What to Say: Intimate Relationships

Scripts for five ticklish situations.

Posted Jul 16, 2020

Yesterday, I offered sample scripts for what to say in ticklish situations in work-life. Today I turn to relationships. 

As in this series’ previous installment, it would be a mistake to memorize these scripts. Unless you’re a good actor, you’ll seem stilted and won’t adapt what you say to the situation, to your communication style, and to that of your conversation partner. Think of the scripts as samples to draw from, to induce communication principles from. To encourage that, the first time I use a principle, I call it out.

The narrative on your online dating profile:

"SENSITIVE BUT NOT TOO SENSITIVE MAN. I’d like a long-term relationship with an independent yet caring woman. Activities I’d enjoy doing with my partner: intelligent and respectful conversation, inviting another couple for dinner, binge-watching quality TV series, and walks with the dog, If this suggests we might be compatible, I’d welcome hearing from you.”

That narrative highlights the person’s differentiating features—the goal of a dating profile is not to get the most responses but to filter-in especially good fits. (Issues of demographics, preferences regarding kids and substance abuse aren't addressed in the narrative because the short-answer questions screen for those.)

Asking someone out on a date

“I’ve enjoyed our conversations. You’ve asked good questions, been a good listener, and said lots of smart things. Besides, I think you’re pretty. Would you like to go out for coffee?”

That statement concisely gave a specific and therefore credible reason for asking-out this person. It also blended head (“You asked good questions”) and heart (“You're pretty”) without being too forward, which might have been the case if the person substituted “sexy” for “pretty.”

Confronting your intimate partner or friend’s bad behavior

“I know you’re sick of my reminding you to be more gentle when we’re making love, but I’m not sure we’re there yet. Any suggestions for what we might do?”

The person preempted an objection: “I know you’re sick of my reminding you …”

S/he asked for what s/he wanted in a concise but gentle way: “I’m not sure we’re there yet” rather than “You’re still too rough.”

The person withheld giving advice but instead asked a question, one that encouraged both of them to assume responsibility, thereby making the person feel less blamed: “Any suggestions for what we might do?”

Telling a romantic partner or friend that you’re breaking up

"As you know, I’ve cherished much about our relationship. (Insert two or three examples.) But as you also know, we’ve had our challenges. (Insert one or two.) So, I’ve decided it’s wise for me, and I believe ultimately for you, to make a clean break. I will always have fond memories of our relationship."

That script uses the sandwich technique. Start and end with something positive. Even if the person is aware of the technique being used, it tends to be conciliating.

Keep the request crisp and with little room for the person to try to resurrect the relationship.

Asking to marry

Look the person in the eye and let your eyes lock. Hopefully, you’ll both melt.

This may be a time to be traditional: “This may be the most important moment in my life. I love you and would love us to spend the rest of our life together. (Get on your knees.) (Insert name): Will you marry me?"

This series' final installment offers scripts on miscellany from how to express political disagreement to telling family members about a bad diagnosis.