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Difficult Conversations—II  

Last month I wrote about the reasons many people avoid difficult conversations and why it is important to find ways to have them. This month I continue the series by helping you determine which conversations are important to have and which ones you can, and perhaps should, let go.

One of the big reasons people avoid conversation is the fear that they will lead to conflict. These conversations are usually about something critical about the other person or something one person is dissatisfied with or unhappy about. Of course, there are people on the other end of the spectrum as well: those who don’t pass up any opportunity to share something they are unhappy about. Where is the happy medium? How do you determine which experiences of unhappiness or aspects of dissatisfaction should be shared and which should not? Clearly, sharing every little tidbit can make for an unhappy emotional tone, but not sharing the important things can lead to resentment and distance.

The last sentence in the paragraph above gives one hint on how to determine what is important to talk about and what is not. If something hangs around with you long enough for you to develop resentment about it, you should bring it up sooner rather than later. One test I often suggest people use might be called the “next morning” test. If you are bothered by something but know that tomorrow morning you probably won’t even remember the incident, or if you do, will have a vague idea that you were unhappy about something but don’t remember the details, you should probably let it go. It just isn’t important enough to address. On the other hand, if you are going to be thinking about the incident for the next week, you have a recipe for building resentment. If it is also a part of what you see as a pattern that is bothersome to you and consistently bothers you, it should be talked about.

There is a certain level of self-management that is important here. Some people have the habit or practice of latching onto every negative feeling they have and making that the focus of their thought. If this is your style, you, and your relationship, would benefit from doing some work to balance out your experience of the events in your life and paying attention to both the good and the bad.

Another thing to really think about is whether the conversation benefits the relationship or not. This goes beyond fear of conflict and is also important when there is fear of rejection or judgment. If the relationship will be enhanced by having the conversation, or hampered by not having it, you should go ahead and have the conversation. For instance, if one partner is dissatisfied with the sexual aspect of the relationship, the conversation not only has impetus for personal rejection, but addressing the issue has great potential for improving the quality of the relationship.

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