these questions will go a long way in helping you broach the subject, have the talk, and find closure on the other side. Brutal honesty with yourself is necessary, however. It will be difficult to speak your truth – and hear his – without this knowledge.

blonde woman with chin on fist, thinking about a difficult conversation with her partner

1. What is the one thing this conversation is about?

Before beginning a challenging dialog, you should reflect for a time and really understand the reason for the discussion. 

What is the problem? Has there been a misunderstanding? A breach of trust? Is this an ongoing issue that needs to be resolved?  Get deep and get specific.

You must have a clear understanding of your “why”.

Keep the conversation on topic. A difficult conversation is a means of problem-solving, and not an opportunity to shout out a laundry list of past offenses. “You came home at 3 am last night” should never become “you don’t appreciate anything I do for you.” Don’t let resentment build to this point. It’s not helpful, and won’t lead the way to a solution.

Understand your why, and stay focused.

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woman in pink shirt with hands on face, thinking about a difficult conversatoin with her partner

2. What is my end goal of this conversation?

What result do you want to get from this conversation?  Is it realistic?  Is it fair?  Will it benefit one of you but not the other? Is it even possible, or are you hoping for something that’s almost certainly not going to happen?

A difficult conversation should lead to the desired end result that both parties are comfortable with and willing to support.

If it’s a division of housework, be prepared to divide up chores and responsibilities.  If the subject is finances, be prepared to create a budget you can both work within. Don’t just talk about it – decide ahead of time what your ideal solution would be.

Let’s say you are confronting your partner about an affair. What is your purpose for the confrontation? Is it honesty? Acknowledgment? Remorse? Do you want him to ask for forgiveness, or hand over the house keys and leave?

For every conversation, there are many possible outcomes. Understand your motives for the conversation, and what you want the result to be.

Now, take a long, deep look inside. 

You may not get your desired result.

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What will happen if you do not achieve your end goal?  Is it enough to get the subject out in the open, or does it need an immediate resolution? 

How hard are you willing to work at finding a solution, and how will you handle it if your partner doesn’t respond as you desire? Are you willing to compromise in some way? What options are you willing to consider? Is this something each of you can put additional thought into, and revisit in time?

“The point is this: difficult conversations are almost never about getting the facts right. They are about conflicting perceptions, interpretations, and values.”

Douglas Stone, Difficult Conversations: How to Discuss What Matters Most
woman with dark bangs and hand on face thinking about a difficult conversation with her partner

3. When is the best time to have this conversation?

There are several considerations for this question.

Generally, you want to talk as soon as possible. Why is sooner better than later? Because when you delay a necessary conversation, you tend to build up resentment and inflate the conflict. It’s important to address situations before they get out of hand. A small problem today is much easier to solve than a giant one several weeks from now.

However, you want to talk after you have some control of your emotions. You don’t want to go into the conversation when one or both of you is steaming mad. Take the time to gather your feelings together and be able to speak with sensitivity so that the conversation doesn’t degenerate into a shouting match.

You may be fully justified in your feelings, but letting them run free is unlikely to create a productive talk.

Eliminating Self-Sabotage

If you start a conversation when he’s distracted will not get the results you want. If he is watching a sporting event or climbing into bed to go to sleep for the night, you can be sure you will not have his full attention.

Let your partner know you have something you want to talk about. Work together to choose a time to sit down when both of you are prepared to talk and give the conversation your full attention. Giving him a heads up also gives him a chance to think the subject through, so that he can clearly state his perspective.  You’ve had a chance to think it through, and he deserves the same opportunity.

older couple hugging and drinking champagne after resolving a difficult conversation

Read More About Communication and Relationships:

Final Thoughts on 3 Questions to Ask Yourself Before a Difficult Conversation with Your Partner:

Difficult conversations are just that: Difficult. But having a plan in place will help you to get through them. Answering these questions before you talk will help you to build a framework for your conversation.

  • What is the one thing this conversation is about?
  • What is your end goal of this conversation?
  • When is the best time to have this conversation?

You can and will get through even the most difficult talks. Relationships aren’t always easy, but there is a reason you are with this partner, and you owe it to yourself to make your best effort to resolve conflict in a way that satisfies you both.

couple looking away from each other and sad during a difficult conversation

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2 thoughts on “3 Questions to Ask Yourself Before a Difficult Conversation with Your Partner”

  1. I’ve been married to the same guy for 21 years. Reflecting on your post, I think sometimes I have followed the tips but more often I’ve let resentment build up or not picked my time well. I’m also good at springing things on him so the point about giving him the heads up in advance is something I’ll definitely try!

    1. I’m right with you on the resentment and poorly chosen timing! I actually wrote this post as much for me as for anyone else! Hope I learn from my own words…it’s ongoing. Thanks for reading and commenting!

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