Life happens at inconvenient times.  Sometimes, everything goes well for a few weeks and you’re on a roll: all of your work is done and you finally get some ‘me-time’ thrown in there.   It seems like your ducks are in a row.  And then, the ‘can we talk’ text comes from either your significant other, your roomate, or one of your friends.  Suddenly, your ducks have managed to waddle off in all different directions.


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I got that text a few weeks ago from my then-boyfriend right before one of my meetings.  As I looked down at my phone, I felt chills run down each vertebrae of my back and down my sciatic nerve (which is already in pain).  I started sweating through my sweater and nervously looked around for a way to ground myself in that moment.  In with your nose, out through your mouth, said my inner therapist voice.  But I felt overcome with this pressing sense of dread and anxiety.

When did ‘can we talk’ emerge with this kind of connotation?  The phrase itself is an opportunity for conversation and a door for inviting to see inquiry and vulnerability.  But, I suppose after so many boyfriends used it as the signal for a break-up, it lost its appeal as a conversation piece.

And what do you say to someone in that moment?  Certainly, not ‘no,’ because that would be wholly discourteous and evasive on your part.  It’s all about rethinking and breaking down the phrase.  ‘Can’ meaning that the situation has the possibility for you both to be honest with each other.  ‘We’ meaning that it’s an intimate matter that both of you should be physically and mentally present for.  And then comes ‘talk,’ which just a method of conversation.

Rethinking and breaking down this phrase is difficult in the time being.  But, here are some tips for how you can both make the conversation reach its fullest potential:

1) Talk in person.  

Phones are a great way to communicate with each other, but, they often don’t allow us to express our truest emotions.  When you say something over text, it sounds monotone.  If you are giving someone an outlet to express their thoughts, you are showing that you care.  Sometimes, we have a tendency to send screenshots of texts to our friends and ask them for their opinion.  But what is it that you want? How can you handle the conversation with integrity and perseverance?

2) Let the other person speak their peace.  

You never know what the other person has to say until they say it.  Sit yourself back and listen to the other person say everything they want.  Try not to react while they’re talking, then respond and ask questions when you are sure the person is finished talking.

3) ‘I appreciate your honesty.’  

This phrase is super powerful!  You’re acknowledging that you want to hear what the other person is saying and address their concerns.

4) Speak your truth.  

What do you think about the statement?  Fight for what you believe in.  You don’t have the responsibility to persuade the other person to forget what they wanted to talk about in the first place, but remember that conversations are a two-way street.

4) Be proactive.  

No one likes getting scolded.  At the end of your conversation, once you both have spoken, pose the question ‘where do we go from here?’  This shows that you want to make the situation right and support the other person fully.  Do you agree that x was a problem, so you will take accountability for the issue?  How will you avoid x from happening again?


Sara is a freshman at the University of Vermont with a major in Environmental Studies. After finishing her bachelor’s, she plans to go to law school. Outside of academics, she loves figure skating, riding horses, and interning with bSmart.

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