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Talking About Sensitive Issues

Let's face it: Some topics are trickier than others. Even in the happiest marriages, issues like in-laws, finances, and sex can quickly shake things up.

When tough topics come up, couples can find lots of places to veer into the ditch. Many mistakes come from inexperience as husbands and wives bounce from one conflict to the next, experimenting with various solutions.

When it comes to talking about sensitive topics, some pitfalls are dug way before marriage. If you didn't get the right skills in your family of origin, it's hard to manage conflict with a spouse. The twin ditches of (1) avoiding conflict at any cost and (2) escalating into chaos are often more familiar than the path itself.

Even engaged couples need to begin communicating and making decisions as if it will affect the rest of their marriage—because that's exactly what will happen. One couple encountered this challenge while preparing to choose a china pattern. The bride's mother assumed she'd go with her daughter to make the selection; the fiancé recognized this as his privilege and responsibility. Fortunately, communicating these expectations early on opened the door to greater harmony in the future.

In addition to the old habits you bring into a marriage, new challenges can quickly crop up. Even the idyllic honeymoon phase can raise a number of touchy topics. A major purchase or holiday tradition can seem bigger than your relationship if you aren't prepared.

How can you prepare yourself to talk about those sticky subjects? Here are three suggestions.

  1. Get practical skills. At the nearest Christian bookstore, you can find strategies for dealing with sensitive issues. Shelves of books on marriage address the role of communication. Improving body language, word choice, and tone of voice will greatly improve your results.

    So will picking a better time and place for your discussion. If you're trying to talk about a sensitive issue, get rid of distractions like television. Find a time free of interruptions from children and pagers. Still, don't let things get worse while you wait for the "perfect" time. It may never come.

    One of the most practical things to do is to start your discussion with prayer. This habit can transform your marriage as you invite the Holy Spirit to guide your conversation. It also helps you steer clear of the pothole of confronting your spouse impulsively.

    Speaking of steering, remember that driving along a cliff is even harder going in reverse. In other words, don't bring up past issues while trying to resolve new ones. If many of your old conflicts lack closure, get a mediator—a pastor or Christian counselor—to help bring your marriage up to speed and moving forward again.
  2. Be principle-centered. Don't ask who's right. Ask what's right. Imagine a couple fighting over the perennially thorny issue of money. If both spouses take time to examine biblical principles of money management, they'll often emerge with a plan they agree on. The idea of attacking the problem, not the person, creates safety for sharing at a deep, effective level on any topic.
  3. Partner with your spouse. 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.

    That partnership doesn't end when you discuss sensitive topics. Ask yourself whether you're showing your husband or wife the same respect you show your coworkers and friends. If you're Christians, ask yourself whether you're acting first as brother and sister in Christ, and second as husband and wife. If the prospect of discussing a sensitive subject has you fearing (or worse yet, predicting) your spouse's reaction, you're losing focus.

    Your agenda should be to please God. If that's your goal, you won't hesitate to confront an issue like infidelity or addiction that tears your spouse away from Him.

Talking about sensitive issues isn't easy, but it can make your marriage the vehicle that drives both of you closer to God. And two people with the same destination can't help but move closer to each other, too.

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From Focus on the Family's Complete Guide to the First Five Years of Marriage, published by Tyndale. Copyright © 2006, Focus on the Family. All rights reserved. International copyright secured.

Next in this Series: Starting a Conversation

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