“I want to go back to school, but my wife is worried that we aren’t going to have enough money. I know we can do it, but every time we try to talk about it we end up in a big fight.”
When “something needs to change”, figuring out what to change is a huge and often stressful task. Communicating with your partner about big changes is critical and difficult. Here are a few things I’ve picked up over the years, to help make these conversations go better:
1. Plan ahead. Check when is a good time for the other person to talk.
Make sure it’s not when you’re both exhausted, or will have major time constraints or interruptions. Good luck, if you have small children… if you have childcare options, you may want to consider using them for this time.
2. Consider how strongly you will hold on to your ideas or requests.
Take into consideration how badly you need the exact thing that you are suggesting. Are there any other options you’d be open to? How will you feel in the long-term if you back off on what you are wanting? How fragile is the relationship right now? Is there work to do to strengthen it before suggesting major changes, or are the changes needed to strengthen it?
3. Mentally prepare yourself to be curious instead of defensive.
Consider starting with a brainstorming session in which all ideas are tabled without evaluation during the first discussion. If you’re unsure about what needs to be changed, consider looking at what you want things to look like. The Path process is a fun tool that you might consider using, with each of you doing it for the other, to see where you each want to go. It involves looking at 3-4 goals/ideas/dreams, and mapping out the way there.
4. Pay attention to respectful dialogue practices.
Limit or avoid use of sarcasm, name calling, swearing at each other, interrupting, judging, generalizations, etc. Print the Rules of engagement” and review it together. Be honest about what parts you will try to commit to, and which ones you doubt you’ll be able to follow. Once you start evaluating ideas…
5. …consider a formal process of noting how strongly each of you feel about each item on the list before evaluating it.
For example, you might each note, on a scale 1-10, how strongly you feel about each item. This way you can avoid wasting time on items that aren’t that important to either of you. Check out this Decision making for more evaluation ideas.
6. Decide if you need more info before making any decisions.
Are there options you haven’t considered? Are there people you can talk to, who have experience or knowledge about the changes you are considering?
7. Determine the urgency of the change.
Be clear about the impact you believe not changing will have on yourself or your situation. Consider your own timeline. How soon do you need this to happen? How realistic is the time frame? Are there interim steps or ‘trial periods’ in which to try new things without committing to them?
8. Set a follow up discussion time,
- if a decision cannot be reached, or a re-evaluation time, once a decision is reached.
For more about communicating important things. Check out this fantastic comprehensive guide to all Difficult Conversations – How to Discuss What Matters Most by Douglas Stone, Bruce Patton & Sheila Heen (of the Harvard Negotiation Project)
*Please note: I have signed on as an affiliate sales person for McNally Robinson which means that if you click on the above link, and decide to purchase the book I’ve recommended, I will receive an affiliate’s fee. I only recommend books I have read and believe to be worth recommending.
For further reading about life goals/ values see What’s Worth Digging For? Finding your Values
For more information on communicating important things see How to Start a Good Fight
For follow up reading, after a fight, try “I’m Sorry” 8 Steps to a Good Apology
For more info on life changes see Staying Together, after Kids