When you need to have a serious talk with your spouse, it can be difficult to find the right time, the right place, and the right way to say it. Blurting out “I don’t want your mother to stay with us for a month after the baby is born,” right before you head off to work isn’t likely to be helpful. Instead, it’s important to carefully think about what you want to say, how you want to say it, and when you’ll bring up the subject.
Whether you want to tell your spouse you want to quit your job, that you aren’t happy with a certain aspect of the marriage, or that you’ve changed your mind about wanting another child, it’s important that you effectively communicate your message. When discussing hot topics and serious issues there are strategies you can use that will invite your spouse to actively participate in the discussion rather than become defensive or quickly end the discussion.
Steps to Tackling Serious Topics
When there’s something weighing on you and you want to bring it up to your spouse, there are steps you can take to make your communication more effective.
1. Find the right time to bring up the issue. For example, telling your spouse the minute he walks through the door that you have decided to quit your job so you can go back to school isn’t likely to be helpful if he’s tired and stressed already. Instead, find a time when both of you are likely to be calm and when you’ll have some real time to devote to the issue.
Some couples may need to schedule a time to talk. If you have three children who tend to fall asleep the same the same time as your spouse, you may not have much availability to talk about a serious issue privately. Or couples who work different shifts may only have a few minutes per day to communicate. Talk to your spouse about how to set aside time to talk when you’ll be free from distractions such as ringing cell phones, crying babies, and a blaring TV and when you’ll have plenty of time to talk.
2. Discuss the purpose of your conversation first. Enter into the conversation with an open-mind. Instead of saying, “I am quitting my job tomorrow,” enter into the conversation looking to work together on what to do about the fact that you dislike your job.
Frame the problem as “what are we going to do about this?” instead of, “I had a problem and this is what I’m going to do about it.” Be willing to listen to your spouse’s ideas and suggestions and remember to take your spouse’s opinions into consideration.
3. Be aware of how you word the issue. Avoid placing blame or accusing your spouse. Instead use “I” statements to identify the problem in a neutral tone. Instead of saying, “You don’t do anything to help around the house,” say, “I am frustrated that the house is messy and I’m not able to keep it clean on my own.” You could also say something such as, “The house isn’t as clean as I would like it to be lately.”
4. Invite your partner to share his opinions. Ask questions such as “What do you think,” or “What are some ways we can work on this?” Remember that there is more than one right way to do things and it is important to hear what your spouse has to say about a problem.
5. Brainstorm solutions together. Remember, there’s no such thing as a bad idea when you are brainstorming. Be open to your spouse’s ideas and suggestions. Sometimes there are creative solutions to solve problems. The more possible solutions you can come up with, the more options you’ll have in resolving the problem.
6. Have a plan for what to do if things get heated. If you are touching on a hot topic that may lead to a disagreement, be aware of when you are getting angry. If voices get raised or you start repeating yourselves, the discussion isn’t likely to be effective. Take a time-out and agree to re-visit the discussion again when you both feel calmer.
Seek Help If Necessary
If there’s a serious topic and you don’t know how to bring it up to your spouse, consider getting some professional help. Talk to a counselor about how to communicate with your spouse and to find ways to resolve the problem together. Avoid telling other friends or family members about issues and problems if you haven’t talked to your spouse about it first.