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Wellness > Sex + Relationships

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.”
The “I’m Mad at You” Talk

After the initial honeymoon stage of your relationship wears off, a fight every now and then is inevitable. While you may be angry at something your guy did, kicking, screaming and breaking out into World War III will get you nothing but a noise complaint. Though your hopes and dreams of a fight-free relationship are being shattered, remember arguments are normal and, even more importantly, necessary.

What to Say:
Cassidy suggests bringing it up by saying, “I don’t want to make this a big deal, but something’s been bugging me and I just wanted to talk to you about it before it turns into a bigger issue.”

How to Deal:
“Understand that your guy may have a totally different perception of the issue than you do. Approach the conversation with curiosity and an attempt to figure out where each other is coming from.” Olver says. “Seek a solution that can work for both of you after each of you has heard the other person’s point of view. There is no room for judgments or criticisms here; you are simply trying to understand each other and create a win/win/win solution where you win, he wins and your relationship grows stronger through the process.”

The “I Did Something Wrong” Talk

It’s never easy to fess up to doing something wrong. Whether small, like ripping his favorite sweater while rocking the “boyfriend” look, or large, like kissing another guy at a party, starting a conversation that you know probably won’t end well can be next to impossible. Before you decide to overlook the entire incident and hope your boyfriend will never find out, think again. These things have a way of making themselves known sooner or later.

What to Say:
Keeping the Band-Aid effect in mind (do it quickly and get it over with), Cassidy suggests saying, “I need to talk to you about something. But, before I do I just want you to know that I didn’t mean to hurt you and it won’t happen again, ok?”

How to Deal:
“Be ready to face the consequences and remember that guys tend to process things internally,” Olver says. He might be mad and not want to talk to you for a while so give him the space he needs to work it out. Once a few days have passed, if it takes that long, contact him to see where your relationship stands and respect his answer.”

We Had the Talk
…and it was a disaster, says Katrina*. “The talk was all my fault, which led to a blow up and a break up. It was a disaster and we both still love each other but we hurt each other very badly and don’t know how to talk to one another about it effectively.”

Three Things to Keep In Mind While Having Your Talk

Pick the Right Place
When approaching touchy subjects, be sure to do so in a private and quiet place where both you and your guy will feel comfortable. Yes, you may be royally pissed off at your boyfriend for checking out your best friend’s butt two minutes ago at a party, but leave the situation alone until you leave.

Use Your Inside Voice
Unfortunately, many of us think if we yell, our point will be better understood. This is one hundred percent not true. If the conversation begins to get particularly heated, take a big breath, count to three and restart in a calmer voice.

Have a Goal in Mind
Much as you try to prepare for these conversations, they’ll likely not go off exactly as planned. Nerves, special circumstances, and offbeat responses from your guy can throw a wrench in the conversation you’d perfectly scripted in your head. That being said, remember what you wanted to discuss going into the talk and try not to deviate too much from that topic.

So, It seems as if having a “talk” isn’t as scary when you prepare yourself for the before, during, and after. We polled real college girls to see which of these conversations they’d be most nervous to have and here is what they said.

Which “talk” makes you the most nervous?

*Names have been changed.
Kim Olver, lifestyle coach and author
Cassidy Quinn Brettler, Her Campus Real Live College Girl
Anonymous College Girls

Sarah Weinberg is a student at San Diego State University, Class of 2012. She is attempting to overcome her aversion to multitasking as she pursues courses in Liberal Studies, Spanish, and Journalism. Sarah has always been interested in the “behind-the-scenes” aspects of the fashion and lifestyle industry with journalism being a prominent prospective path. Now, much of the time that she should spend working on homework and writing papers is instead spent pouring through magazines and lusting over ridiculously priced shoes, impeccably styled pictorials, and the glamorous lifestyles of the cover models. It isn’t unusual to find Sarah baking (anything with a large amount of chocolate), traveling (last stop: summer abroad in Granada, Spain), playing in her closet (never too old to play dress up), or hanging out with friends and family (how cute and cliché). She is currently a Style Guru for CollegeFashionista.com and is thrilled to become a writer for Her Campus.