7 Tips for Tear Free Conversations


There are times when we must tell our spouses (and other loved ones) what they don’t want to hear. We know they don’t want to hear it, so we get nervous and anxious, which, in turn, often causes us to say it all wrong. End result: someone ends up in tears. I’ve found that, in such moments, it helps for me to know exactly what I want to say before I open my mouth. Here are 7 ways to communicate hurtful information without overly hurting your partner:
  1. Make it part of a thank you. For instance, “Wow, thanks so much for getting me this shirt. It really means a lot to me that you would go out of your way to do this. It’s even in my favorite color! It is a little too big for me, though. Do you mind if I exchange it for one that fits?” Note: my husband returns almost everything I ever buy for him. He used this line on me recently. I didn’t find it hurtful at all, but maybe that’s because, after 12 years of marriage, I’ve gotten used to him returning everything? You tell me.
  2. Make it genuine, and don’t try to come out smelling like a rose. If you need to come clean about something, don’t expect your spouse to give you an award at the end of your apology. It’s that expectation – of getting a hug, a compliment, or a smile – that turns most apologies into shouting matches. If you really are sorry, take the blame and own it. Like this, “I’m sorry I made fun of you in front of your friends. That was cruel of me. I will never do it again.” Do not justify it. Do not add a “but.” Just say you are sorry. If you really aren’t sorry, then don’t even attempt to apologize because it will come off as fake.
  3. Keep it short. If you need to convey information that you know will make your spouse sad, just come out with it. Don’t talk around it. Don’t slowly build up to it. Don’t ask your spouse if he or she is sitting down. Don’t attempt to make your spouse feel happy, and definitely don’t tell your spouse to lighten up. Just say it in as few words as possible. It’s not any more painful for your spouse to hear “I’m having an affair” than it is for your spouse to hear, “I’ve been feeling alone and I haven’t been feeling loved by you and one thing led to another and I guess I wasn’t getting something from you that I started looking for somewhere else and, well, there was this guy and it’s really nothing but well I sort of had sex with him and it’s not a big deal but I thought you would want to know.” Don’t drag it out.
  4. Be gently honest. It’s better to say, “It’s just not happening for me tonight” than it is to pretend that you are having the best time of your life in the bedroom when you really aren’t.
  5. Embrace silence. After you deliver unsettling news, give your spouse time to digest it. Resist the urge to keep talking or to pepper your spouse with questions about how he or she feels. You might say, “I know this was hard to hear. You might not feel like talking about it right now. Let me know when you are ready.”
  6. Get your mind into a compassionate place before you open your mouth. If I need to deliver hard information to my husband or anyone else, I meditate first. I picture my husband and I hold that picture in my mind until I can say, “Your happiness matters” and I really mean it. Once I feel that surge of compassion, I know I am ready to have any conversation about any topic.
  7. Don’t wimp out. Don’t say it by text and don’t say it by email. If you want to write it down, then at least be present when your spouse reads what you’ve written. The act of showing up for the conversation speaks volumes.

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