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October 7, 2020

How to Have Difficult Conversations in Relationships—without being a Total Sh*t.

 

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*Warning! Naughty language.

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There’s a fine line between setting boundaries with people and being a total shit.

Setting boundaries for me always feels a little uncomfortable. I want to be everything to everyone. I often say yes so I don’t look selfish or like I can’t handle what’s being asked of me. I whole-heartedly admit I take on way more than I can handle.

I’m not alone. Many of us do this, especially women.

We balance a lot. And since COVID-19, now more than ever, we’re being asked to take on and balance even more.

Homeschooling and working virtually. Worrying about our health and safety. Unemployment and uncertainty. Being a good friend when we ourselves are at a personal breaking point from all the isolation and stress.

Have I mentioned the lack of physical touch and intimacy for all those single people out there? A total recipe for crabbiness.

It has taken a toll on me these past few months—more than I’m willing to admit. But my feeling is that I can’t complain since I’m not alone. We are all in the same boat.

So I stuff down the discomfort. I silence my needs. I keep giving because that at least makes me feel good.

Until it doesn’t.

We all want to feel that what we give to others is appreciated and will be reciprocated when we ourselves are in need. And although I believe in giving for the sake of giving, not because I expect something back, I still hope that when my own cup runneth empty, those people I love and trust will be there to fill it back up.

But when a relationship or friendship starts to feel unbalanced, it’s our responsibility to speak up and say something. It’s up to us to be honest with the other person and ask for what we need. We can’t expect people to read our minds.

We also can’t be passive-aggressive in our communication. Posting some pointed meme on social media or making a snarky comment on a group text or in a conversation, which is obviously aimed at us, is not the best way to express ourselves.

People don’t know they’ve done something to offend or hurt us if we aren’t direct with them. But being direct doesn’t mean being careless and mean in what we say.

Our communication needs to come from a place of wanting to make things better between the two of us, rather than aiming to make the other person wrong. Having a conversation with them allows us to express our feelings while also giving the other person the opportunity to understand us better.

By doing this, we can clear up any miscommunication and express what we need moving forward. So how do you do this in a way that’s effective without emotionally annihilating a person?

I’ve found through doing it the wrong way, how to do it right:

1. Don’t have a conversation when you’re emotional. No good conversation happens when we’re being reactive and coming from an emotional or angry place. Take time to cool off, think through what you want to say, and then set up a time to have a conversation with the person.

2. Be specific. Give examples of what the other person did or said that hurt you and how it made you feel. For example, “When you made that comment the other day that you would never allow your kids to have so much screen time, it made me feel like you were attacking my parenting and that didn’t feel good to me.”

3. Take responsibility for how you feel. People don’t make us feel a certain way. We choose to allow people to make us feel a certain way.

Avoid saying things like, “You make me feel unimportant,” or “You always make me feel like shit.” Instead, own how you feel without blaming them: “It may not be your intention, but when you’re constantly late, it makes me feel like you don’t value my time.” You’re acknowledging that they might not be aware of how their actions are affecting you without directly blaming them for your actual feelings.

4. Don’t blow somebody off when they need to talk. Yes, I get you’re pissed off and want to punish them. Or you’re simply too emotionally drained to have that dreaded conversation now. No problem. Take the time you need to process and cool off. But no response at all to someone’s text message or phone call says a bigger “fuck you” than the person actually saying “fuck you” right to our face.

A simple, “Hey, I know you want to talk right now but I need some space for a few days. I’ll reach out when I’m ready to talk,” lets the other person know you’re acknowledging them while taking care of yourself.

5. Be firm without being nasty. Often when we tell someone how we feel and it’s not what they want to hear, they get defensive. Things can escalate and get heated quickly and before you know it, you’re both hurling insults at each other.

Be firm with your boundaries without losing your cool. If the other person starts attacking you, as tempting as it is, don’t counter-attack. Simply say, “You’re crossing my boundaries here and if you can’t hear what I’m trying to say, we should find another time to talk.”

You aren’t somebody’s punching bag. Don’t be afraid to remove yourself from the situation so you don’t become one.

6. Give people the benefit of the doubt. Let me repeat this one: Give people the benefit of the doubt. Honestly, most people, especially the people we love, are not intentionally trying to take advantage of us or hurt us. In fact, most people will probably be shocked to hear how upset you are over something you haven’t been willing to discuss with them (that’s withholding and that’s on you).

All great relationships have to eventually deal with confrontation and uncomfortable conversations. It’s how we build deeper friendships and reach deeper levels of love with each other. Nobody is ever trying to hurt the ones they love.

The same way we’d want a friend or loved one to give us the benefit of the doubt when we’ve done something to hurt them, we need to be willing to do the same. In the end, hopefully, we’ll come out stronger, with a deeper respect and closeness with each other because we were willing to have the hard conversations without being a total shit.

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