How to Have That Difficult Conversation

Are you avoiding a difficult conversation? Maybe you are afraid of an explosive reaction, or of being minimized or turned down. It is normal to have disagreements and hurt feelings in close relationships. Even the strongest relationships must address painful issues. Difficult subject matter like hurt feelings, broken promises, or dishonest dealings have the potential to ruin a relationship. But skillful communication can help a couple face the difficulty together.


Today, I want to give you a little gift of communication. I want you to have the SECRET WEAPON to trans-formative conflict resolution so that all your relationships, whether at home, work or school, benefit.

When you have to set a boundary, challenge a behavior, or get more information in the relationship, you may stress about how to do it with the least amount of discomfort to both parties. If you are in a strong and mutually respectful relationship, this tips and skills may be hard, but doable with practice.

  • The truth hurts. The honest truth, when presented with love and respect should hurt, but never harm. Like a flue shot that stings and leaves your arm sore for a day. The shot hurts, but is protecting you from something much more painful and giving you a gift of immunity.
  • Wait until you’re ready. Especially if you think the conversation could turn volatile. Take some time to think, journal, pray and research your topic. Pay attention to how you feel, and what you need.
  • Find a Good Place and Time. Think about the venue that would make you most comfortable and provide you the most support. Maybe you want to have it over coffee in a public café. Maybe you want to have it with a third party present, or in a private office away from others. Maybe you want to have it when the kids are at grandma’s house. The place and time doesn’t have to be perfect, it just has to be good enough.
  • Think about your own contribution. It’s good to take a look at your role in the situation and see how you contributed to the break down in communication or unhealthy dynamic. Be able to verbalize that in a way that honors both of you.

When you are ready to have your difficult conversation, the following formula is the gold standard.

When you say/do A___, I feel B___. I want you to do C instead.

For example, Jessica wants to tell Byron how hard it is for her to listen to him yell at the kids.

Example: Jessica can say, “Byron, I want to tell you that I’m sorry for not being as proactive as I could be with the kids. Sometimes I let them run too wild for too long, and then they get really crazy in the house. That’s my part, and I am working on being more proactive. I also have something I want to talk to you about. I feel frightened for the kids when you yell at them the way you do. I am scared that you are hurting their hearts with what you say. I am scared that your anger is doing real harm to them. I want you to talk to someone about your anger.”

couple in storm

In a strong relationship, Byron would respond, “Thanks for recognizing your responsibility and not laying into me. I am frustrated when I come home and the kids are acting like circus clowns. But I don’t have to yell at them the way I do. I actually feel really bad when I lose my temper with them. I see the way they look when I yell, and I don’t want to hurt them. Would you go to a parenting class with me, so we can get on the same page with the kids?”

This interaction may seem impossible in your situation. Maybe you can see your difficult conversation explode in your face. Maybe you feel like too many past hurtful words have put a wedge between you and your partner. However, if both parties are amenable to personal change and growth, thoughtful communication is a great first step toward healing.


What if it doesn’t work?

These tips are designed to help couples avoid the pitfalls of defensiveness, sarcasm, and shifting blame during their difficult conversations. So, if after trying these tips and skills you find yourself wounded because the conversation turned hostile, you may need additional help. Relationships with a power imbalance or untreated anger or anxiety take a lot more intervention than “good communication” can do by itself. In fact, even the most expert communication cannot heal the wound of relationship abuse, or emotional sickness. Toxicity in relationships must be addressed with skilled therapeutic intervention.

2 responses to “How to Have That Difficult Conversation”

  1. okello jimmy says:

    I think this is practical and achievable. Time,venue and tone should be considered thou

  2. tf says:

    Thank you Michelle. I’ve shared this message with countless people to help them navigate difficult conversations.

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My “Relationship Savvy” blog gives you tips, advice, and flippin’ fantastic feel-goods to help with your most difficult relationship challenges.

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