Say What’s Not Being Said: Reid’s Formula for Difficult Conversations

by Reid on March 20, 2012

A heterosexual couple not speaking to one another during an argument while wearing matching white turtlenecks sitting in a modern kitchenIt’s what you’re not saying that’s destroying your relationships…

The plain truth of intimacy is this: It’s what we’re not saying in our relationships that’s slowly killing them. Withholding the important and even the trivial, over time, fosters resentment and mistrust, eroding intimacy. And it’s not just the negative stuff that we don’t say that’s detrimental; withheld acknowledgements and appreciations are just as toxic to the health of intimacy and connection as withheld frustrations and upsets.

Men and women should be talking about the scary stuff and sharing the things that they are afraid will end the relationship. Until we do that, we’re spending our relationship lives “walking on eggshells,” and it’s my belief that risking ending a relationship by being honest and transparent leads to a more fulfilling life than “not rocking the boat” for 5, 10, 20 or more years.

If sharing with a loved one your scariest and most shameful wants, fears and desires ends the relationship, I think you’re both better off in the long run. How many people do you know who “stuck it out” only to arrive at the end of their lives with a boat load of regrets, resentment and disappointing “I wish I’d _________ when I was younger” to show for it? Of the ones who did stick it out and were the better for it, I’d wager that they were more honest and transparent in their relationships.

A Case for Transparency

UK Big Brother season 2010, kissing through glassIf you share the things you think might end the relationship and the relationship doesn’t end, now you’re having a Relationship with a Capital R! Sure it’s scary to say the scary things, and it’s bound to kick up a lot of emotional flotsam at times, but what if you and your partners could work through it? What if letting the “cat out of the bag” built more trust and a deeper sense of security and intimacy than wondering if your partner is withholding important things from you?

When you say what is not being said, especially the big, bad, hairy, scary stuff, you model for your loved ones that they can share all the things they’re not saying, too. Over time, you get to know your partners more, they get to know you more, and you’ll realize that they’re choosing to be in a relationship with the real you, not some façade of who you think they need you to be.

Granted, it’s no bed of roses starting the process of transparency, but once you begin to exercise your “what’s not being said” muscles, having difficult conversations become so much easier and, pretty soon, you’re living a life where you’ve got nothing to hide from those you care about. You and your loved ones have begun to release all the energy it once took to hide those bits and facets of yourselves. This freed up energy and bandwidth are now yours to express in the world and in your relationships!

Reid’s “Say What’s Not Being Said” Difficult Conversation Formula

Albert Einstein at the blackboard writing Reid Mihalko's Difficult Conversation FormulaMany people don’t know how to initiate a Difficult Conversation because no one ever taught them how. I recommend this “formula” for sharing concisely and responsibly what it is you’re not saying. Thousands of men and women I’ve worked with, coached or lectured to over the years have found this “script” invaluable.

Use Step 1 to gain clarity on what you’re not saying and to whom in your world, why you’re not saying it, and what you’d like to gain by saying it. Then use the script in Step 2 to make initiating a difficult conversation easier.

The script in Step 2 allows you to build context and communicate your intentions while allowing you to share what it is that you’ve been withholding. I’ve actually had coaching clients print out and read directly off the paper, and you can too! Remember, it’s that you initiated the conversation which begins to make all the difference. If you’re waiting for the “right time” to start the conversation and you’ve been waiting more than 3-days, I assert that the “right time” may never come and you should grab your handy script and give it a go.

In another post I’ll talk about how to handle situations when saying what your not saying catches your partners by surprise and they don’t handle the new information well.

Best of luck and let me know how the “Say What’s Not Being Said” Difficult Conversation Formula works for you!

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Reid’s Difficult Conversation Formula In 2-Steps

Step 1 – Prepping Your Difficult Conversation

Step 1: Find some time alone and write down the answers to the following questions, in the order they appear… Just write for 3-5 minutes on each question, non-stop. Try to keep the pen moving or your fingers typing for the full 3-5 minutes. Write all the crap swirling around in your head and get it on paper or a computer screen. If you get stuck, write: “I’m stuck. I can’t think of anything…” until your brain unsticks itself. Keep moving!

A. What I’m not saying to ___(my partner, my boss, the hottie at the bar)__ is ___________________.

B. What I’m afraid might happen if I say it is ___(Remember, you’re brainstorming! Your list can’t be too long! The longer the better!)___.

C. What I’d like to have happen by saying this is ___(Write down all the positive things you can think of!)____.

Step 2 – Organizing Your Difficult Conversation 

Step 2:  Cut and paste your answers into this this script below which will be the script that you can memorize or read from when you talk to so and so. It can also be the script that you use to email them, etc.:

Dear ___(partner, boss, hottie at the bar)__, there are some things I’ve not been saying to you.  I’m not saying them/haven’t been able to say them, because I’m afraid the following might happen:

  • (Answers from B here)
  • (Answers from B here)
  • (Answers from B here)

What I would like to have happen by my telling you is:

  • (Answers from C here)
  • (Answers from C here)
  • (Answers from C here)

And what I’m not telling you is (Answer from A here).

Thank you for listening. What, if anything, would you like to share?

An Example…

Here’s an example of a Difficult Conversation Formula Script all filled in with a situation which, unfortunately, might be all too common these days…

“Dear partner, there are some things I’ve not been saying to you.  I’m not saying them, because I’m afraid the following might happen:

  • You will lose all respect for me
  • You’ll divorce and leave me
  • You will take the kids away and I will never see them again
  • You will never forgive me and I’ll have no chance of rebuilding your trust in me

What I would like to have happen by my telling you is:

  • For you to know that I would never lie to you and that you trust me more
  • That when I lie or hide something from you, I’ll try to come clean as quickly as I can
  • That we reach a deeper level of love, trust and intimacy in our relationship
  • That we role model for our children that it’s possible to make it through tough times

And what I’m not telling you is I was let go from my job a week ago and I was too afraid and ashamed to tell you and I’ve been spending my days at Starbucks applying for jobs without much success yet.

Thank you for listening. What, if anything, would you like to share?”


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{ 10 comments… read them below or add one }

Lilita Tannis March 20, 2012 at 4:31 pm

This is a fantastic link. Thanks Reid. Lilita


Caroline March 21, 2012 at 3:55 am

Really like the written steps idea, what a healthy way to deal with those conversations, thanks for sharing this


eric April 6, 2012 at 10:09 pm


Excellent point and post! Most of us know the importance of fostering intimacy, but its great to see an explicit way to share things that we believe will harm our relationships. THanks!


Colin April 7, 2012 at 1:04 am

This is so poetic…

I had one of those conversations last night. I started at step 3 – it took her by surprise and she didn’t handle it well.

I like the process and steps you outlined. It’s something I want to put into practice, spent too much time holding back.


Reid April 7, 2012 at 1:10 am

Congrats on being bold, Colin, and my heart goes out to you that your partner didn’t handle it well.

And, for what it’s worth… Many people don’t handle new information well. Even the most well contextualized information can land on some people like a surprise.

Did you think it was that you started at Step 3 that made it difficult for your partner? Looking back now, what would you have altered?

Again, THAT you spoke up and shared… Congrats.

Let me know how I might be of support.



SamR April 7, 2012 at 7:38 am

Good advice Reid. The script is structured into FEARS, HOPES and *then* the PROBLEM. This frames the possible reactions ahead of time, and I think helps disarm the situation. Like it (as always!)


Edie Weinstein August 6, 2013 at 7:44 pm

Great stuff here! You are healing the planet one relationship at a time, Reid. One thing I have started using with clients is “What I love about getting close(r) to you is…. and what I fear about getting close(r) to you is….” A book that was written by a friend of mine named Nancy Dreyfus is called Talk To Me Like I’m Someone You Love and it comes in handy with difficult conversations. <3


Dawn Fortune May 7, 2014 at 9:14 pm

I just did a consult with a colleague who wants to become a better lover. I think they were hoping for technical advice, but aside from a basic anatomy lesson, what they got was a link to this formula. Communication is the best way to please a partner, for sure. I am so glad you’ve got this laid out so clean and simple. What a great resource! <3


Gin September 8, 2014 at 8:42 pm

I’ve used this with my mother, best friend, and partner. And it’s never failed me. Even in circumstances when I risked loosing someone I loved, this combination led to successful and productive conversations.
I think the beauty of this equation, is that you really do make yourself vulnerable but because you prepared, you feel in control. Because it makes me think about my word choice, I don’t feel like I’m scrambling or chaotic. It is an efficient vehicle for communicating my feelings and I’m really thankful that it exists.


Reid September 9, 2014 at 1:39 am


Thank you SO much for the kind words and for taking the time to share your experience using the formula, and it’s results!

You rock!


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