How to communicate with your partner when you're bad at expressing yourself

February 1 | Guest post by Anja
30.01.2012 - Letters
By: jlhopgoodCC BY 2.0

I'm bad at communication (like really, really bad). Even if I can bring up the courage to talk to someone I never know exactly what to say.

I struggle to figure out how to express what I'm feeling. Therefore I plan conversations in my head. I plan what I want to say to someone, and how they probably react. This works for me in many situations. But it's just not enough for a relationship.

Turns out, my partner often surprises me with his reactions (most of the time in positive ways).

The thing is, when conversations don't go as I planned, it means that I didn't get to say anything of the important things, because the conversations turned into a different direction. I was getting so frustrated.

That's when I started to write letters to my partner.

I just write down everything I want to say. I get to take my time and think about the right wording — mostly making sure to phrase things so that I'm not blaming him for things. (It's always important to tell your partner about yourself and how you feel, instead of telling them what they did wrong.)

Then I give him time to read it.

And then we can talk about the exact things I wanted to bring up.

First I give him time to comment on what I wrote. And then the conversation can go in any direction. It doesn't really matter, because the important things are already said.

We never keep those letters — at first we burned them, but then we decided to just throw them away. And I make sure that he always gets more love letters than serious talk letters. Because even though we have some difficulties I'm madly in love with him.

I'm slowly learning to openly talk about things. I'm learning to just bring things up. But while I do we have something that works for us.

  1. Thanks for sharing, very interesting!
    In a similar vein, we recently realised that discussions of important topics work much better for us if we each get a 5 minute slot to talk – we feel we can explain our view completely, and the other is happy to listen as they know they will get a chance to be heard too!

  2. when we were doing our premarriage counseling, the counselor was like, you have expectations for what your partner is going to do or not do. If you do not tell them what those expectations are, you can not reasonably expect them to meet your expectations. The expectations you have now are going to change over time, so you need to communicate your new expectations as you discover what they are. My husband and I really took this to heart. So something like "I have the expectation that you'll put the junk mail in the recycling bin instead of on the hall table".

    Sometime this leads to a discussion. The above lead to the agreement that he would get the mail out of the box on the days when I pick up our son from daycare since part of the issue was that I was overloaded with my stuff, the baby, and baby's stuff. On days where he picks up, I get the mail and sort it right away.

    For us, having specific language to use has been really helpful because when we use it, both of us know that it's not meant to be hurtful or critical, but it is meant to help us express ourselves in an established format to avoid future conflict. It then opens up room for discussion of what the expectation is, if there's a reason that one party feels that they are unable to meet the expectation, and find a solution that we both feel good about.

    7 agree
    • I really look forward to pre-marital counseling one day for things like this: learning tools and techniques for how to make a relationship stronger through things like communication and outlining expectations. I can see things like this being helpful in many relationships, not just romantic but friends, family, and workplace.

  3. This is so timely! I'm having an issue right now with my husband and his work. He despises his job, complains about it all the time, but does NOTHING to try to find a new one aside from repeating "I need to get out." It's so frustrating to me and is starting to hold me back, in a way. We want to buy a house and I want to live closer to my work. But until he gets a job that both pays more and is closer to my work we're stuck where we are and I'm getting really sick of driving over 50 miles per day.
    Problem is, I suck at talking about serious stuff with him. I inevitably start to cry because I get so worked up thinking that he'll be mad at me. I have no basis for this fear because he never has before, it's just a mind trick that I can't seem to get over. This method may just work for us! Thanks for the idea!

  4. I communicate SO much better via text when I'm upset about anything. Once I'm upset, or generally have a strong emotional reaction to the subject, I tend towards being a non-verbal, weepy wreck. I just can't get the words out. It frustrates my husband no end because I'd wind up spending long stretches not saying anything, just because I was trying to get vocalizations to sound more like "words" instead of "unintelligible sobs". I'd be frustrated because I couldn't get my points across, we'd be sidetracked, and I couldn't keep anything straight in my head since I was focusing so much on trying to get my reactions under some control.
    So more and more, we use the computer. We open up a google chat or whatever pretty constantly (he's lucky to be in a job where it's no big deal, and I'm home, so this works for us) and when things get piled up too high, we can go over things there, and have a face to face about our conclusions when he's home in the evening.
    I much prefer it since not only can I make a conversation, but I also have an immediate, easy way to track back what we've both said, and it's easier for me to find points I wanted to make note of, or hadn't gotten to yet, and I LOVE that accessibility my brain and memory just don't give me when we're caught up in the moment.

    • I use google chat a lot with my husband too. He can be really hard on himself when I say something like "Hey, it hurt my feelings when X happened" and I think the computer and chat help give him some distance from the conversation so he can compose himself instead of just saying "I'm awful" and feeling bad. I really try hard to use I statements and whatnot, but when we have the tough conversations in person, he tends to shut down. Sometimes having a buffer or barrier helps…

      • My husband does the same thing. He sort of just says "okay" "fine" "yeah"
        and doesn't really TALK! Which since it's already hard for me to get the words out makes things very stunted. We end up just sitting there staring at each other feeling bad which is very unproductive!

        2 agree
  5. When I was a teenager, my mum and I had a notebook that we passed back and forth that had all of our major conversations in it. Most of our actual face-to-face talking was only about schedules or meal planning, and I definitely benefited from being able to think about and write out the things that I knew I needed to tell her but just couldn't actually say. It's definitely a tool that I'll be bringing into any partnership I enter into in the future.

    1 agrees
  6. This sounds like a really good idea for me and my husband. He suffers with severe depression and it is very hard just to get him to go to the dr. I am also a very bad communicator, and I feel the extreme guilt of bringing up anything when it comes to dealing with someone with depression. Thank you for this insight

  7. I have just gone through a breakup that was (and still is) really painful and difficult for me, one of the reasons for this is that it came out of nowhere (from my point of view) after a 3 year relationship. I was happily in love, completely ignorant of the fact that my boyfriend did not have the same feelings for me anymore, because he never talked about it. I wish he had, I wish we had had some kind of regular catch up, but both of us are not good at talking about feelings.
    He said that in his previous relationship every little problem had been discussed so much that you never got anywhere with it, so he wanted to do it differently this time, and pretty much didn't do "relationship talks" at all. Since it was only my second serious relationship, and the first one was pretty much the same (as in: no fighting, no serious talking, just rubbing along comfortably till one day after 6 years I realized I didn't love him anymore), so I didn't realize that things were going wrong.

    I hope I will do better in my next relationship (I'm optimistic enough to assume there will be one…).

Join the conversation

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

No-drama comment policy

Part of what makes the Offbeat Empire different is our commitment to civil, constructive commenting. Make sure you're familiar with our no-drama comment policy.