Almost everyone has experienced an uncomfortable situation in a relationship where a problem caused a fracture of trust, respect, or closeness. One or both parties pull away due to the pain or confusion. But, God didn’t create us to live in isolation. There are times when we must move beyond boundaries, the need for self-protection, and seek reconciliation. But, how do you reconnect with someone after the connection has been broken? How do you face each other and have “the talk”?
Here’s a good rule of thumb: Let’s imagine you have taken some relational risks over time, and the person has been warm and open with you in response. For instance, you might have admitted that you don’t have a perfect life, acknowledged present and past struggles, or named some of your own insecurities and weaknesses. It’s important to go slowly with these disclosures and not get too descriptive too quickly. You’re just seeing how the other person responds.
If the person steps back, is uncomfortable, or shows that problems and struggles aren’t something he can deal with, it may not be the right time. Or, you may simply have been too disclosing for the stage the relationship is in. “The talk” is a way to see whether the other person’s level of interest matches your own and to be clear on how the two of you can enjoy the relationship, open up to each other, and understand any difficulties.
Beyond Boundaries: How to Have “The Talk”
The talk has several aspects to it that create a structure and an agenda. You are the one who is taking the initiative, because you want to make sure things are as clear as possible between you. As you go over these, think about your own individual situation and fit it into the structure.
1. State What You Value and Desire
The first part of the talk is to be direct and vulnerable about the fact that the person is important to you. You value him. She is important to you. This is an essential first step for every kind of relationship — romantic, family, friend, or colleague. You would not be having a talk if the person didn’t matter to you. When you affirm what you value in the relationship, you communicate that the relationship is significant, and you want the two of you to discuss it. Here are some examples of value statements:
- I care about you and this relationship.
- I appreciate the talent you bring to our company.
- Even though things have been rough, I am for us.
- You are a good friend to me.
- You matter to me a great deal.
- I love you.
- I value your contributions to our organizations, and like you as a friend as well.
Supposing the other person is interested and engaged, then what? The next step is to make a desire statement, to say what you want in the relationship. While value is about where you are now in your feelings for the person, desire is about the future. It has to do with the path ahead and what you would like to see. It may even be that you aren’t looking at any major shift, such as marriage or building a partnership. It may simply be that you want things to deepen between you because you see a lot of potential. Here are some examples of desire statements:
- I’d like to spend more time together.
- I’d like us to give it a go again.
- I’d like to get to know you better.
- I’d like to date you exclusively.
- I’d like for us to become more open and vulnerable with each other.
- I’d like to try the relationship again and reconcile our differences.
You really can’t predict someone’s response, and the other person is always free to say he or she doesn’t want to move ahead. If that is all that comes from the talk, you have still accomplished something good. The reality of the other person’s response tells you for certain where things are and aren’t. But supposing you get a green light…then what?
2. State Your Concern
The talk isn’t all wine and roses; it needs to acknowledge the thorns. You do this when you state your concerns about the relationship. Your concern about vulnerability and trust — because of previous relational wounds — must become part of the new relationship or the new season in an ongoing relationship. This is where you apply the brakes to the connection and let the other person know, from your own viewpoint, what has happened, the impact it had on you, and what you would like to avoid this time around.
State what you don’t want to happen in the future. This is the core of your concern. You want to take risks with this person. You have worked on you, and you have observed the other person. You feel reasonably sure it’s a manageable risk, not a dangerous one. With that said, you want both of you to ease into the connection, having some amount of caution. Here are some examples of what you might say:
- I don’t want to get hurt at that level again; it’s not good for me or us.
- I want to do this right, wherever it leads. I don’t want any regrets.
- I don’t want to be surprised by some new information I should have known earlier.
- I don’t want to open up to you if your old dysfunctional patterns are going to return.
- I don’t want to take a risk if you don’t think we’re close to wanting the same things for the relationship.
These sorts of statements are an alert to the other person — really, both of you —that this isn’t a spontaneous and carefree exercise in exploring a new possibility. Though you want to have a great time and take chances, the reality is that you are going to use some discretion and discernment. You are willing to risk, but you will be thinking about what’s going on at the same time.
3. Establish the Ground Rules
At this point, suggest a few ground rules. They will help you both continue the exploration of the relationship and will put you both on the same page as to how to conduct this. Relational ground rules are simply basic agreements between you that help keep the relationship as healthy as possible. They provide a way for both of you to monitor the process of getting closer.
All relationships need ground rules of some sort. They may be spoken or unspoken, but they are there. For a new relationship to have the most potential for helping you to move beyond boundaries, I suggest keeping the ground rules simple and few. Both people agree to the following:
- Talk about “us.” We will make it a habit to discuss how the relationship is doing; we will do this on some sort of a regular basis, not just occasionally or randomly.
- Be open and honest. We will make honesty and vulnerability a normal part of the relationship rather than something we avoid.
- Ask questions. We are both free to ask and answer questions. If something is going on about which one of us needs clarification, we won’t interpret questions as a lack of trust.
In most relationships, maintaining the commitments of your ground rules should take up a minor part of the time and energy that you spend together. Whatever the length of the conversation, you need the ground rules. In the midst of all the good you are looking forward to, you want to experience increasing connection in a safe context. You don’t want a reinjury in the same spot inside. That is unacceptable. So all you are really saying is that you are in the game and playing full court, but you want to pay attention to an old issue as you get to know each other.
4. Ask for Buy In
Ask for buy with this question, “Are you okay with all this?” This is another act of vulnerability. Having the talk and establishing ground rules isn’t a matter of simply opening up, telling a person your past, and then leaving it there with, “I just wanted you to know.” You are going beyond that. You are presenting your desires.
However, the other person has every right to say they don’t share your desires — they don’t want to discuss these matters, they don’t have the same level of interest, or they are uncomfortable with the state of the relationship. Be patient. It may be that the person will, at some point, want to have the sort of relationship you’ve described. Something inside him will either move toward you or away from you, and that is the important part.
My encouragement to you is to not move too quickly with the other person, but not too tentatively either. Don’t force it. Give yourself, the relationship, and the other person time and space for things to develop and deepen.
Having “the talk” is important. Take responsibility for determining when it’s a good time. If you and the other person are in the right place, you will most likely be pleasantly surprised at the response. We all need connection, and we all need ground rules. When you have had the talk, you are ready to live out and experience the relationship at the levels of trust that work for both of you.
This article just scratches the surface. Go deeper on this important topic in Beyond Boundaries.