Talking About Touchy Topics

Husband tenderly hugs his wife

My wife, Pam, lives at a fast pace and, not surprisingly, drives at a fast pace, too. Naturally, I worry about her safety, but I've learned that criticizing her lead foot may not be the smartest move.

You know how it is, men. Your wife drives dangerously, but she gets mad anytime you bring it up. Or she spends money she agreed not to, but she blows up whenever you point it out.

What is a man supposed to do? You don't want to ignore issues that concern you, but you don't want to be a bully, either.

Speaking gently

As I pondered this dilemma, I remembered two important things about my wife: First, everything in her life is connected to everything else in her life. When one thing is wrong, everything is wrong. Second, she was designed to make things better. When Pam senses she is making life better, she is pleased. When she senses the opposite, she either panics or starts planning. These two simple facts gave me insight on how to speak to my wife without making her feel threatened.

Pam drives a Honda CR-V. It's not clear what those three letters stand for, but they remind me of the best way I can approach my wife: compliment, request, value.

I start the conversation with a compliment. When I praise my wife, I send the message, "I love you, so not everything is wrong." The compliment must be genuine, though. Most wives can smell insincerity a mile away.

Next, I encourage change with a request. I say "request" because I am her partner, not her parent. With my kids, I can authoritatively call for change, but with my wife, I can only make an appeal. She decides how she will respond.

Finally, I close with a statement that reinforces her value to me. My wife has the potential to make me feel better about myself than anyone else on earth can, so it's always worth reminding her of that amazing fact.

One strategy

Putting all this together, I told Pam, "You are truly remarkable. You encourage countless women and are a great mom. I am concerned, though, because you sometimes seem unaware of how fast you're driving. I would love it if you would slow down. We all want you around for a long time because you have such a positive influence on us. I am a better man because of you, and our boys are privileged to have you as their mom."

This is one way I speak to my wife so she doesn't feel threatened or bullied. You might want to try this, too. The next time you need to talk to your wife about a touchy issue, think CR-V: compliment, request and value.

How strong is your marriage? Find out today with the Focus on Marriage Assessment. This reliable assessment is based on the research and experience of Focus on the Family's marriage experts Dr. Greg and Erin Smalley. Take this free assessment now. 

This article first appeared in the January/February, 2011 issue of Thriving Family magazine and was originally titled "It's How You Say It." If you enjoyed this article, read more like it in Focus on the Family’s marriage and parenting magazine. Get it delivered to your home by subscribing for a gift of any amount.

Copyright © 2010 by Bill Farrel. Used by permission. From the Focus on the Family website at

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