7 Tips to Communicate About Difficult Topics


In a relationship, we are bound to have some topics that are difficult to talk about with our partners. Whether it is the possibility of marriage, starting a family, or problems you have with your loved one, starting those conversations can be difficult and we may fear it will lead to conflict. No matter the content of your conversation, following some basic guidelines will ensure your conversation goes as smoothly as possible.

1. Choose the Right Time

Make sure both you and your partner are ready for the conversation. Select a time when you are both rested and can devote all your attention to the topic. Once you make sure your loved one is ready to talk, consider scheduling a time to talk that works for both of you.

2. Start Positively

While it can be tempting to jump straight into talking about problems, others are often more receptive if the conversation begins in a positive way. Thank your significant other for sitting down to talk with you, offer a compliment, and refrain from making any accusations or assigning blame.

3. Take Time to Listen

Be sure to take time to listen to your spouse intently, without interrupting and try to see things from their perspective. Repeat back to your partner what you heard them say in your own words to be sure you received the correct message.

4. Find Common Ground

If you and your loved one cannot agree about a specific topic, find something you can agree on that might be related. For example, you might agree that you want to have a family but you may not agree about how many children you want to have or the timing. Finding the common ground will reduce feelings of opposition and create feelings of agreement.

5. Turn Criticism into Wishes

In conversations that may get heated and lead to conflict, rephrase any criticisms you have into wishes. For example, instead of saying “You never make time for me,” say, “I wish we could do more activities together.” Doing this takes away blame from your spouse and directly tells them what you want. This makes your conversation solution-focused instead of problem-focused.

6. Use Open-ended Questions

Asking open-ended questions, or questions that require more than a single word answer, invites them to be involved in the conversation, provides solutions to problems, and demonstrates your interest in their opinion.

7. Be Direct in Your Intentions

Being direct about your own intentions and what you hope to accomplish in the conversation can help focus the discussion and keep you on the same page. For example, do you want to reach a compromise? Do you just want to express your emotions for a couple minutes? Or do you just want to hear what your partner has to say?

Although difficult conversations can be challenging, following these tips can help you focus on problem-solving while also protecting your relationship from further unnecessary conflict.   


Benson, K. (2018). Transforming Criticism into Wishes: A Recipe for Successful Conflict. [Web log post]. Retrieved from https://www.gottman.com/blog/transforming-criticism-into-wishes-a-recipe-for-successful-conflict/

Gottman, J. M. & Silver, N. (2007). The Seven Principles for Making Marriage Work. Orion House, London, England: Orion House.

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