Advice - Relationships

Difficult Conversations

I have had a challenging week. I’ve had to engage in some very difficult conversations with people I work with, play with and even sorting my home finances. All these conversations were important in their own ways. All life altering. But I got through the week remembering some basic ethical principles and facilitating my communication skills.

Those skills can be learnt. Our ethics are something to reflect on periodically, particularly when it comes to intimate relationships. At the end of the day, we don’t want to be harmed or cause harm to others. We want to live rich and fulfilling lives, and not mind the mundane bits and horrible chores. We want to make meaningful connections with others. I write about this in my book Rope Happy. I share tips on how to find compatible partners and communicate effectively what you want. It’s not easy, hence all the exercises I provide. But there are no short cuts. You have to have difficult conversations.

You may find yourself in a situation with another person who has inadvertently caused you harm. Something happened that you didn’t expect. A boundary you thought was set was trespassed. A harsh word was spoken. An inappropriate touch. You may not be sure of the future of your relationship. Things happen. How we deal with it is what matters.

It depends on many factors:

  1. How well you know the person.
  2. Your previous experiences with them.
  3. How much they understood what you negotiated.
  4. How much you understood what they said.
  5. The intentions behind your behaviour.
  6. The intentions behind their behaviour.
  7. What you expected would happen.
  8. What they expected would happen.
  9. Ambitions for the relationship
  10. Any cognitive barriers.
  11. Any language barriers.
  12. Any cultural barriers.
  13. Other stuff I can’t think of right now, but are individual to you.

I can’t stress hard enough just how important robust negotiations are pivotal to building lasting and healthy relationships. And that requires strong communication between you and your partner. We must refrain from making assumptions about what the other person wants and feels. We need to stop ourselves from projecting our wishes onto another person and respect who they are and their boundaries.

Some useful tips for difficult conversations:

  1. Start with the intention to resolve the conflict. Don’t assume it’s the end of the world.
  2. Pick a moment to talk when you’ve had a chance to reflect on what has happened and how it made you feel.
  3. Be assertive (not aggressive- see my book for details) Say how you feel. Be clear. State the behaviour that caused upset, without making it a personal attack. Eg “When you touched me like that, it made me feel uncomfortable.”
  4. Avoid acting like a victim wanting to be rescued. Bad things happen to all people. It’s important to not foster an environment where conflict leads to nurturing because of negative feelings, which can create an unhealthy cycle where nurturing needs are only met in conflict.
  5. Own your role in the experience. Think about how you could have behaved differently. Communicate that. Eg. “When you touched me like that, I could have responded more directly.”
  6. Once you have identified the problem behaviours, work to find solutions to make those boundaries clearer and think of new ways to communicate your needs.
  7. Avoid blaming and nurturing feelings of guilt. It’s easy to fall into the parent-child dynamic where one partner belittles the other person to feel more heard. Instead communicate like respectful adults, knowing you will see things differently.
  8. Recognise and power differentials – either agreed upon within a power exchange dynamic, or culturally based on race/gender/sexual orientation/etc. People from certain backgrounds might have an unconscious advantage over others, and this can be very much the same in relationships.
  9. Incorporate different communication styles and take seriously any alternative understandings of words and phrasres to your own. We all communicate in slightly different ways, so accommodate that as much as possible.
  10. Think about next steps to resolve the issue. Perhaps reaching to others for advice, more conversations, practical steps.

It takes work. But it’s always worth it. Sometimes the result in the conversation may lead to a parting of ways because the gap is too wide between what both your needs are. Which is normal. Which is sometimes the healthiest thing to do.


If a person is not reciprocating the same level of respectful discord, and instead becomes aggressive, intimidating, threatening, dismissive, or blames you, disengage. That is not a healthy difficult conversations. That’s the most unhealthy and you don’t have to participate in it.

Furthermore, if someone is refusing to have difficult conversations with you, and expects things from you without the thorough negotiations, perhaps citing other protocols within kink dynamics, walk away. Don’t be rushed into things, manipulated or abused. You deserve better. We all do.

All good dynamics takes years to nurture. It takes a lot of getting to know each other. It takes a lot of personal reflection for all parties involved. It takes a willingness to be vulnerable with each other, which not everyone is ready for. So wait for that readiness. Time is your best friend.

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