How to Have Difficult Talks About Your Marriage

Couple sitting at kitchen table discussing bills
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Throughout your marriage, there will be times when you need to have tough conversations. These are the discussions about topics that you both may not want to talk about. They are conversations about difficult issues and situations. They may make one or both of you angry, defensive, sad, or hurt.

While having a difficult marriage talk probably isn't something you look forward to, avoiding these conversations can cause problems to worsen later on. You and/or your partner might become bitter or angry when things go unresolved, so it's best to address any issues with honest and direct communication.

This article covers reasons why couples should have difficult talks and how to have those hard conversations. It also provides tips and strategies for starting discussions.

Reasons to Have Difficult Talks About Your Marriage

Pretending that there is nothing wrong will likely cause you and your partner to walk on eggshells around each other—you won't know how to act around each other if you can't communicate with honesty. Ultimately, ignoring your issues can even cause your marriage to fail.

Having a difficult marriage talk shows you care enough about your spouse and your marriage to have the conversation.

It's common for people to use avoidance tactics when they don't want to talk about something. But putting off conversations can build resentment, making it even harder to address your issues over time.

For instance, if you and your partner are having financial trouble, or you disagree about the ways you want to parent your children, not talking about these things isn't going to make them disappear. If you don't decide how you want to proceed together as a unified front, one or both of you will likely feel alienated from the partnership—or even feel neglected or left out by your partner.

Putting off these conversations only makes them harder. For example, avoiding talking about difficult issues with money or parenting can lead to arguments and conflicts down the road. When you talk openly with your partner, it allows you to develop candid communication that strengthens your relationship.


Mutual respect and honest conversations build intimacy and trust. So the more you practice having these conversations, the more you strengthen your relationship.

Prepare for Tough Talks

Learning how to have hard conversations is the first step. There are some steps you can take ahead of time to make it easier.

Look at Your Expectations

If you expect the conversation to go badly, it will. If you assume that having a big talk will make the situation worse, it probably will. So define your expectations of the conversation and think in positive terms.

Understand Your Motivations

Know why you want to have the talk. Do you want to gain a better understanding of your spouse's perspective on the issue? Do you want to clear up a misunderstanding? Do you need to confront your spouse about a suspected lie or hurtful behavior? Are you concerned about your level of intimacy with one another and want to be closer to your spouse? Thinking this through will help you approach the situation with honesty.

Be Ready for It to Be Hard

Accept that it will probably be a stressful conversation. Although you don't want either one of you to be stressed, hurt, or angered by the conversation, it is important to realize that you both may be defensive and emotional as you talk.

How to Begin the Conversation

Avoid saying "can we talk? or "we have to talk," which can be alarming for your partner. A few intros you might consider instead are:

  • "I've been thinking about ..."
  • "What do you think about ..."
  • "I'd like to talk about ..."
  • "I want to have a better understanding of your point of view about ..."

Don't beat around the bush. Keep it simple. Stay on topic. Acknowledge that the topic is difficult, sensitive, confrontational, or touchy. Clarify that you know that you have different perspectives and that you want to work together to have a better understanding of those perspectives.


Consider how the conversation will go before you begin and approach it in a positive, non-confrontational way. Be direct and focused, but be sure to make it clear that it is a conversation and not an argument.

Choose the Right Time and Place

Be honest—not manipulative. Don't invite your spouse out to the movies when you really plan on having "the talk" at a restaurant. And avoid trapping your partner by bringing up a tough topic in the car, on an airplane, etc.

Don't expect to have the talk immediately. It is important to give your spouse some time to think about the topic you want to talk about, but this shouldn't be postponed for a long time. Mention you would like to have the discussion within 48 hours.

Don't ask your spouse to agree to a time to have the talk without having calmed yourself down first. Don't have a difficult conversation before or after sex.

Agree on where to have the talk. Unless your spouse agrees to have the talk in a public location, such as a restaurant, take your kids to a babysitter and have the talk at home.

During Your Conversation

These types of marriage talks turn emotional very quickly. To keep the conversation productive, show respect for your spouse. That mans not speaking down to them, not assuming they know what you want to talk about, and not interrupting when they are speaking.

Be aware of non-verbal communication. Maintain eye contact. Acknowledge what you hear with the understanding that acknowledgment is not necessarily agreement.

Back up your concerns, thoughts, and ideas with research and facts. Keep your conversation on the topic you agreed to discuss. Don't talk on and on.

Reach an agreement you both can live with. Then set a time to follow up to see how you are both feeling about the issue.

Know when to get help. If the issue or situation continues to create problems in your marriage, you may need to work with a counselor or a mediator.

A Word From Verywell

While conversations like these are difficult, they are essential to have for the health and future of a relationship. However, if you and your partner try having conversations that are consistently not productive, or you are having ongoing problems that you can't resolve on your own, try talking to a professional counselor—either individually or as a couple.

Frequently Asked Questions

  • What should couples talk about before marriage?

    Some questions to consider before getting married are:

    • How will we handle disagreements and conflict resolution?
    • How will we manage our finances (do we want a prenuptial agreement)?
    • Will both of us or only one of us work/have a career after marriage?
    • Will we have kids and if so, how many?
    • How do we want to parent our children?
    • Will we move after we get married (i.e., moving into a house from an apartment)?
    • How will we handle any religious/spiritual differences?
  • Who can you talk to about your marriage problems?

    You can talk to a mental health professional like a therapist or a spiritual or religious leader. It can also be helpful to confide in a trusted family member or friend about marriage problems.

    However, be sure that this person won't divulge the contents of your conversation to your partner. You shouldn't feel like you have to hide that you are talking to a trusted person or therapist, but your partner should not be left feeling like you are talking about them behind their back.

  • What are meaningful conversation topics for couples?

    Share with each other what makes you feel the most loved and respected. For instance, ask your partner what their love language is. Talk about your expectations for your relationship, and where you both see yourselves in the future. Learn each other's boundaries and how to be respectful of them.

3 Sources
Verywell Mind uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
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  2. Foley GN, Gentile JP. Nonverbal communication in psychotherapy. Psychiatry (Edgmont). 2010;7(6):38-44.

  3. Schofield MJ, Mumford N, Jurkovic D, Jurkovic I, Bickerdike A. Short and long-term effectiveness of couple counselling: a study protocol. BMC Public Health. 2012;12:735. doi:10.1186/1471-2458-12-735

By Sheri Stritof
Sheri Stritof has written about marriage and relationships for 20+ years. She's the co-author of The Everything Great Marriage Book.