I frequently counsel couples who have a hard time starting difficult conversations. It is not always because they have a track record of doing these conversations poorly. Frequently, these couples (or at least one member of the couple) are just painfully adverse to conflict.
This post is going to assume that a couple has a decent history of resolving difficult conversations well once they are initiated.
The question becomes, “How do we overcome this obstacle so that emotions do not build, while we wrestle with whether to say something, to the point that potentially good conversations don’t go bad? How can we save ourselves the emotional turmoil of waiting even when the end product is a good conversation? How do we get started?”
What I will offer is a highly practical answer. There is a problem with highly practical answers. They come across as cookie-cutter solutions and cause people to believe the remedy is in following the recipe. Such solutions can also come across a bit cheesy and have a propensity to be relatively personality-dependant.
With all that said I will still offer a highly practical answer and simply ask that you not turn it into a rule to follow. Be creative with it. Make it your own. Find a way to express the principle in your personality and as fits your marriage.
Here is my proposal. Give your spouse paper on which to write his/her concern. At the top of the page write (in your own words):
If you have picked up this piece of paper,
then I want you to know I love you and want to hear you.
I pray regularly for you to have the courage to come to me when you are hurt,
and I pray I will listen well and hear your concerns.
I trust you to bring things to me you believe are important,
and want you to know they are important to me if they are to you.
Sign under your note, but leave the rest of the page blank for your spouse to write his/her concerns. Once this piece of paper is received the spouse would know it is a time to listen well and would be less likely to interpret the subject as an attack or treat the subject as trivial.
Now you might say, “That is helpful, but where is the Bible or the Gospel in this type of exercise?” That would be a very good and worthwhile question. I believe in this type of exchange the first spouse is to love his/her spouse as Christ loved the church (Eph. 5:25).
This is a model of the invitation God gives to all his people in prayer. We have an open invitation to come to Him with any concern at any time with no fear of being turned away or dismissed. Too often we miss the fact that communication in marriage should resemble (be modeled after) prayer. We often say that prayer is simply “talking with God” but we fail to learn from this connection when it comes to communication in the relationship that our prayer life is to exemplify.