THE BIG CONVERSATION CHECKLIST
We pride ourselves in being good at relationships, generally.
After all, most of our days are spent in relationships with colleagues, collaborators, friends and family.
We find our way through the ups and the downs, fluent in which ways to temper our language and tone for each audience. And yet, when it comes to having a ‘deep and meaningful’ conversation about ‘that’ issue (whatever that is for you) we can be incredibly nervous about it.
For some reason, when the emotional stakes are higher, we fumble over the words and stumble over the non-verbal cues. We get so caught up in our agenda of what we need to say that we are fine when we do a practice monologue but fall apart once it becomes a dialogue.
So here are some things to consider before you launch into that next big discussion about things you feel you need to air with your partner.
“Funny how we take it for granted that we know all there is to know about another person, just because we see them frequently or because of some strong emotional tie.”
― Robert Bloch
How much do their words weigh?
There are people who express everything that passes through each brain synapse. They use words to pass through every experience and emotion. And there are others who will only put voice behind thought after time and consideration.
In my humble opinion, somewhere betwixt and between these two tactics is ideal. But for communication to be effective, it’s useful to know where your partner fits. Praise may come easy or hard. There may be things said loudly that will be irrelevant two minutes later, or there may be something said meekly that you really ought to hear as important. Ideally, you know which is which, or you ask them to tell you.
Then, when it comes to the big conversation, understand that if they say everything without a filter, it won’t be useful to suddenly become the most pedantic person on Earth and pick over every little detail. If they say very little, give them room to find the words to express themselves better. The more they get to practice, the better.
How present are they?
There are a million and one different ways to check out these days. Each person has their preference and most will be habitual, if not an addictive, cyclical pattern within their day-to-day.
Chances are, you have them too. But what is important is if they can and will be dropped when the chips are down. When things get tough, how much is your partner willing or able to be present to show up for you and you for them? And do you know how to ask for it?
For big conversations, it’s better to directly ask for them to be present. If they say that they can’t be right at the precise moment you have worked up the courage, then reschedule. Just because you are ready doesn’t mean they will be. If it’s an important issue, you both need to be 100% in the room and the conversation.
How they grow
As humans, we naturally evolve and change as the seasons pass us by. So to expect a relationship to be some static, stable entity always is doing you both a disservice. What you need to know is that you both want to grow in the same direction to maintain the beautiful symmetry that brought you together in the first place.
Don’t assume, however, that you grow in the same way as your partner. Everyone welcomes and assimilates changes and shifts uniquely and it’s important you recognise that before you launch into how things need to be different.
“Love is giving up control. It’s surrendering the desire to control the other person. The two—love and controlling power over the other person—are mutually exclusive. If we are serious about loving someone, we have to surrender all the desires within us to manipulate the relationship.”
― Rob Bell
How they handle problems
You’ll have seen from your day-to-day interactions how your partner handles problems. Do they zero in on every single little detail, do they extrapolate out the issue into a hypothetical future and get hung up on ‘consequences’ that haven’t even happened yet, or do they tend to pull in every other little niggling issue that surrounds this one?
Have you ever had a conversation turn into an argument and then not even know what you were arguing about? Knowing how they handle problems will help you in making sure that doesn’t happen this time.
If you are initiating the conversation, then you are going to have to be the one that keeps the focus on just that one topic and its solutions. Keep a look out for unhelpful tactics such as focusing on one tiny aspect of the issue, or being pulled into a conversation about anything and everything. It’s a challenge, especially if the conversation gets critical, but it is worth it.
What’s love got to do with it?
This is a biggie and could honestly be a series of books unto itself, but it still needs raising —even on a simplistic level. Make sure you know what ‘love’ and ‘respect’ looks like to the other person.
To some people it means working as a team, for others it’s an unconditional acceptance of who they are. Even within these two options, there is a vast landscape for misunderstanding and a lack of meeting each other’s needs.
Be sure what the other person thinks being in a relationship means or work it out together! Then, when that big conversation begins, make sure that your definitions of love are upheld as much as possible. After all, if you didn’t love each other, you wouldn’t need to have such a big conversation to work through it all in the first place.
“I think of how each person in a marriage owes it to the other to find individual happiness, even in a shared life. That this is the only way to grow together, instead of apart.”
― Emily Giffin