An Expert Breaks Down How To Talk To Your Partner About Your Relationship Fears

by Sydnee Lyons
Originally Published: 

Have you ever been in a relationship and wanted to say something like, "I'm afraid you're still not over your ex," or "I'm afraid I'm more into you than you're into me," to your partner but just couldn't? Have you ever felt like you don't know how to tell your boyfriend or girlfriend something is bothering you without them getting upset or shutting you down? It's OK. Truth is, it happens to the best of us. But it doesn't have to.

If you're in a committed relationship, you should feel comfortable talking to your partner about anything, especially the things that bother you.

I know that saying open communication is key to any relationship is a bit of a cliché but in this case, it's totally applicable. You can't expect your partner to discern every thought that goes through your mind, even if they are exceptionally attentive to your needs. You owe it to them and to your relationship to speak up if something doesn't feel right.

Anita Chlipala, licensed marriage and family therapist, says, "If you want a serious, long-term relationship with this person, there really shouldn't be anything that is off the table, so to speak. I don't mean saying whatever you want as harshly as you want. Not that. But I do mean that you should be able to approach your partner with any concerns and be listened to."

Here's how she recommends bringing up this potentially awkward conversation with your partner.

How can you initiate a conversation about your relationship fears without upsetting or worrying your partner?

When delivering bad news, it's always a good idea to preface it with something positive. For example, if you want to tell your partner that you think they party too much, start the conversation by saying, "I love spending time with you because we always have so much fun together." That way, they know that you appreciate them and that your concerns aren't necessarily coming from a place of resentment. Next, you can add that you'd like to try new things together that might be just as fun as going out to the club; maybe make a joke about seeing them in the daylight if you think they'd appreciate it. Sometimes, humor is a useful tool to disarm your partner if you sense they might react defensively to what you have to say.

Although this strategy allows you to ease into the conversation more casually, don't be afraid to get more direct about your concerns as the conversation progresses. Chlipala says, "You can't go in thinking you don't want to upset your partner. Conflict is inevitable — and healthy — in a relationship. Some of my clients think short-term (not wanting to hurt their partner) and miss the long-term implications of keeping quiet, namely being unsatisfied in the relationship or feeling disconnected from their partner and unsure about his or her feelings."

Remember that the goal of this conversation isn't necessarily to keep your partner happy but to make sure that you are happy again in your relationship. Find a balance between protecting your partner's feelings and validating your own.

What should you do if your partner is reluctant to listen to your relationship fears?

Few people enjoy receiving negative feedback, especially in a romantic relationship where complaints can feel more personal than ever. Don't be surprised if your partner is reluctant to listen attentively to your concerns at first. More than likely, this is a defense mechanism because they feel insecure or embarrassed about the situation.

Chlipala recommends trying to have this conversation more than once and in multiple ways. For example, if you first bring this up in person and you find that your partner has very little to say in response, try revisiting the topic over text after a few days. By now, your partner would have had some time to think about what you've shared with them and responding via text might come more naturally than face-to-face.

"It doesn't mean they have to agree with you. And sometimes people don't know how to respond or what to do with the information that you shared, so it's OK to coach them about what you need," she explains.

Sometimes, people fear the result of a difficult conversation like this will inevitably be breaking up, so they aren't always eager to get into it right away. This is when your ability to ease into the conversation — reassuring your partner that you'd like to work on the problem rather than avoid it — is important.

Of course, Chlipala notes, "If they continually minimize or brush off your concerns, you may want to consider ending the relationship or going to counseling."

What should you do if your partner confirms your fears?

If you tell your partner that you're afraid they won't be able to commit to you long-term and they agree, you might be ready to call it quits. Before you do, Chlipala's advice is to make a commitment to have an ongoing dialogue. "Relationship issues don't get managed in one conversation," she says.

As you continue to work through your relationship problems with your partner, know that things will only get better if you both have an end goal in mind. Once you've explained your concern to your partner, you should both agree on what you think can be done differently in the future. As time progresses, check in with each other to see if things have really changed and if you feel any better about the future of your relationship.

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