By Ashley McIlwain
Have you ever needed to discuss something with someone, but you just knew it was a sensitive subject? Most likely even mentioning it will elicit a negative, strong reaction that makes you opt to avoid it like the plague? You cringe at the mere thought of bringing it up, so you convince yourself that you will bring it up some other time.
No doubt we can all relate to these hot button topics in one way or another. Most of us have our own sensitive subjects that we don’t want anyone to come within an arm’s reach of, so it’s no surprise that we encounter these same don’t-even-think-about-it areas in our loved ones. In fact, most marriages have many of these “death traps” that we either dart around like we’re crossing a field full of land mines, or we keep running into head-on being met by explosive and destructive results.
So what do we do? What do we do when we need to discuss something that is seemingly off-limits to discuss? Is it an impossible conundrum with no answer? Or is there a way to tackle these reoccurring issues that results in a productive, beneficial, and healthy outcome?
While these sensitive subjects are just that … sensitive … there are ways to address them. It requires care, caution, patience, and respect though, keeping in mind that they are sensitive for a reason.
Check Your Motives
I don’t think it’s surprising to hear that our motives behind why we say and do things aren’t always pure and selfless. We tend to look out for numero uno forgetting that there are other feelings involved than just your own. In marriage, it’s imperative that we reverse our thinking and consider our spouse in the equation.
Philippians 2:3 wisely says, “Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit, but in humility consider others better than yourselves.” If you want someone to receive what it is you are saying, the first step is to check your motives. Why are you wanting to bring this subject up to begin with? Is it because it’s something important to the success of your marriage? Is it something that is hurting your spouse that needs to be brought to light so you can walk through the healing process together? Is it a threat to your marriage? You need to figure out why it is that you are bringing up the subject, and make sure that it’s not just because you simply want your own way.
If you go into a conversation graciously and tenderheartedly seeking the best interest of your spouse and your marriage above your own, it automatically changes the tone of the conversation. Your body language, demeanor, and overall message will communicate love and grace. This posture and approach is your foot in the door to discuss a sensitive subject with your spouse.
The Right Place And The Right Time
From my own personal experience, I have discovered that one of the most important components to having a healthy and helpful conversation, especially when it comes to sensitive topics, is to pick the right place and the right time. It amazes me how often we as humans choose terrible times and places to address things. However, I have learned this is instrumental in getting a conversation off on the right foot.
First let’s start with the don’ts. Don’t attempt to spark any in depth or personal conversation when either or both of you are hungry. When blood sugar levels drop, we become irritable and less likely to be receptive to the conversation. Don’t decide the time for a heart to heart is when both or either of you is exhausted. This has never been and never will be a good time to constructively deal with anything, let alone a touchy topic. Don’t pick a public, crowded, noisy, or otherwise distraction-filled and non-private location to chit chat. It’s just not conducive to the nature of the conversation. Avoid times where you or your spouse is stressed, irritated, or otherwise in a bad mood. Basically, use some common sense, and pick places and times that help, not hinder, the process. Which brings me to the dos.
Picking the right time and place is pretty much the opposite of everything aforementioned. Choose a time when both you and your spouse are at least semi-rested, have eaten recently, are feeling relaxed, and in overall chipper spirits. Select a location that is private and away from distractions or other people. Also make sure that it’s a time and place where you are able to set aside the necessary time to talk (not when you are about to head out to some gathering, meeting, etc.). These things just help make sure you guys are both in the right frame of mind and in the best circumstances possible to make some progress.
The best way to approach a sensitive subject is to be sensitive. Tread lightly and carefully. Speak kindly and gently. Be patient, understanding, and gracious. You want to communicate genuine care, concern, and love. Be what you would want your spouse to be to you if the situation were reversed.
So much of being heard and communicating effectively is not what you say but how you say it. Proverbs 15:1 says, “A gentle answer turns away wrath, but a harsh word stirs up anger.” Proverbs 16:24 says, “Pleasant words are a honeycomb, sweet to the soul and healing to the bones.” If you want your spouse to open up about a sensitive subject, it’s essential to be sensitive.
While approaching a sensitive subject with your spouse (or anyone) can seem daunting, it’s not an impossible task. It’s vital to make sure though that your motivation is for the benefit of the other person and the relationship, not just yourself. This gentle, genuine, and selfless concern, along with choosing the right time and place, helps open the door for the conversation that needs to occur. From there, kind and gracious communication lends itself to a helpful and healing dialogue.
Reckless words pierce like a sword, but the tongue of the wise brings healing. –Proverbs 12:18