If you have a life partner, there are likely to be awkward topics you both tend to tiptoe around. After all, it can definitely be easier to sweep things under the carpet than to engage in tough conversations.
Still, deep down, avoiding these discussions can ultimately hurt relationships and result in a negative snowball effect of unexpressed resentment and hidden hurts.
According to psychotherapist Shirin Peykar, “having the opportunity to talk about touchy areas creates closeness and allows for conflicts to be addressed and acknowledged. Authenticity breeds closeness, even if there is a disagreement”.
With this in mind, here are some tough but necessary conversations you should have with your partner, as well as tips on how to navigate these tricky topics.
Statistics show that couples who 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 conflict.
As people’s spending habits differ, you don’t have to match your partner’s buying patterns to make things work. Consider having both a joint and personal account, and decide on the purpose of each and what it covers.
Work together to create a budget that takes into account both your needs and wants, and set mutual financial goals for the future. Also, try assigning specific responsibilities for the management of different financial areas, and schedule regular check-ins with each other to review your progress.
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.
If you and your partner disagree on the number of children you’d like to have, first try to work on understanding each other’s reasons. 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 children could ask themselves: “Is there some area in my life that is not being fulfilled right now?” According to family therapist Wendy Hill, the feeling of being unloved is common among parents whose kids are growing up and gaining independence.
“But you should never use a kid to meet your own needs,” she points out, noting that it’s “worth exploring if there are other ways of getting what you need”.
Also consider: what sort of contraception are you both comfortable with? How are finances going to come into play with an extra little human to support?
3. Household chores
If your partner constantly leaves dirty dishes in the sink, leaving you fuming, 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 in the home.
For those who aim for the classic divide-and-conquer strategy, try swapping chores once in a while. This way, each partner can get a reminder of the annoyances that the other often encounters, which, hopefully, will lead to a better sense of appreciation.
4. Emotional needs
As human beings, we all have an emotional cup that needs to be filled. Talk with your partner about how they can support your needs.
Note that the keyword here is “support”, as we can’t – and shouldn’t – expect our partners to be solely responsible for our emotional well-being. Reach out to other loved ones as well – and, most importantly, take responsibility for your own fulfilment.
We all have our own preferred love languages and often use these to express our own affection for others. For example, you might be the sort of person who loves spending quality time with your partner; as a result, you always make the effort to plan date nights.
But your partner, whose strongest love language may be words of affirmation, might not value date nights as much! Instead of getting frustrated, aim to understand each other’s love language so you are able to fulfil and support each other accordingly.
Ah, the sex talk. 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 such discussions can help build trust in your relationship.
Worried that talking about sex might be a mood spoiler? On the contrary: psychologist Myisha Battle shares that while “our cultures tell us that talking about sex ruins the organic or spontaneous nature of sexual desire”, this has been shown not to be the case.
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.
Finally, 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 could be affected by stress, anxiety, tiredness, physical conditions, or many other factors.
Tips to start talking
If you’re not sure on how to begin these necessary conversations, here are some pointers:
- Schedule discussions
This gives time for you and your partner to mentally prepare and get into conversations with the right mindset.
- End with good news
People often try to cushion bad news by prefacing it with good, ultimately leaving the listener with an unhappy conclusion. For example: “I like that new coffee table, although the colour sure is gaudy.”
Try swapping out the usual “good news, bad news” tactic to avoid triggering anxiety. Instead, leave your partner with a positive closing statement, such as: “That new coffee table is a little too bright, but it does bring a nice pop of freshness to our living room.”
- Stay present and repeat
In conversation, repeat your partner’s words back to them to let them know you understand their point of view, and to reaffirm that their thoughts matter. For example: “I understand that you’re tired and would like to relax once you come home from work.”
- Highlight common goals
Focus on the fact that you and your partner are on the same team, and don’t be afraid of stating this. For example: “I’m sure we will work this out. After all, we both want what’s best for our kids.”
- Don’t exaggerate
Avoid words such as “should” and “never”, which are often used in exaggeration. For example, saying “you never listen” will likely cause your partner to become defensive. The conversation could lead to a debate about frequency about his or her listening skills, rather than addressing the issue at hand.
This article was written by Elaine Yeoh for makchic, a Malaysian-based online site for chic, curious, and spirited parents. makchic has been providing trustworthy and authentic family-related content since 2013. For diverse stories of parenthood that inform, support and uplift all families, visit makchic.com and follow them on Instagram, Facebook and Twitter (X).