A couple of weeks ago, my son and I got into a conversation about a friend of his who wanted to break up with his girlfriend. We talked about why his friend had come to this decision and then I asked him how he thought he was going to break up with her.
He shifted around in his chair for a few minutes and said that he wasn't sure.
At this point, I suggested that his friend, and all teenagers, needed to talk with their boyfriend/girlfriends face to face and be calm, clear, concise and confident in the conversation. They had been together almost a year and the relationship -- and his girlfriend -- deserved an honest conversation. I also shared with him that breaking up through Facebook, texting or an email was not an appropriate or mature way to end a relationship. And since he tells me all the time that he and his friends are now "men," I told him that this would be a good opportunity for him to guide his friend to do what a mature man would do.
He responded that his friend was afraid to have the conversation because whenever he has tried to talk with her about it, she started to cry and beg him not to do it. Then she would be "mean" to him and he felt really bad. But my son knew that his friend was not at all happy in the relationship and that his feelings of guilt, and fear, were making this conversation extremely difficult to have.
This is far too common a theme among our teenagers today, and sadly, far too common among adults as well.
Fast-forward to today and his friend did have the conversation, and she did cry. And then it was over.
Lately, a number of my clients have been struggling with how to tell their husbands that they are terribly unhappy and in fact, want to "break up" -- that it is time to get a divorce.
I have realized that we as adults have no easier a time with the "breakup" than teenagers do. My conversation with my son was just the beginning of teaching him how to manage conflict and learn to tell someone close to you what he and she doesn't want to hear -- a skill that is not often taught but is necessary for creating a life you want.
Divorce is the ultimate breakup. And yet the conversation I had with my son is almost the same one that I have with any individual who is unhappy in his or her marriage and has made the decision to divorce. This is a scary, upsetting, and difficult conversation to have, but one that must be done with equal parts calm, compassion, clarity and honesty. These are the cornerstones of exceptional communication which will become the foundation upon which your new future, relationships and love will be built.
No one wants to look into the face of someone they have cared about or loved and say something that will hurt, anger or cause deep sadness. No one wants to be responsible for making another person cry. But sometimes that cannot be avoided. These are natural reactions to hearing something you don't like hearing.
Difficult conversations require support, preparation and a strategy for success. And in the case of divorce, it is a conversation that can set the tone for the entire divorce process.
The conversation should not be had in public, on Facebook, through texts or via email (unless there is danger involved). Difficult conversations don't have to be angry or loud to be effective. Instead, the most successful difficult conversations happen when the person initiating the conversation remains calm and allows the person receiving to have whatever feelings he or she has.
Unfortunately, the fear associated with initiating this conversation can be so great that the pain associated with having it seems worse than the pain that comes with avoiding it. In these cases, people may choose to do something indirectly that will force the "breakup." For example, having an affair, creating a magnificent argument that turns into a battle, texting it -- these actions create adrenaline which can give a false sense of courage.
Telling someone something he or she doesn't want to hear takes courage and the knowledge that truth and honesty always prevail -- which they do.
If you are struggling with how you are going to have a difficult conversation, get support, make sure you have clarity around what you want say and what you want the outcome to be, and communicate with compassion.
Once you master the skill of managing difficult conversations, you will enjoy the reward of extraordinary relationships ... and love.