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Having difficult conversations with your partner

4-minute read

Relationships can be challenging. Sometimes you and your partner might not see eye-to-eye. If you need to have a difficult conversation, you might not know where to start or what to say. Here are some useful ideas on how to talk with your partner and where to go for support and information.

Devote time and be patient

If you need to have a difficult conversation with your partner, make sure you put time aside to chat. Pick a good time to talk – when you know you’ll both be calm and can spend time thinking things through. If you have kids, it can be good to make sure they’re not around. It will be easier to talk without distractions.

Be prepared to be patient, as the talk might take a while. Be honest about how you feel. Listen to what your partner says, and think about it. Accepting your partner’s differences can help you be more patient and understanding. And remember – there’s a chance you might be wrong.

Focus on the problem

It’s important to let your partner know how you feel, but keep focused on the main problem you want to talk about. Focus on how you would like things to be; not on what you feel your partner has done wrong. Using ‘I’ statements, such as ‘I feel upset when…’, can be easier for your partner than hearing criticism and ‘put downs’.

If you can be flexible to your partner's needs, they are more likely to be flexible with you. Working out what is the most important and least important thing to you can help you negotiate. If things are heating up too much, ask for a time-out. Come back to the issue when you’re both feeling calmer.

Respect your differences

You and your partner are bound to have different views on some things. Your upbringing will play a part in how you feel and your ideas about how relationships work and how to raise children. You and your partner may have very different parenting styles. It’s okay to disagree and it can help to aim for decisions that will work for both of you.

Becoming a parent can sometimes make you feel as though you're losing your identity and sense of self. Taking time for yourself and your partner is important for your relationship and for your health.

What Were We Thinking has online worksheets that help you see the different beliefs you and your partner might have, and how these could influence your relationship.

Be an active listener

Active listening is about really hearing and understanding what the other person is trying to say. Repeating back to your partner what they have said shows you’ve heard them. It’s easy to focus on what you want to say next and not listen closely to the other person. If you’re worried you’ll forget what you want to say, it can help to write it down for later.

If you have kids, it’s good for them to see their parents managing conflicts well, and learning to negotiate and solve problems. But children often overhear parents fighting, and this can negatively affect their health and happiness. Keep your children well away from any conflict, and remember that children should never have to take sides.

Once you’ve made an agreement, write it down and try to stick with it. It can help to agree to a trial period and then review it again.

Know your support

Support from friends and family, such as grandparents, can help you work through issues. It can also help to refer to information about having difficult conversations with your in-laws or child's grandparents.

Other services that can help you are:

Talking about problems like this can also bring up issues from your own childhood or past trauma. Talk to your doctor, or contact Lifeline or Beyond Blue for more support.

Learn more here about the development and quality assurance of healthdirect content.

Last reviewed: May 2020

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