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Navigating Difficult Conversations with Your Partner

Dr. Butch Losey

Discussing difficult topics with your partner can be challenging, but it's an important part of maintaining a healthy and strong relationship. Whether it's a disagreement about finances, parenting, or something else, being able to openly and honestly communicate with your spouse is key to resolving conflicts and moving forward together.

One of the most important things to remember when having a difficult conversation with your spouse is to approach the topic with compassion. This means putting yourself in your spouse's shoes, trying to understand where they're coming from, and responding to their concerns with empathy and understanding. It's also important to avoid becoming defensive or angry, as this can escalate the situation and make it even more difficult to have a productive conversation.

Another key aspect of having a difficult conversation with your partner is to passively and actively listen. A good start in difficult conversations is to be passive in listening, meaning that you limit your part of the discussion to focus on trying to understand the message being conveyed. Give your partner your full attention, not interrupting, and trying to understand their perspective. Active listening is then conveying to your your partner that you have heard the message and understand their perspective. This does not me that you state that you "understand" but that you reflect to your partner what they have said about the primary content, and your partner's feelings, perceptions and expectation.

It can be helpful to ask clarifying questions, such as "Can you explain more about what you're feeling?" or "What do you think would be the best way to address this issue?" By actively listening, you can show your partner that you value their thoughts and feelings, and that you're committed to working together to find a solution.

It's also important to be honest and open when discussing difficult topics with your partner. This means being willing to share your own thoughts and feelings, even if they're difficult to express. By being honest, you can create a safe and supportive space where you and your partner can have an open and honest conversation.

Bringing up difficult topics can be a challenge in itself. The "opener" to the conversation, such as "I need to talk to you about something" can be stressing for the sender and the receiver. I would suggest using a soft opener that both of you agree on ahead of time. The soft opener is much more powerful if both of you agree to use it and both of you agree to engage in the discussion once the soft opener is initiated. Here are a few examples:

I would like to talk with you about__________, but first I would like to get your perspective.

I need your help with___________. Can we talk about it soon?

I need your help with just happened. I really want to hear your feelings and also share my perspective.

When bringing up difficult topics with your partner, it's important to approach the conversation in a way that is respectful, open, and honest. Here are some steps to follow when bringing up difficult topics with your partner:

1) Choose the right time and place to have the conversation. Avoid bringing up the topic in a crowded or noisy environment, and try to have the conversation when you and your partner are both calm and in a good state of mind.

2) Start the conversation by explaining why you want to talk about the topic. Let your partner know that you care about them and that you want to address the issue in a way that is fair and respectful.

3) Be honest and direct, but also be gentle and understanding. Avoid attacking or blaming your partner, and instead focus on expressing your own feelings and concerns in a way that is respectful and open. Make sure to also frame concerns in terms of what would be healthy and healing for the relationship.

4) Ask what your partner thinks. Listen actively and attentively to your partner, and try to understand their perspective. Ask questions and clarify any misunderstandings to ensure that you both have a clear understanding of the issue.

5) Work together to express your needs and listen for the needs expressed by your partner. Work together to find a way to meet each other's needs and concerns.

Overall, bringing up difficult topics with your partner requires open communication, honesty, and a willingness to listen and work together to find a solution. By following these steps, you can have difficult conversations with your partner in a way that is respectful and constructive.

Dr. Butch Losey is a couples's therapist, author and speaker on couples therapy topics. He has offices in Cincinnati Ohio, Lexington Kentucky and Scottsdale Arizona. He can also meet with couples virtually in Ohio, Kentucky and Arizona.


Weaver, R. (2022). Managing difficult conversations.

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