“You know, it really bothers me when he doesn’t contribute to the conversation.”
My friend speaks to me over coffee. She continues, “I know it, because he’s just sitting in his judgment.”
“Why don’t you just ask him?” I look at her and wait.
“Because I know what he will say. He will say he has nothing to add to the conversation. Nothing he wants or needs to contribute.”
“Well, maybe he doesn’t…but why not just ask?”
We continue in circles. Her predicting what her partner would say and why, ultimately arriving at the conclusion, “It is what it is.”
My other friend and I go for drinks on a Friday night. “Ugh,” she complains as we get ready, “I don’t know what to tell him. I know he’s just going to get mad. But I’m doing nothing wrong!”
“Why don’t you just ask him what bothers him and doesn’t, specifically?”
“Because,” she continues, “I know how he’ll react and I just don’t want to deal with it.”
Note: I am in no way judging my friends. They, in so many ways, are both my role models. I am not in a serious romantic partnership. I get an unattached view of those close to me who are in a relationship.
Fast forward to these relationship dynamics that I’ve observed: explosive, volatile, screaming matches, and crying. I look at my past, and that is exactly what I see: controlled passivity, primed for wild emotional outbursts.
Our families modeled passive conflicts, keeping the sh*t right underneath the surface, until finally, it all came out ugly and hurtful and defensive and combative.
Our brains and bodies learn from this type of trauma: keep your side of the street clean, modify your behavior to keep the “calm,” think your thoughts silently, vent it out over wine with your girlfriends.
Keeping relationship dynamics “under control” creates relationships that exist in fragile places—houses where fear breathes, homes where lies live, and beds where inauthenticity thrives.
It’s not an easy process, starting the hard conversation. It’s scary, it’s unpredictable, and it leaves us vulnerable to hurt or rejection. Yikes.
But, guys, being radically honest can set us free. Because, when we know—when we really know, not only guess, because our partner is able to tell us how they feel and what they need—we can stop the miserable and terrifying “what if” game.
What if they don’t love me anymore? What if it starts another fight? What if he’s unwilling to meet that boundary? What if she doesn’t understand? What if I’m selfish for asking? What if I break her heart with this truth?
These are just a few of the many questions that might race through our minds before sitting down for a hard conversation.
These questions are coming from our old friend: fear. Fear wants to keep us comfortably uncomfortable in the middle of a relationship. But we’ve got a life to thrive in, so as always, fear will need to take a backseat if we seek growth.
In my experience, there is a timing to this, there is a tone to this, there is an intention to this, and there is a strength to this.
First, ask them when is a good time to talk, but give them a timeline. Then ground and anchor yourself in peace before the conversation—meditate, walk, talk to your therapist, sing, or dance. Find a sober grounding practice to take yourself into the moment as connected and loving as you can be.
You’ll feel nervous. Keep moving. Don’t write out a script—this conversation should flow—but do have an intention: peace, love, clarity, perspective, connection—you choose.
And finally, stay in your power, come from love (but stay in your power), honor your boundaries, and pay close attention to how you feel during this conversation. It’s okay to be triggered; it’s not okay to be attacked, threatened, or abused.
Be willing and ready to walk away when the conversation moves from challenging to aggressive. There is a difference and our bodies know it.
Don’t let yourself off the hook. Open your heart to hear the other one’s perspective. Be willing to take accountability for your actions. Surrender your ego to see and listen to the other person.
Even if you don’t agree, respect their point of view. The goal here is understanding.
If you feel convicted, don’t lay your body at their feet, but do say you’re sorry—sincerely. Let it come from the heart. Set the tone. Take accountability.
Nobody teaches us what to say in these situations. But it’s never too late to learn. When we have radically honest conversations with our dearest people, there is room for more love. And that’s what we’re after here, isn’t it? More love. Always, more love.
Author: Courtney McNabb
Image: Christian Lauer/Flickr
Editor: Sara Kärpänen
Copy editor: Nicole Cameron
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