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Hard Conversations: Why Timing Makes the Difference

communication habits stress Jan 11, 2023


Has this ever happened to you?

You’re tired, exhausted even, and so is your partner.

In this moment, it's like someone somewhere flipped a cosmic switch, suddenly making your partner's every act excruciatingly annoying.

The words coming out of their mouth. The gross slapping sound they make when chewing food. That they never seem to take their eyes off their damn phone. 

 That’s when it happens. Your mind presents you with a long list of grievances. You're suddenly confronted with all the hard issues you and your partner have yet to face head on.

And just as this stew of resentment and irritation comes to a boil, you think, "Now is the time. Yes, right now. Now is the perfect time to talk about these issues." 

But is it?

Because we all know what happens next. In this irritated, annoyed, and dysregulated state, only bad things happen. 

Enter the paradox of timing hard conversations. We avoid the hard topics when things are good and we're most able to navigate them skillfully. But when we're pissed off at each other, we somehow see these moments as the perfect time to begin sorting through our most daunting problems together.

The insight here is that, when it comes to difficult conversations, timing is the key. And the ideal time for these discussions usually isn't when we feel the most urgent need to have them. 

How can you improve your timing? Try asking these three questions.




Question 1: Is now the right time?

We love this question because the answer is often so obvious. If you're feeling that sting of anger in your chest and belly, if your heart is racing, if your breath collapses into your upper chest, the right answer is "probably not."

When your body sends you these signals and you're experiencing what marriage researchers like John Gottman call flooding, that's your signal to call an internal time out. It's like seeing the engine light appear on the inner dashboard of your mind. It's a warning to slow down and find a better time to steer into this conversation.


Question 2: When might my partner be more open?

You know your partner (hopefully). You know when they tend to be closed down and when they're more open and available. So see if you can identify those moments when they feel more open, like they have more headspace to talk through the hard stuff.

Maybe it's on a long walk. Maybe it's while having a drink together at the end of the day. Maybe it's while being together in nature.

See what happens when you adjust your timing to match your partner's moments of peak openness. 


Question 3: Can I say it from love?

Timing is essential. But it's not everything. How you bring up these hard topics also matters. 

When you lead from resentment, for instance, even the most perfectly timed conversations aren't likely to go well. The same holds true for blame, irritation, and rage.

But if you can lead from love, everything changes. This might look like saying, "I know you probably don't mean to do this but, when you show up late, I notice that I feel sad and scared. And what I really want is just to connect with you." Or maybe, "I love you too much to not talk about this..."

The exact words are less important than the inner state beneath them. If you can initiate a conversation like this from love, you may find that a whole new world of possibilities emerge. 

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