How To Start That Difficult Conversation

No doubt you’ve been there – thinking you need to address an issue in a relationship with a spouse, a child, a friend, or a boss. You have been putting it off for as long as you can. Peace is what you really want, but you can’t find it. Your only options are to bury the problem and move on or bring it up for discussion. The first idea seems the easiest, but only in the short run. You know eventually it will surface again, and when it does, it will only make matters worse. You hate to admit it but talking about it is what needs to happen.

The problem? Starting that difficult conversation is not something you look forward to. It will be quite uncomfortable, and you fear it will lead to great tension if not conflict. What can you do? Is there a way to start the conversation that is better than others? The answer is YES! Absolutely!

Here are 5 ideas to consider:

First, what other people feel is very important.

Some people don’t seem to consider what others might feel when bringing up a concern. They just want to get matters out on the table. They either don’t understand the importance of valuing what others feel, or they are simply unaware of the emotional side of life. There are a couple of problems with this: whereas one person may not have a value for feelings, others might be the complete opposite. To love well, we must take others into consideration more than ourselves.

The second problem with this is that the Bible has a high value for the emotional side of life. We were made in God’s image to be like Him in many aspects, one of those being that He feels. We see throughout the Bible that God as Father and Jesus experienced all kinds of emotions: anger (Mark 3:5), compassion (Matthew 9:36), grief (John 11:35), joy (Hebrews 1:9), stress (Luke 22:44), forsaken (Matthew 27:46). If God feels, and made us to feel, it stands to reason that emotions are an important part of who we are and not to be dismissed. This leads to the next consideration about starting that difficult conversation.

Second, HOW you bring something up is critical.

Think of how you would like someone to bring up a difficult topic with you. Would you like them to dump it on you, yell at you with a pointed finger, or talk civilly with you? Would you like them to email or text something to you ahead of time about wanting to talk about a concern or just spring it on you? Whether you are conscious of it or not, you appreciate how people speak to you about their frustrations. Now put yourself in the shoes of the person you are going to speak to. How do you think THEY would like you to begin the conversation? You can be sure it will matter to them just like it does you.

Thirdly, don’t assume you know their response.

You probably have in your mind a picture of how the other will respond. Most of us do. Sometimes it is correct. Other times it is not. Assuming that we know often keeps us from having the conversation in the first place. We might think for instance that we “know” they won’t listen so why bring it up. Assuming we know their response can also put us be on the defensive which all but guarantees the conversation won’t go well. If we give proper thought of how to start the conversation in the first place, it might go quite differently than we fear.

Fourthly, talk about what you felt when an event occurred, NOT how the other person “made you feel!”

The latter is experienced as attacking and will almost surely put the other person on the defensive. It is very easy for someone to come back and argue, “I didn’t cause that. I didn’t make you feel that way.” Far better to say, “here’s what I felt or what happened inside me when ___________ happened.” And then get quiet.

No one can legitimately tell you how a certain event did or did not affect you or make you feel. Starting the conversation this way, and getting quiet after you make your opening statement demonstrates that you are not here to fight but to talk about what happened. It is a huge difference!

Fifthly, at the risk of sounding spiritually cliche, pray.

This is for the person who claims to believe. But what do we pray–for the outcome to go our way? That might be our tendency. Far better to ask God to open all of our eyes to what is true and right in the discussion. No doubt there are things both parties need to see and learn.

When people genuinely pray, it greatly enhances the likelihood of a better outcome. The Bible makes it clear that there is a battle being waged around us and that prayer (Ephesians 6: 18) is one of our primary weapons.

Prayer also has a way of molding us into the best posture for talking: a position of humility (none of us have it all figured out), patience (we are all in process and need grace from each other), and kindness (a way of acting towards others that not only demonstrates that others have value, but models a way of peace).

So the next time you are going to begin a difficult conversation, remember:

  1. What others feel is important.
  2. HOW you bring up a concern is critical.
  3. Don’t assume you know their response.
  4. Talk about what you felt when an event occurred, NOT how the other person “made you feel!”
  5. Pray

What am I missing? I’d love to hear your comments below!

When I Lost My SELF in Marriage

I cringe every time I hear it.

A man or a woman states: “I don’t know who I am anymore. I’ve lost myself.” It is the reason they give for why they left their marriage and family. They have left to find themselves once again.

It’s not that I don’t understand what they are talking about. There are times over the course of 35 years of marriage that I too have wondered “who am I?” What I have a problem with is how they respond to the question and seek to “find themselves” again. To leave a spouse and family is a betrayal of trust to the highest degree. Whereas it may seem to be the only answer, and even feel good at first, the decision leaves devastation in it’s wake as the spouse and children are left behind to drown in a sea of pain, confusion, and loss. In an attempt to fix one problem, the person leaving creates an untold number of other problems.

If you have ever had similar feelings of having lost yourself in your marriage, I urge you to continue reading. There is more to consider and another way…

First, you must remember that loving each other well in marriage requires that you “lose” your self. Countless times you must give up your own desires to fulfill the desire or need of a spouse or child. Each occasion could be described or thought of as a negative experience where you “lose” your self. It could also be described as love. What it is depends on the why. It is love when you voluntarily give up your self for the benefit of another, knowing full well that love costs. It comes with the territory.

Second, the question of how to find oneself again is really the wrong question. Far better to focus on questions such as: who have you become in your marriage–both good and bad? Who are you becoming? And for those who follow Christ, how is He shaping you to become more like Him?

Getting married is like voluntarily placing yourself in a mold alongside your spouse knowing full well, that when the mold is heated up you will both be shaped into something very different! It is impossible for the mold to not change you. It is two becoming one. Each person is shaped into someone they were not before entering the mold. When done right, both become better versions of themselves.

When considering who you have become in your marriage, you must ask how have you handled the molding experience in good ways? Continue in those ways, always seeking how to love well.

Where have you handled the molding experience poorly? In cases where you believe you have given up a part of who you are that you believe to be good, how are you handling that? Have you lost your ability to speak openly and honestly about important matters in the relationship? Has this resulted in you becoming distant, angry, or even bitter? No doubt it is here when you might be most apt to think, “I have lost my self.” And it is here where you might face the temptation to leave.

For the person choosing to leave, there will not only be a path of destruction left in your wake, but another problem looming ahead. The cycle will inevitably start over. After some time of “finding yourself” and enjoying who you are once again, you will likely find another life partner. Life will once again be grand until…the day you experience frustration and disappointment in that relationship. Finding resolve will again elude you, leading to repeat feelings of having lost yourself, and furthering your anger, bitterness and distance. Why? Because you did not learn in the first place how to deal with your frustration and dissatisfaction! You did not face your fear of conflict. You did not discover along with your spouse how to voice your concerns and work through your differences. And you abandoned your life long commitment–that invaluable component of marriage that is meant to hold you together through the difficult times. Commitment is designed to force us to look long and hard to discover what all is needed to thrive for a lifetime.

The greatest question we must each ask ourselves is not how do I regain that which I have lost about me, but how do I become all I am meant to be before God, my spouse, my children, and those around me?

My challenge to you is stand firm on your commitment until you answer that second question. Vow to do whatever it takes. Determine to do the hard work: to gain whatever you need to learn; to think, read, attend conferences, have mentors; to ask those who have proven records in their marriage and family; to pray and keep on praying.

Do whatever it takes.

Questions? Comments? I would love to hear from you in the space below!