- Assuming responsibility for your emotional state and committing to a good start time can help couples navigate difficult conversation topics.
- Couples can also benefit from avoiding assumptions, staying on topic, and writing their feelings down first.
- Taking time away from the news, beginning a new hobby, and scheduling time for intimacy can bring new energy to a relationship.
Do things feel heavy to you right now?
They do for me, too.
With so many difficult problems in the world—including environmental challenges, Afghanistan, politics, COVID-19, and the mental health crisis—it can sometimes feel like you're shouldering these burdens on your own. And even with a supportive spouse, it can be tricky figuring out how to create healthy conversations about these tough topics.
5 Ideas for Discussing Tough Topics with Your Spouse
1. Assume responsibility for your emotional state.
Of course external things—including our partners—can influence our emotional state. But if we can begin every difficult conversation from the assumption that we are ultimately responsible for our feelings, then we are less likely to stay stuck in negativity with feelings like blame and anger.
Give yourself a greater sense of control over your emotional faculties and mental health by getting enough sleep, minimizing alcohol intake, making physical activity (and especially aerobic exercise) a part of your daily routine, and exploring therapy for unpacking unresolved traumas and learning new coping skills.
2. Commit to a good start-up.
It's amazing what can happen to the course of a conversation with your spouse when you are mindful of when and how you choose to start it.
For instance, is it fair to spring a major talk on your spouse right when she walks in the door, or moments after he's stepped out of the shower and is about to relax for a few moments? Probably not.
Likewise, do you think it's helpful to begin a conversation with a negative attack or criticism? Research on couples suggests it's not. This doesn't mean you have to hide your genuine feelings—especially the negative ones. It does mean to:
- Lead with "I" rather than "You" statements
- Be polite
- Look for opportunities to express appreciation and affection
3. Avoid assumptions.
If you're not sure about something your partner is saying, ask. This is where active listening comes into play!
Give your partner time to discuss what is on their mind as you genuinely listen quietly, hearing their words while muting your own inner critic. Ask clarifying questions and when it's your moment to respond, try to summarize what they've said so you both will know if you've been understood. Ensure your partner does their best to give you this same level of respectful, mindful attention when it's your turn to speak.
4. Stay on topic.
When we are fearful, stressed, angry, or sad, it's easy to be reminded of past events or unresolved issues within our marriage that inspire similar feelings. But there's no need to stray from the initial topic and start airing all your grievances within one conversation.
Do your best to help each other stay focused: "Hey, time out. I think we're getting off topic here."
5. Try a "brain dump."
If it's hard to say what you feel, try writing it down first. Write down everything you're feeling—however messy it might be—on paper. Exchange your "brain dumps" with each other and start a vulnerable conversation from there.
5 Ways to Bring Better Energy to Your Marriage Right Now
If you're struggling with the weight of so many pressing global, community, or even family issues, and feel weighed down by the monumental emotions they elicit, the following five ideas may help you and your spouse.
- Turn off the news, put your phone on silent, and go for a walk together. Let nature help you open up and say what's on your mind and heart.
- Find the funniest, goofiest flick you can, pop some popcorn, and laugh together on the couch—no phones allowed.
- Schedule time for physical intimacy. It might seem artificial, but planning ahead adds a fun element of anticipation, and prevents your busy lives from getting in the way.
- Learn or start a new sport or hobby together. Tennis, archery, jigsaw puzzles—find something that gets your brains and bodies moving and use play to get into the present moment together.
- Pair up and do something kind. Donate to a local organization, cook some freezable meals for a neighbor who's been ill, volunteer to walk dogs at your local shelter, or buy someone's coffee. Serving others is a healthy mood booster, especially when you do it with someone you love.