There are some sensitive issues I need to bring up with my spouse – concerns I have about the way things are going in our marriage – but I’m afraid to do it because I don’t want to trigger a conflict. How do I broach these sticky subjects without making things even worse?    


When tough topics come up, couples can find lots of places to veer into the ditch. Some pitfalls are dug before marriage – if you didn’t develop the right skills in your family of origin, it’s hard to learn how to manage conflict with a spouse. Other mistakes can be traced to simple inexperience. 


Whatever your situation, there will always be some topics that are trickier to address with your spouse than others.  Even in the happiest marriages, issues like in-laws, finances, sex, major purchases, or holiday traditions can quickly shake things up.  Handling these matters can be difficult, but it’s not impossible. The important thing is to stay away from the twin errors of 1) avoiding conflict at any cost, and 2) escalating conflict into unmanageable chaos. You need to find ways to talk about your concerns calmly, rationally, and constructively. There are a number of practical ways you can do this.


Begin by acquiring the skills you need in order to discuss sensitive issues in a civilized manner. Read Christian books about the role of communication in marriage. In cases like yours, utilizing the right body language, word choice, and tone of voice can make a huge difference. It’s also important to time your discussion appropriately. Get rid of distractions like television, cell phones, pagers, and interruptions from kids.  And make a point of starting every discussion with prayer – this habit can literally transform your marriage.   


Once you start talking, take deliberate measures to keep the conversation principle-centered. Don’t ask who’s right. Ask what’s right. If you attack the problem instead of the other person, you’ll help to create a safe environment that’s conducive to sharing at a deep, effective level on any topic.


Throughout the process, make it your priority to partner with your spouse in any way you can. While it’s critical to find the truth about issues affecting your marriage, relationship is always more important than issues. You’re partners, not prosecutors, and that partnership doesn’t end when you discuss sensitive topics.  It can be helpful to stop and ask yourself whether you’re showing your spouse the same respect you’d show your co-workers or friends. If you’re Christians, ask yourself whether you’re acting first as a brother and sister in Christ and second as husband and wife.     


Remember this:  if the prospect of discussing a sensitive subject has you fearing your spouse’s reaction, you’re losing focus. Your agenda should be to please God and speak the truth in love. If that’s your goal, you won’t hesitate to bring up the issues that are threatening the health of your marriage, regardless of the potential for conflict.

Excerpted from The Complete Guide to the First Five Years of Marriage, a Focus on the Family book published by Tyndale House Publishers.  Copyright © 2006, Focus on the Family.

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