Talk? Only when you have a blank page

Have you ever written a note to your partner on black paper using black ink? Absurd, right? Why would you write a note that your partner can’t possibly read?!

Yet, we often do the same thing verbally — we try to start (or insist on having) a conversation that our partner is not available for. We try to have a talk, when they are not going to be able to be present to the conversation.

That might be because they’re tired, grouchy, still angry about a previous interaction, at high arousal from fighting (high blood pressure, fast heart rate, etc.), defensive, or maybe just not up for talking about that right now…lots of reasons why your partner may not be available for the conversation you want to have. So, don’t start it! It’s not going to work anyway and may even increase the tension and problems.

Instead, as a first step in any conversation, check in about whether you actually have a blank page, a blank canvas upon which to write your words. Examples:

“Would you be ok talking about our pattern around the dishes?”

“Would now be an ok time to talk about what happened last night?”

It’s polite, respectful, and more effective! And, it’s a very helpful beginning to a real conversation where both people are able to speak their truth and hear someone else’s truth.

Now, what happens if your partner is NEVER ready to have a conversation? That would be stone-walling. Stone-walling is one of the worst things that can occur in a relationship — it’s  one of the four horsemen of a relationship apocalypse that research shows prevents happy, healthy relationships.

Stone-walling is not ok, but negotiating a better time to talk is definitely ok. Obviously the ideal response from your partner is for them to say, “Yeah, that’s fine. Let’s talk about it” (and really mean it). But, another perfectly fine response is: “No, I’m not really up for that right now. How about if we check in an hour from now after I’ve been able to relax a little?” or “No, I’m not up for that now, how about we talk this weekend?” You get it, right? Just because you want to talk, doesn’t mean s/he wants to talk. They have a right to negotiate when they want to talk. You have a right to expect that “when” occurs at some point in the not-to-distant future.

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