If you have a life partner, it’s likely that the two of you have a couple of slightly awkward topics that you tend to tiptoe around. We get it; it can definitely be easier to sweep things under the carpet, rather than engaging in tough conversations. But deep down, we all know that avoidance of these conversations can ultimately hurt our relationship and result in a negative snowball effect of unexpressed resentment and hidden hurts.
Well, it’s time to bite the bullet and grow your relationships! According to licensed psychotherapist, Shirin Peykar, “having the opportunity to talk about these touchy areas creates closeness and allows for conflicts to be addressed and acknowledged. Authenticity breeds closeness, even if there is a disagreement.”
We share some tough (but necessary) conversations you should be having with your partner today, as well as tips on how to navigate these tricky topics:
“You bought what?” If you’ve heard yourself or had your partner exclaim this way too often, it’s probably a sign to begin seriously discussing money matters. Couples that argue about finances once a week are 30% more likely to get a divorce; so having honest conversations about financial planning, spending, and saving is a good step to steer your relationship away from Splitsville.
Tip: Spending habits are likely to differ, but you don’t have to match your partner’s buying patterns to make things work. You could consider having both a joint and personal account, and decide the purposes of each account and what it covers together as a couple.
Work together to create a budget that takes into account both your needs and wants, and set mutual financial goals for the future. You can also try to assign specific responsibilities for managing different financial areas, and schedule regular check-ins to review your progress.
In an ideal world, partners would agree to the exact number of children they want, or have worked out a solution before marriage. Whether you dream of a house filled with (more) kids, or if you’re content with your current situation, it’s important to convey your wishes and concerns to your partner. What sort of contraception are you comfortable with? How are your finances going to come into play with an extra little human to support?
Tip: If you and your partner disagree on the number of children you would like to have, try first to work at understanding each other’s reasons for wanting the number of children that you do. According to licensed marriage and family therapist, Wendy Hill, there’s often also an underlying fear beneath completely valid reasons, such as “feeling too old”.
With deeper probing, different reasons may start to emerge, such as feeling like an inadequate parent to the children you already have. On the other hand, parents who want more kids can ask themselves: “What is it that I may need that I’m not getting fulfilled with right now?”. Hill says the feeling of being unloved is a common pattern that may occur for parents who are dealing with kids growing up and gaining independence, but “you should never use a kid to meet your own needs”, and that “it’s worth exploring if there are other ways of getting the need met.”
3. Household Chores
If your partner left the dirty dishes in the sink overnight again and you’re fuming mad, you’re not alone! Research has shown that one of the top stressors in many relationships is the unequal distribution of housework. It’s not so much that things have to be divided right down the middle, it’s what each partner feels about the division of duties and whether their expectations are met. Having your partner know what you expect and reaching a mutually acceptable distribution of chores will work wonders in reducing stress and frustration levels around the home.
Tip: For those who aim for the classic “divide and conquer” strategy, you could try occasionally swapping chores once in a while. By sharing chores that you don’t usually share, each partner can get a reminder of the annoyances that the other encounters regularly, which hopefully, leads to a better sense of appreciation. “There might be something about really understanding all the work in the home …that makes people appreciate (their partner) and what they’re doing more deeply. If you’re the partner that never cleans the bathroom, you might not realise how much energy it takes,” shares sociologist Melissa Milkie.
4. Emotional Needs
We all need our own emotional cup filled; which becomes even more evident as drained caregivers to little ones! Being unique individuals, we also value different sets of emotional needs to varying degrees. Have a talk with your partner about how they can support your needs. The key word here is support, as we can’t (and shouldn’t) expect our partners to be solely responsible for our emotional wellbeing. Rely on your partner for emotional support, and reach out to other loved ones as well. Most importantly, take responsibility for your own emotional fulfilment.
Tip: We all have our own preferred love languages, and often express love in the same or similar way. For example, you could be the sort of person who feels love when spending quality time together with your partner; as a result, you always make the effort to plan date nights. Your partner, on the other hand (whose strongest love language may be ‘words of affirmation’) may not value date nights as much, and as such, might be seeking more assuring words from you instead.
Try taking this love language quiz together, to help you and your partner understand more about your respective love languages, and how best to meet the needs of your partner.
Ah, the Sex Talk. Likely to be the most awkward on the list here (pretty ironic that we may feel more vulnerable talking about sex than engaging in the deed itself)! Having honest conversations with your partner can lead to big wins, including of course, a better and more fulfilling sex life. Another perk is that opening up in such a raw way can help to build trust in your relationship. If you can be open and honest about sex, you’ll find it easier to discuss other sensitive topics in the future too.
Worried that talking about sex might be a mood spoiler? On the contrary. Psychologist and sex and dating coach Myisha Battle shares that while “our culture tells us that talking about sex ruins the organic or spontaneous nature of sexual desire,” this has been shown not to be the case, based on her experience with her clients. In fact, prioritising conversations about sex indicates a willingness to be vulnerable, which fosters a greater sense of intimacy and communication – key factors when it comes to good sex.
Tip: If you tend to take sexual rejection personally, remember that a large part of what turns your partner on or off isn’t about you. Your partner’s sex drive can be affected by stress, anxiety, tiredness, physical conditions and a whole myriad of other factors.
On the other hand, if you struggle sometimes with saying “I’m not in a mood” in a way that doesn’t feel hurtful, you could try developing a ritual with your partner for gentle refusal. Noted sex therapist Lonnie Barbach suggests using a scale where refusal doesn’t come across as personal, with a numbers system from 1 to 9, indicating arousal levels ranging from “It’s a no from me” (at 1) to “Hmmm, I’m listening” (at 5), right through to a “Let’s do it!” (at 9)!
Where to Start
If you’re not sure on how to begin these necessary conversations, here are some tips that might help:
- Schedule discussions: This gives time for you and your partner to mentally prepare and get into conversations with the right framework.
- End with the good news: We often try to cushion bad news by prefacing it with good; for example, “I liked that new coffee table you just bought, but…” – ultimately leaving the listener with an unhappy conclusion. Try swapping out the usual “good news, then bad news” tactic to avoid that anxiety-provoking, anticipatory “but…”. Leave your partner with a positive bottom line instead, such as: “I think that new coffee table is a little bright in colour, but on the whole, it does bring a nice pop of freshness to our living room.”
- Stay present and repeat: Try repeating your partner’s words back to them. This lets them know that you understand their point of view, and that their thoughts matter. For example, “I understand that you are tired and would like to relax once you come home after a long day at work.”
- Highlight common goals: Focus on the fact that you and your partner are on the same team. Voice it out, too. For example, “We both want the best for our kids, I’m sure we can work this out.”
- Don’t exaggerate: Try to avoid words such as “should” and “never”. For example, if you say “You never listen”, your partner is likely to defend his or herself by proceeding to tell you about a specific date or occasion to counter your claim. The conversation may likely lead to a debate about frequency, rather than addressing the issue at hand.
These conversations might be slow-starting to begin with, but trust us when we say that in the end, they’ll be worth it. Here’s to the start of opening up, tackling the tough issues in life and improved communication with our partners, #makchicmumsquad – Happy Valentine’s Day!