Relationships Communication Strategies for Talking About Decisions That Involve Major Life Change

By Alice Boyes, PhD. | Uncategorized

I recently did a UK magazine interview about how couples can successfully negotiate and cope with moving overseas, and although the article is about moving overseas, the advice is broadly applicable to talking about/negotiating any major relationship decision (e.g. getting married, having a baby, moving, a career change).

I’ve copied the full text of the questions they asked me and my replies below. The advice will help you be more effective in persuading your partner to do what you want. But, pay attention to the part where I say that convincing your partner to do what you want isn’t always the best idea.

Overview of the Topics Covered

– Do you have any advice on how to broach a major issue or idea (such as the prospect of emigrating to another country) with your other half? Any particularly tactful ways to go about it?

– How can you effectively help your partner or spouse to see your point of view in such a conversation?

– If your partner is resistant to a major life change, how might you go about convincing them to see an alternative perspective?

– When going through a stressful life change like moving to another country, how can you keep conflict between yourself and your partner to a minimum?

Q1. – Do you have any advice on how to broach a major issue or idea (such as the prospect of emigrating to another country) with your other half? Any particularly tactful ways to go about it?

a) Pick a time when your partner has the time and emotional energy to process what you have to say, and when they’re in a positive mood.

b) Try briefly mentioning the topic you’d like to talk about and asking your partner when they’d most be interested in talking about it.

c) The answers to the next question are also relevant to this question.

Q2. – How can you effectively help your partner or spouse to see your point of view in such a conversation?

a) First, be clear on your own reasons for wanting to emigrate.

Even if you’re not someone who usually writes things down, write down your reasons.

Ask yourself – What dreams do you have for yourself and your family that you think would be fulfilled by emigrating?

Doing a written analysis will make you clearer about what all your important reasons are so you’ll be able to articulate these points more clearly when talking to your partner. Having done a written analysis will also demonstrate to your partner that you’re taking a considered, thoughtful approach.

A good way to unearth what these key dreams are is to do a “Decisional Balance”. To do this, set up a piece of paper with 4 quadrants. Give each quadrant a heading.

Good things about moving to New Zealand
Not so good things about moving to New Zealand
Good things about continuing to live in the UK
Not so good things about continuing to live in the UK

Write as many things as you can think of in each of the boxes. Don’t worry if there’s some overlap.

b. The way to get someone else to understand your perspective is to first meet their needs for having you understand their perspective. Partners will be the most receptive to seeing your perspective if you can genuinely demonstrate that you understand their perspective.

Don’t dismiss or minimize your partners concerns. When you’re talking to your partner about moving, keep your ears tuned for your partner mentioning their concerns. When they do, don’t move on to your next point without acknowledging what they’ve said.

Q3. If your partner is resistant to a major life change, how might you go about convincing them to see an alternative perspective?

a. The answers for the last question are relevant to this question as well. Some additional points to consider are listed below:

b. Be open to the idea that convincing your partner to do something they don’t think will make them happy may not be the right thing to do.

c. Be creative in thinking about compromises. If your partner doesn’t want to emigrate, what might be other options? Going on a long trip? You going out for 6 months to try it out? Having a long distance relationship for a year so you can have the experiences you want but your partner doesn’t need to leave their job etc.

Having a clear idea of what dreams you hope will be fulfilled by moving will help you be flexible in coming up with fulfilling compromises if you can’t reach a joint consensus on emigrating.

For example,

– if part of wanting to emigrate is to increase excitement and adventure in your life, there are other ways to do this.

– if what you want from emigrating is to have a more relaxed lifestyle, there are other ways to do this.

– if you want to see more of the world and other cultures, there are other ways to do this.

Q4. When going through a stressful life change like moving to another country, how can you keep conflict between yourself and your partner to a minimum?

a) Cultivate a spirit of embarking on an adventure together.

b) Make relationship closeness a high priority. Have “micro routines” in your life that help you feel close to each other and provide familiarity and comfort during change.

c) Make sure you pull your weight in the emigrating process. Don’t leave jobs to your partner just because normally that’s their role (for example, investigating schools for your children).

d) If you find yourself in a pattern of negativity or difficulty adjusting to your new country and can’t solve the problems yourselves, see a psychology PhD. How easily people adjust to change is strongly influenced by biology – it’s part of temperament. Don’t panic if it takes one or both of you longer than expected to adjust. But do get help if problems adjusting are causing distress to you individually or as a couple. A psychology PhD will be able to help you improve how well you’re adjusting. You may only need a few sessions and its likely to be a very worthwhile investment of your time and money to be happier.


Thanks for reading.

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Head over to this page to read more posts about Psychology, Happiness, and Relationships from Dr Alice Boyes, Clinical psychology PhD, Christchurch, New Zealand.

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