It is difficult to resist requests from people with whom you have close relationships, because of your fear that they will take offence. But agreeing to something that you resent damages your authenticity in the relationship and over time does more harm than being truthful from the beginning.

In the situation below Teresa is concerned that she will not be comfortable spending a long weekend with her father-in-law and his new wife whom she has not yet met. She would prefer to offer an excuse for refusing the invitation but her husband Richard, in the conversation with his father, is honest about their reason for declining the invitation and offers an alternative plan.

Teresa opened the conversation with Richard over dinner. ‘Your father phoned this afternoon to invite us to spend the long weekend with them. I said we’d talk about it and let him know.’

‘What’s the problem?’ Richard looked puzzled. ‘We’ve nothing planned for that weekend, and I think it’s time we got to know Nikki properly. They must be thinking it strange that we haven’t invited them over yet.’

‘I know. We should have. And that’s the problem.’ Teresa sighed. ‘I still haven’t met her. I’ve no idea what’s she’s like. You say she’s very nice, but I’m worried I’ll feel really awkward with her. I’m definitely not ready to spend a whole weekend with her. I’d much rather we made an excuse. We could say we’ve got plans for that weekend and maybe invite them over for dinner one evening instead.’

Richard shook his head. ‘We’ve both been worried that Dad was lonely. He’ll never replace Mum, but we don’t want to see him on his own for the rest of his life.

Teresa sighed. ‘I suppose you’re right. But I’d still rather meet her first, before spending a whole weekend with her. Can’t we make an excuse?’

‘I don’t think that’s a good idea,’ Richard said. ‘You know that excuses lead to lies and then more lies. I’d rather call Dad and tell him the truth: that you’d like to meet Nikki first, and spend some time together before we go away with them. Maybe we can plan a trip for later in the year. I’ll invite them to dinner one night next week. What do you think?’

‘I guess that’s a good idea. I don’t want Dad to think that we disapprove of Nikki, and I don’t want to hurt his feelings,’ Teresa said. ‘I suppose you’re right. If we make some excuse and he finds out, he’ll be really hurt.’

The next morning Richard phoned his father. He wasn’t expecting a difficult conversation. He had a good relationship with his father, and they had often talked about how his father was coping with life on his own.

They chatted for a few minutes before Richard brought up the invitation. ‘Teresa told me you phoned to invite us to join you and Nikki for the long weekend.’

‘Yes,’ his father said. ‘But I’m not sure that she was pleased about the invitation. She sounded a bit taken aback. Is anything wrong?’

‘There’s nothing wrong, Dad,’ Richard replied. ‘We’re both happy for you that you found someone. We know you must have been lonely on your own. And I know it’s important that Nikki becomes part of the family. It’s just that Teresa and Nikki haven’t met yet, and we feel it’s a bit soon for us to spend four days together. There might be, you know, some awkwardness. We’d like to get to know Nikki a bit better before we go on holiday with the two of you. We realise we should have invited you over ages ago. I just don’t know where the time goes! So why don’t we start by having dinner together soon, and then take it from there?’

‘Yes, I suppose we could do that,’ his father replied. ‘It’s just that Nikki and I thought it would be nice to get away, somewhere we could relax, get to know each other. Look, I realise it was all a bit sudden, meeting her and everything. I suppose Teresa thinks I’m crazy, settling down with someone so soon.’

‘Well, it did happen quickly, but from what I can see, the two of you seem very happy together,’ Richard reassured his father. ‘Teresa needs to see that for herself, and to have time to get to know Nikki. Why don’t we get together one evening this weekend? How would Saturday be for the two of you?’

Straight Talk tips on this conversation:

Notice how Richard opens the conversation by reassuring his father that he and Teresa are happy for him and want his wife to become part of the family. This sets a positive tone for the rest of the conversation;

He gives his reason for declining his father’s invitation simply and honestly, with the words ‘we feel it’s a bit soon for us to spend four days together’.

He then offers an alternative invitation that would work for everyone and ends the conversation on a positive note.

This conversation is adapted from material in Straight Talk: how to manage conversations that scare you, published by Struik, 2011. For more information click here

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