You’re probably familiar with the anxiety that comes when you and your partner need to have a deep, serious conversation. Whether it’s about something they did that bothered you, or a touchy subject they don’t love talking about, you have the right to communicate your feelings. But ripping off the Band-Aid and bringing up your concerns is no easy feat, which is why taking steps to build confidence before a big talk with your partner can be so helpful in making it go smoothly.
It’s perfectly normal to worry about conversations snowballing into arguments. And when the talk you need to have is one you’ve had several times, it’s easy to feel like your relationship is on the rocks. We get nervous because we know the issue is a perpetual problem in the relationship. It means it’s a result of differences between two people, which is unlikely to get resolved or go away. The fear of offending your partner with your point of view might also be making you nervous to have this conversation, even though that is probably not your intention.
Ultimately, you don’t have to sacrifice your peace of mind in order to express your feelings. Here are some methods that can help up your confidence before a big talk with your partner.
Prepare Ahead Of Time
Grab a piece of paper or open up your Notes app and jot down a few talking points. This will help you gather your thoughts and feelings. Breathing can also help you relax. Practice deep belly breathing just before you talk to help regulate your nervous system and keep you out of the fight / flight / freeze response.
Take Care Of Yourself
Before launching into the conversation, make sure you’re in a positive headspace. Self-care when you’re fighting with your partner (or while going through a rough patch) is often a second thought. Make sure your basic needs have been addressed before you talk. Being too tired or hungry can negatively impact the conversation.
Make sure your arguments are healthy and productive, not toxic. I recommend looking to Dr. John Gottman’s “Four Horsemen” of fighting as a roadmap of what not to do: Criticism, defensiveness, contempt, and stonewalling. Avoid using the Four Horsemen and instead, implement their antidotes.
Criticize constructively. Don’t just play the blame game when having difficult relationship conversations and remember to take responsibility for your own hand in conflicts. Give your partner the benefit of the doubt. And instead of “stonewalling” or shutting down during arguments, make sure you and your partner are listening to each other.
Affirmations Can Help
Another helpful practice is to recite some affirmations before your talk. Some phrases you can say to yourself ahead of time include:
I have the right to express my feelings and needs.
I am capable of having difficult conversations.
I can ask for a break whenever I need it.
Even afterward — and especially if the chat didn’t go as smoothly as you hoped — you can repeat the following mantras:
It’s OK to have a different perspective than my partner.
Conflict is a normal part of healthy relationships.
It’s better that we talk about things than build up resentment.
Some of my partner’s reactions may not be about me.
Know That You Can Take Breaks
Seriously. If the situation becomes too much to handle, there is nothing wrong with hitting pause and returning to it later. I recommend saying something along the lines of, “I’m feeling overwhelmed. Can we take a break?” or, “I need to take some time to give this more thought. Can we circle back to this in about 20 minutes?”
Championing the betterment of your relationship and advocating for your well-being are valuable endeavors, so no matter how uncomfortable it might be, talking to your partner about what’s on your mind is important. Use the above tactics to help you through your nerves, and once you finally make it through the talk, reflect on your experience as a stepping stone to growth.