Updated: Nov 15
“We need to talk.”
That’s probably the scariest sentence in the English language. But also, in most cases, the truest sentence, for most couples. You’ll never be wrong telling a couple they need to talk.
Last time, in our “When’s the last time we really talked?” post, we talked about the scarcity of meaningful conversation in most relationships and the risks to couples of not making them happen. And we promised we’d show you how.
Here we keep our promise.
Now in the interest of our no-bullshit orientation here, let’s be clear that there’s no knob you can turn that sends meaningful, rewarding talk rushing out. It ain’t that easy. On the other hand, if you do the work, it’ll come as if by magic. But you gotta do the work. What work? Well, not work, exactly. But there are four ingredients:
Time. Most couple talk is on the fly. Or late at night when you’re both tired. Or in the midst of distractions. Well, that’s fine for “Didja call the plumber yet” kinds of conversation. But not if you want to get close or talk about anything you really care about. So by time, I’m talking about when you go for a long walk, or sit by a river, or sit in a coffee shop with a steaming cup of latte, or lie in bed when you’re not tired and have nowhere to go and no one is going to burst in on you. That’s time.
Interest. Here’s a rule for you. Have the conversation you really want to have. Not the one you need to have because of that email you got from your kid’s teacher. Not the one you feel you should have about your partner’s needing to schedule a colonoscopy. But the one you’d liketo have. Take the time to think about what you’ve been dying to talk about. What would be fun. Interesting. Meaningful. Not the same old same old.
Safety. No really good conversation can happen if you don’t both feel safe. Meaning? Meaning no landmines. No threats of blowups. No backing into resentments, regrets, and grievances. No lying and, even more important, no holding back. No slipping in of little attacks—so stay away from “You...” statements. All this will keep things safe.
Patience. Great conversations are like a plane taking off. Except that you don’t know how much runway you’re going to need before you achieve take off. And then, to change metaphors, when you’re in it you might get into a tangle that takes time and forbearance to untangle. But that’s okay. That’s exactly why we talked about needing time! So many great conversations were abandoned before they got off the ground. You don’t want that to happen to you.
But that’s it. Time. Interest. Safety. And patience. It’s kinda like, you just have to...do it.
So do it. You’ll be glad you did.
But, you might well ask, not all meaningful conversations are as easy as this. Sometimes the things we—or I—want to talk about are really tough. For both of us. How can we make that work?
I’ll deal with that next time. But I’ll tell you this now: not all tough conversations have to be horror shows. If you handle them right, they can turn out better than you thought possible.
By the way, our book Why Couples Fight is about conversations too. The ones that go badly when people get stuck trying to get their needs met. And how to have a conversation—using the 1, 2, 3 Method—that results in your getting your needs met and your feeling good about it too.
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Cover art is from an ancient Greek vase, two men, lovers, talking.