Something about the spring (or maybe the pandemic?) seems to give people the push they need to get their relationships in order. About a month ago, I began hearing a theme in my sessions both with couples and individuals: How can I talk with my partner about the things that scare me the most? How can I get them to see and hear me?

You may have noticed that, during the quarantine, you’ve felt a little…regressive. Everything your partner is doing is making you irritable or weepy, you’re either extra tired or extra energized, or you’re acting slightly sillier than usual. Don’t worry-- you’re not losing it. For lots of us (read: most of us), times of chaos and confusion can elicit childlike responses that helped us cope during our younger years. Afterall, think of the last time your physical and emotional safety existed entirely in the hands of someone or something outside of yourself? You got it- childhood.

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The “Pre-Talk”​: How to confidently address scary topics in your relationship​

Let's explore the theoretical “talk.” You’re starting to brainstorm what that conversation you’ve been thinking about having for months will actually look like. All of a sudden, your stomach turns, your throat becomes tight, and your breathing quickens. Ah yes, you know that these physical responses are your body’s way of showing you that you’re anxious. The familiar feeling washes over, and now you’re feeling a ton of pressure.

 

We’ve all been here! But while it can cause a ton of anxiety, having a “talk” is typically begun with a positive intention or goal in mind: Should we have another baby? Should we work through previous infidelity? Should we find a therapist? The goal is to move forward through this conversation with clear communication and results. So, I’ve set up a three part series to help you and your partner effectively communicate about the topics that are most difficult for you.

 

 

The Pre-Talk: Come to the table prepared

 

Preparing yourself can help alleviate anxiety for both you and your partner. When I say the word “prepared,” my mind goes in three directons: organize with content, feeling awareness, and expected result.

 

Prepare and organize with content

 

First and foremost, it is so important to organize your thoughts! It may take a while to get here, so be patient with yourself. Maybe you and your partner have been dancing around this conversation for a few weeks or months, or maybe you’ve tried to tap into a resolution but have just come up with something that feels like a whole lot of nothing.

 

To start shifting this dance towards mobilization and productivity, organize what you want to say cohesively prior to the actual conversation. Think about how articles, blogs, and even morning talk shows are organized-- usually there is an overarching topic, with about three main bullet points that are important to explore. Use this! It will allow you to be really clear about what you need addressed and how you and your partner can address it together. Using this format in your conversation lets your partner pick up what you’re putting down without much room for interpretation or misunderstandings.

 

For example, if the conversation you are looking for is the discussion of having another baby, this would be the generalized topic. From here, you can organize your thoughts into an explanation of why this idea excites you, why you think now is the best time, and your awareness of how this will impact your lives moving forward (Check out this article for some ways to break down your topic).

 

Prepare and organize with feeling awareness

 

A great next step is to start becoming aware of what about the conversation feels so big, and why you haven’t had it already. There are tons of things that can get in the way of an uncomfortable topic, but the most prominent are definitely anxiety, avoidance, and simple logistics. Try to be honest with yourself and pinpoint what has been so difficult for you. If it is anxiety or avoidance, take the time for yourself to explore that a little deeper, and to gain an understanding of what it is that you are anxious about and/or avoiding.

 

The reason this is beneficial is twofold. First, through understanding what it is you are afraid of, you can also gain a better understanding of what is most important to you. This will help you get to know your priorities, which will help both you and your partner know how to proceed. After all, if you don’t know what is important to you, how can your partner?

 

The second reason is to be aware of your triggers! This is crucial. The last thing you want is for your partner to accidentally step on a hot button issue, for you to react, and for the conversation to go back into the untouchable file cabinet titled “do not address.”

 

Prepare and organize with expected results

 

The goal of exploring expected responses is not to create an exhaustive list of every scenario, but instead to prepare you for the array of emotions you could experience and how to handle them in the moment.

 

Let’s stick with the topic of having a second baby, as this is what comes up so often for me in my sessions with high power couples. The options are not just “yes” and “no.” The options are “yes because…” “no because…” “maybe because…” “maybe in a few years because…” etc. Understanding what is happening for you emotionally in these scenarios can help you create a toolbox of ways to manage your responses. The goal is to get to the meat of the situation, and to do this, you must manage your responses so you can hear your partner’s (This article focuses on ways to both listen and be heard).

 

 

In conclusion

 

Coming to the table prepared will allow some alleviation of anxiety for both you and your partner. Instead of feeling like you are going to explode with anxious energy and quick speech, reel it back and organize your priorities, identify your fears, and come up with tools to cope. After all, the goal is to be heard and to mobilize towards a productive outcome (Take a look at this article for an in-depth understanding of who gets heard and why). The hope is that this will mitigate pre-conversation anxiety and avoidance. Our next post about “the talk” will be centered on how to manage mid-conversation emotion, and what to do if things are escalating or not going according to plan (as is life, right?).​

 

 

Mollie Eliasof, LCSW

 

 

 

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