When I was twenty-four years old, my boyfriend (now husband) and I faced an important moment in our relationship.

We worked together, and he was being relocated from St. Louis to Chicago. We weren’t married, but the company offered domestic partner relocation benefits.

(Pretty nice, right?)

Before we made any decisions, we had a whole bunch of awkward questions to answer.

  1. Did we want to continue living together?
  2. Did I want to move for his job?
  3. If we were willing to be domestic partners, why not get married?

My boyfriend was older and had an established career. I did not. He was successful and doing very well at work. I was just starting out and still harbored dreams of attending graduate school. I knew this decision would affect the rest of my life. It was tough to say yes without the promise of marriage.

So we had an awkward but crucial conversation about our future together. Neither one of us is very good with confrontation, so my boyfriend used his “engineering brain” and approached this problem in the most straightforward and logical way possible: he gave me a list of ten things I needed to change about myself in order for our relationship to succeed.

Just so you know, my husband says the list had five things on it. Memories are so unreliable. What’s the difference between five things or ten things? Not much. And I won’t lie. I was pretty sad. I just kept saying to myself—Ten things! Ten things! There are ten things wrong with me!

Eventually, I stopped crying. I knew Ken adored me and wanted our relationship to succeed. His list wasn’t mean, either. He wrote things like, “I want you to manage your money better.”

(He’s still saying that!)

And, beyond crying, I didn’t want to freak out and react to his list. Quite honestly, he put “be less reactive” on the list of things he wanted from me.


So I took a different approach. I put aside my ego and made a list of ten things that I loved about him. I wanted to show him that, when the stakes are high and the conversations are tough, I would always offer kindness and love.

Now, I am not saying you need to love somebody at work or in your everyday life to have a productive and positive crucial conversation. You don’t need to love your neighbor to tell him to get off your lawn. But, as I think about it, why not? Feedback, even in the most professional setting, should always be delivered with respect, compassion and empathy.

That’s sorta love.

And feedback—for the sake of sharing your feelings and for the opportunity to be heard by your colleagues and team members—is entirely pointless and selfish. Whether it’s at work or in your personal life, the only way to have a crucial conversation is to begin with love.

Otherwise, why the hell bother?


  1. You know Laurie, it really helped me to read this today, because Mr.O and I had a very similar conversation last fall. In his mind, the logical way to handle it was to make a list. My logical way to handle it was to basically handle it the same way you did.

    It hurt like h-e-double-sippy straws when we had it, and I wish we’d maybe done it a little differently, but it worked and in the long run it’s been positive.

    I still feel sometimes like you have to love some people to a better place. Arguing doesn’t help, trying to “prove a point” doesn’t help. And it’s harder to take a minute and take a breath and think about how to react or rather not just react, but try to handle something tactfully than it is to just lash back out in anger.

    But I think in the long run, in all my relationships, I’ve found things ended better, no matter what the ending was, when I tried to be loving and positive.

    (And before anyone says something, I’m not talking about LOVE love. Even a brotherly, Philia sort of love has its place. If you’ve not ever read “The Four Loves” by C.S. Lewis, it’s a great read, and the best explanation I can provide for generally how love works.)

  2. The most striking thing about your conversation might not have been the most significant one.

    You tell him why you love him and he tells you what he wants.

    Those seem quite different but, in fact, you were responding to him so maybe you would have said something different if you had spoken first.

    (Though, based on what you said here, I doubt it.)

    And you are different people so you take different approaches to a problem.

    You note that you know he loved you even though he did not say so.

    • I try not to talk about Ken very often—and I certainly don’t want to represent any direct quotes from him. I felt like this story was okay because it was from so long ago. I asked his permission. He was fine with it.

      But, you know, he’s okay and he loves me. It’s all good.

      I would have never given him a list of things that are wrong with him because my style is much more immediate. Who waits to give a list? I just explode. 😉

      • I literally laughed out loud when I read this, Laurie.

        This is one of those times I can just point people to your comments and say “what Laurie said.”

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