How to have a difficult conversation with an intimate partner
Good communication in relationships is something we desire but it’s not always something that we start with or have the tools to create. Many people find themselves in committed relationships before they’ve had a chance to share vulnerable things about themselves or reveal who they truly are. Let’s face it, if you’ve been in a relationship, you’ve learned things about your partner as time goes on that you didn’t know in the beginning. Often, the longer a relationship goes on, the more difficult it can be to share things you haven’t yet. You might be terrified to share something like a medical diagnosis such as an STI or mental health condition. You might be afraid to admit to a sexual turn-on, fetish or kink.
Living with the secret is weighing you down. You don’t want to have the conversation, but you know it’s the right thing to do. The secret is getting in the way of truly connecting with your partner. Here are some tips for making that conversation a little easier:
1. Ask them when would be a good time to have time to talk about something that requires an absence of distraction and ample time. Get it on the calendar.
2. If the time comes and someone isn’t showing up in a good place, reschedule.
3. Make sure the environment is comfortable for both of you and distractions are removed. This includes phones and computers. Perhaps sitting outside or on the couch is comfortable and quiet. Sitting close and face your body towards them.
4. Admit your nervousness and share your goal of being vulnerable and connecting more deeply to them. Tell them that they are a person you trust and ask for help in feeling safe, heard and respected. You can specifically request a boundary around being shamed. Have a plan to end the conversation if you feel unsafe or harshly judged.
5. Tell them that you would appreciate them to take time before responding. Request that they actively listen and wait to respond until you are finished. You want to be able to share fully.
6. Use “I” statements when talking. You are sharing your experience and what is going on with you. Try not to justify or explain or blame.
7. Be an active listener if your partner wants to share something or ask questions. Be accepting of their inquiry as they have only just learned of what you’re sharing. They need time to catch up. However, if they are harshly judging or shaming you, you may end the conversation. You may already have some trauma or wounds related to what you are sharing and you don’t need to be hurt any further.
8. Schedule a time within the next day or so to meet again and talk through anything else that has come up.
9. Keep lines of communication open and ask your partner if there is anything vulnerable that they’d like to share.
10. If the secret has been held for a long time and your partner feels hurt, try to make amends. Ask them what they need from you to ease their pain.
It can be a lonely place to hold onto a secret. Through vulnerability and transparency, we can create more connection in our relationships. Although it may be a frightening place to be while holding onto a secret, if you can gather the courage to be vulnerable and use these suggestions, your relationship might benefit tremendously and will likely lay the groundwork for deeper connection.