How to Have Difficult Conversations in Relationships

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difficult conversations

Therapist Rhoda Sommer shares excellent tips on how to have difficult conversations, especially when you’re in a relationship. 

My radio guest, Rhoda Sommer, has been a psychotherapist for over 40 years. She teaches couples work to therapists at the University of Pittsburgh. She’s blogged for seven years at Relationship Realities, and hosts a podcast, What Healthy Couples Know That You Don’t.

Rhoda spoke with me about how to have difficult conversations in relationships on Last First Date Radio. Check out highlights of the show below. 

How to Have Difficult Conversations in Relationships

Why do couples avoid tough conversations?

It’s a cultural epidemic to avoid and deflect. That’s why people ghost and text ‘I love you’ instead of saying it in person. The first thing people need to do is to stop pretending that things are okay when they’re not.

We lie to ourselves about many things in relationships, including sex. “We’re not having sex in our marriage, but it’s okay.” Rationalizing things begins to erode trust in a relationship.

Being able to be authentic is not valued enough in our culture. It’s an ordinary thing to respond and tell the truth with authenticity. You can do it in a kind way. 

Being able to have the courage to face uncertainty is part of being a grownup. If you’re afraid to speak up, you can simply say, “I don’t know where the conversation will go, but I want to have this conversation with you.”

What are your tips about how to talk about the hard things in relationships? 

1. Be able to value long-term thinking instead of short-term thinking. Short-term thinking is, “I think I’m going to bail. This is really hard.” Long-term thinking is, “I want a long term relationship with this person, and I want to build more trust. Therefore, I need to have the courage to have this tough conversation.” Don’t let fear get in the way of having difficult conversations.

2. Learn to soothe yourself. It’s your job, nobody else’s, to calm yourself down. Close your eyes. Breathe in and out through your nose. Focus on the cool air going on and the warm air going out. That stops your brain from being anxious. Then ask a question in a genuine way if you’re seeking an authentic answer.

3. Be able to say, “This is hard for me.” If you have a specific fear, like you’re going to say something that might turn off your partner, state your fear and then ask for what you want. 

4. Have the courage to face uncertainty. I recommend Embracing Uncertainty, by Susan Jeffers. She teaches you how to think so you cope with uncertainty better in your life. Fear will destroy your ability to think. Fear makes uncertainty extraordinary instead of ordinary. 

The more you practice these conversations, asking the harder more direct questions, the better off you’re going to be; for yourself, your partner, and most of all, for the relationship.

Listen to the episode here:

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