Having "The Talk": How to Handle the Most Difficult Relationship Conversations

We need to talk. Four tiny and inconspicuous words, but when paired together they produce such a powerful and nerve-inducing sentence. The mere thought of hearing or saying them while in a relationship makes most of us want to run and hide under the covers –indefinitely. But ladies, lest you’ve forgotten, let us remind you: having “the talk” doesn’t need to be so scary. With the help of Kim Olver, author of Secrets of Happy Couples, and Cassidy Brettler, one of HC’s Real Live College Girls, we found out how to tackle five of the most difficult relationship discussions.

So, let’s talk about talking, shall we?

The “Are We Exclusive?” Talk

In high school, my cousin and the guy she liked were driving home from school. He placed his hand in hers atop the middle glove compartment and a few minutes passed before he nervously uttered, “So, does this mean we’re going out?” Needless to say, there are better ways to approach this intimidating topic.

What to Say:
Cassidy suggests saying, “So, we've been hanging out a lot and I was just wondering what you think we are?” Or if you aren’t wishing to be quite so direct, lead with, “What do you refer to me as when you talk to your friends about me?"

How to Deal:
“If he says he isn’t ready for exclusivity, that’s alright. You then need to decide whether you want to wait for him to get ready, if he ever does, or move on to someone who would be more willing to give you what you want.” Olver says. “If it’s the guy you want, not just the idea of exclusivity, you may want to compromise by giving yourself a time limit and sticking to it. But, don’t give him an ultimatum. Giving him a deadline often has the opposite effect you intend.”

We Had the Talk
…and we were totally on the same page, says Krista from Simmons College. “When my boyfriend and I decided to have the exclusivity talk it went really smoothly because we both were like, ‘I like you and I’m not hooking up with other people. Let's just be together.’ Not putting so much pressure on it made it so much easier and not awkward at all.”

The “I Love You” Talk

You’ve been the first to say it to your parents, your friends, your dog, the random Starbucks barista on a particularly caffeine-necessary morning, yet you’d probably rather write a 20-page paper than be the first person to say I love you in a relationship. Rather than ignore the thought and wait until he says those three little words, take the plunge and let him know how you feel.

What to Say:
After sharing with your guy that you love him, Cassidy suggests saying, “You don’t have to say anything back. Really, it’s fine. Just know that I love you!”

How to Deal:
“Do not make your happiness contingent on him loving you back,” says Olver. “Ask yourself the question, ‘Am I saying I love him because I want him to know how I feel, or am I saying I love him because I want him to tell me he loves me too?’ Saying you love him should be something you are doing for you because you want him to know how you feel. If you’re saying it for a return response, you may be disappointed.”

The “I Need Space” or “I Want to Break Up” Talk

Despite the fact you’re asking for time away from your boyfriend, whether temporary or permanent, ending the relationship in a caring and respectable manner is important. On the other hand, if your relationship is in the process of ending on a not-so-nice note (think never wanting to talk to him again, throwing darts at his picture, ripping every memory of him to shreds), well, you can skip on down to the next talk.

What to Say:
Cassidy suggests being completely honest and saying, “I’ve been having a lot of fun with you, but right now (insert reason here: I need time for myself, we should just be friends, I don’t have time for a relationship, etc.).”

How to Deal:
“If you are through with your relationship, it is kinder to be direct,” says Olver. “Don’t drag things out until he gets so frustrated, he dumps you! However, if you really do want some time to think, tell him that. Let him know what you are thinking about and how much time you may need. If this is someone you ever cared about don’t string him along or send mixed signals. Free him to pursue other interests.”

We Had the Talk
…and it happened in stages, says Audrey from the University of Iowa. “I slowly told him I wasn't happy, that I needed more from him or else, and finally that I didn't want to be with him anymore. But, I wasn't sure so we took a break that consisted of me hooking up with other people and him still giving me the emotional benefits of being in a relationship. Finally, one day he got a new girlfriend which, in retrospect, he deserved and I deserved.”

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