How To Talk About the Status and Future of Your Relationship
by Jasmyne Hinson
In relationships–as early as casual “situationships” and as seasoned as long-term commitments–it can be incredibly difficult to know when and how to bring up certain topics. These topics often include negative life experiences, relationship norms, sensitive topics, prior romantic relationships, and extra-relationship activity. However, perhaps the most avoided topic is “the talk” – also known as the discussion pertaining to the state of the relationship. In fact, in a study of college relationships, over half of participants reported avoiding discussions about “the state of the relationship.”1 It is completely normal to experience relationship uncertainty. As we have various experiences with a dating partner, we may begin to tackle jealousy, disappointment, and conflict resolution with our partner. All these changes can cause fluctuations in our confidence about the relationship.2 If you’ve found yourself wondering whether your person is willing to stay with you for the long term and struggling with the resulting ambiguity, it may be time for you to have “the talk”. In this article, we will discuss three strategies to prepare for a successful “state of the relationship” conversation with your partner.
Tip 1: Mentally/Emotionally Preparing for the Conversation
Before initiating “the talk” about where the relationship is going, it is important to first have an internal check-in to prepare. It is likely not in your best interest to have this potentially future-dictating, nerve-wracking conversation if you are not in a clear, rational head space. Relationship uncertainty is often associated with emotions like anger and sadness. Going into this situation with these feelings can cause you to undermine the effectiveness of the conversation. 2 Therefore, it may be beneficial to take a few deep breaths to calm down and assess why you’re feeling uncertain. What do I want to gain from “the talk”? What do we need to do to prepare? Both people in the relationship can benefit from taking a step back to reflect on their own thoughts, desires, and emotions. It may even be appropriate to schedule a time to talk with a rational mind and without interruption. Be honest with yourself before approaching the conversation and encourage your partner to do the same. Be ready to discuss the matter in a calm, solutions-oriented way instead of a combative, anxiety-driven way. This doesn’t mean your emotions aren’t relevant, but it will be helpful to compose your thoughts before trying to discuss in a vulnerable, kind way.
Tip 2: Be Direct and Open
During the conversation, it may feel easier to be indirect. However, not only does this prolong the discomfort for you, but it can also be ineffective and even detrimental in the future. We may expect indirect strategies to produce better results, but in the long run, being direct is associated with better long-term relationship success. 4 Even though it can be emotionally tough, it’s better to say exactly what you mean instead of leaving it to your partner’s interpretation.
Open communication about uncertainty can strengthen the relationship and create a sense of closeness, trust, and transparency. When we communicate directly, we make the situation less ambiguous and we even create an environment where this “state of the relationship” conversation can happen again, if needed. 5 This is all to say that it is probably in your best interest to remain vulnerable, honest, and straightforward during the conversation, despite how nerve-wracking it may be.
Tip 3: Face (And Accept) Your Fears
Something important to acknowledge is that we cannot control our partner’s reactions to our desires and needs. There is always the gut-wrenching possibility that this conversation will lead to certain feared consequences. Whether it’s a breakup or an unfortunate compromise, try to remember that your partner is an individual with separate experiences, desires, and needs that matter as much as yours. It is natural to hope that these desires match perfectly with yours, but expectations like these often lead to disappointment, resentment, or controlling behaviors.
A central reason many of us hold back from having this conversation is simply because we know it’s risky. This is especially amplified in “state of the relationship” issues because the more risk we perceive, the less vulnerable we are willing to be. 6 Sometimes, there is the tendency to want to retreat to passivity or indirectness when we experience relationship uncertainty. 2 Although indirect communication is appropriate in some situations, when you decide to have an important conversation with your partner, lack of transparency usually hinders clarity about the state of the relationship. Therefore, acknowledging and accepting the fear while making the conscious effort to move forward despite the anxiety is key to successfully addressing the ambiguity.
You Can Do This
It’s completely normal to be anxious when thinking about how to start a conversation like this. There’s a reason so many people avoid it! It can be scary not knowing where your relationship is going with a person you care about, and it can be even scarier thinking of all the ways the conversation can go wrong. However, if you’re assertive and remain honest—both with your partner and with yourself—then you will be successful and will have the reward of clarity and mutual understanding waiting on the other side. By utilizing these tips, you can bring yourself one step closer to knowing exactly what the state of the relationship is and conquer “the talk.”
- Knobloch, L. K., & Carpenter-Theune, K. E. (2004). Topic Avoidance in Developing Romantic Relationships: Associations with Intimacy and Relational Uncertainty. Communication Research, 31(2), 173–205. https://doi.org/10.1177/0093650203261516
- Knobloch, L.K., & Haunani Solomon, D. (2003) Responses to changes in relational uncertainty within dating relationships: Emotions and communication strategies, Communication Studies, 54:3, 282-305, DOI: 10.1080/10510970309363287
- Vater, A., & Schröder–Abé, M. (2015). Explaining the Link between Personality and Relationship Satisfaction: Emotion Regulation and Interpersonal Behaviour in Conflict Discussions. European Journal of Personality, 29(2), 201–215. https://doi.org/10.1002/per.1993
- Overall, N. C., Fletcher, G. J. O., Simpson, J. A., & Sibley, C. G. (2009). Regulating partners in intimate relationships: The costs and benefits of different communication strategies. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 96(3), 620–639. https://doi.org/10.1037/a0012961
- Theiss, J. & Haunani Solomon, D. Parsing the Mechanisms that Increase Relational Intimacy: The Effects of Uncertainty Amount, Open Communication About Uncertainty, and the Reduction of Uncertainty, Human Communication Research, Volume 34, Issue 4, 1 October 2008, Pages 625–654, https://doi.org/10.1111/j.1468-2958.2008.00335.x
- Brunell, A. B., Pilkington, C. J., & Webster, G. D. (2007). Perceptions of risk in intimacy in dating couples: Conversation and relationship quality. Journal of Social and Clinical Psychology, 26(1), 92-118.