Written by: Rebecca Hirsch, AMFT
At some point, in any close and intimate relationship, whether it be a partner, a parent, a sibling, or a friend, difficulties and issues arise, and uncomfortable conversations must be had. People disagree, people have different beliefs and values, and people make mistakes. Preventing any issue from coming up in a relationship is unrealistic. The issues themselves do not necessarily damage relationships, it is how the issues are handled and communicated that can damage relationships. When these issues and arguments take place, often times people are left with feeling unheard, invalidated, and hurt. Unfortunately, these feelings do not just magically disappear overnight. They stick around for a long time, sometimes without us even realizing it. When those feelings get buried deep down, they can turn into anger, resentment, and can cause us to distance ourselves from the relationship.
Many people seek individual and couples therapy to discuss issues taking place in important relationships in their lives. Whether they need a safe space and a third party to discuss issues in a romantic relationship, or need a place to vent their frustration about another loved one, the majority of people seeking therapy have some sort of grievance with an important person in their lives. As an individual and couples therapist, I often hear clients worry about when to bring up important issues in these relationships. I also hear couples complain about when uncomfortable issues are brought up. I will often hear clients say that issues only get brought up right before bed or when they are already arguing about something unrelated. While there is no perfect time to bring up difficult and uncomfortable issues, any time is better than not at all.
I will often recommend that clients schedule a time to have these difficult and uncomfortable conversations. Scheduling-in important conversations can be helpful for a variety of reasons. When you schedule a time to discuss issues, both or all parties involved can mentally prepare to have a difficult discussion by reflecting ahead of time what they want to say and how they want to present themselves. When people are taken off-guard, they are more likely to become defensive or not articulate their points in a clear and concise manner. Scheduling a time in advance will also be helpful for people who are prone to avoiding difficult conversations. When you have something scheduled in your calendar, you are more likely to hold yourself accountable to follow-through. It is also helpful for those who are anxiously waiting to have a difficult conversation with someone who may be more avoidant, because having the conversation marked in the calendar can ease one’s anxiety about how, when, and if the conversation will take place.
These conversations are usually best to have in-person, but if that is not possible, over the phone or video call will work as well. It is acceptable to schedule a conversation in through text message, but do not begin the conversation through text message, because so much can get lost in translation, such as tone and humor. During the conversation, it is useful to use “I statements”, such as “I felt hurt when…” and so forth. When you use “I statements”, you take ownership over your feelings and your experience, and it also prevents the other person from becoming defensive. While it may seem contrived and unnatural to schedule important conversations, it can be tremendously helpful for improving communication in a relationship.
If you are having a difficult time communicating with a loved one, contact Symmetry Counseling to set up an appointment with an individual, couples, or family therapist.