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Having the talk

Having the talk

Initiating conversations with partners and family about future lifestyle needs is never easy but such a conversation can bring the participants closer

If afforded the choice most of us would prefer to bury our heads in the sand than have a conversation with our partners or family about our or indeed aging parents future lifestyle needs.

Difficult conversations are hard but often necessary. Discussing money, living arrangements or relationships is stressful for many people. It may seem easier to simply ignore the problem or postpone the conversation, but this rarely benefits you or a recipient. To help minimise the discomfort and make these discussions more approachable, here are a few tips on how to initiate and guide difficult conversations.

Family cooperation and engagement is the oil that greases the creaking engine of our or others changing lifestyle needs. Done well, it may also help to preserve relationships which are often irreparably fractured by the pressure of developing circumstances.

But it’s not just your family can find themselves in the uncomfortable position of having to talk through plans for managing the future. Often it involves friends, neighbours or sometimes even ageing parents themselves who may find themselves struggling to initiate this most important of all conversations.

Plan ahead.  Before you initiate the discussion, it’s best to know what you want to talk about and what you want to achieve from it. Think about what you intend to say, how to say it and how to anticipate how they may respond. This way, you will find it easier to communicate well under pressure, even if you’re feeling flustered.

Don’t be afraid to get to the point quickly. As much as beating around the bush may seem like the easier option, it can convolute your intentions and confuse both you and the person you’re speaking with.

Accept this is unlikely to be a one-off.  Experts argue that the best way to tackle such conversations is to have them early to ensure all parties are clear about what they hope to achieve. Take the attitude that this is not about having just one conversation but instead will involve several discussions over several days, weeks or months. If possible, try to start these conversations early. If the conversation is not triggered by an emergency such as a fall at home, forgotten appointments or the death or serious illness of a partner, use the time well to explore all options.

When you’re under pressure, it’s easy to say things you don’t mean. A word that slips out at the wrong moment could easily offend or hurt someone. To avoid this, it’s important to be patient with yourself, and the other person, to ensure you have the time you need to speak clearly.

Timing is everything When you’re looking to discuss a major lifestyle change, such as downsizing, relocating or moving into over 50’s or retirement living, it is important that you consider your timing when holding such talks. Make sure you offer plenty of notice. Location plays an important part too. While it may be convenient, very rarely is a large family gathering at home, or a Christmas get together in a restaurant the best time to discuss plans about future needs.

Be a good listener.  An important key step during these types of conversations is to try to put your own fears aside to consider how others involved in the discussion may react. For children of ageing parents, it may be difficult for them to accept that their parents are preparing to leave the family home, while for ageing loved ones the difficulty may be in grappling with the idea that they are being asked to give up some of their independence. Making significant life changes is a huge deal for anyone so it’s important to give all parties time to process any potential decisions about future plans and to consider what is best. Try to remember that everyone impacted by such decisions wants to play a part in the decision-making. No one wants to feel that their opinions are being sidelined.

Don’t let your emotions drive you. If you have a strong personal relationship with this person, it can be easy for your feelings towards them to affect you in the moment. This can be particularly true when talking to people you care for, even if you think the difficult conversation is for their own good. It may be worthwhile writing in advance a list of reasons why the conversation is important, so that it is easier to remember the details.

Have someone to bounce ideas off.  It is an emotional time for everyone when discussions around leaving the family home are taking place. This is because emotions can often cloud the decision-making process, meaning that you don’t always have the capacity to make informed decisions when it comes to your own care or the longer-term care of your partner for instance. For this reason, it is always helpful to have someone slightly removed from the process to attend important meetings and site visits with you to ensure the important questions are asked. Many people on their own find one or all their children to be a great help in this decision-making process. They should ask the right questions of the sales manager when buying a home for example.

If someone feels that they have been cornered with no way to escape, they are likely to be defensive. To avoid this, try to think of realistic solutions before the conversation.

Allow the person time to talk and to process their emotions. It can help to be honest with people, to let them know exactly where you are coming from and that you are finding the conversation difficult too. Saying things such as “This is a really hard conversation to have” and “I don’t want this conversation to impact our relationship” can help to make you both feel more comfortable by acknowledging the difficulty of the situation.

Suggest a trial, we can help with this. There are a lot of misconceptions about retirement living or assisted living options, so it’s important you do your homework to dispel any misinformation early. The best way to do this is by taking a tour of an aged care or retirement community. Some communities even allow you to try before you buy. In most cases, this is a no-obligation way to picture what you or your loved one’s future life may look like. It’s important to remember though that just because one community isn’t the right fit, it doesn’t mean the next one won’t be. It may take time but by following the steps outlined above, affording your loved one’s the opportunity to understand they, or you will still be able to maintain a happy and healthy lifestyle in a new home, they and you, will soon learn to recognise the exciting future that awaits.

Hot Tip!

Take the attitude that this is not about having just one conversation but instead involves several discussions over several days, weeks or months. If possible, try to start these conversations early’


“The aim of argument, or of discussion, should not be victory, but progress.”

Joseph Joubert

Having the talk

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Dr Riley Moynes TED Talk –

Learn more about what stage are you at in the four stages of retirement planning with Dr Riley Moynes TEDx
presentation on this very subject.

Queensland Government Seniors Website –

Government support to the Seniors community.


Retirement income –

Make the most of your income in retirement with Money Smart.


Downsizing contributions into superannuation –

If you have reached the eligible age, you may be able to contribute up to $300,000 from the proceeds of the sale (or part sale) of your
home into your superannuation fund.


Pension assets test –

The assets test helps us work out if you can get paid Age Pension, Carer Payment, or Disability Support Pension.


Council of The Ageing Queensland –

Ageing is a time of possibility, opportunity and influence within an equitable, just and inclusive society in which the voices of older
Australians are respected and strong.

National Seniors Australia

National Seniors Australia is the leading independent voice for over 50s in this country and also a gateway to a diverse
range of exclusive member-only benefits.


The Association of Independent Retirees (A.I.R.) Limited –

A volunteer organisation working to advance and protect the interests and independent lifestyle of Australians aged 50+.


The Association of Residents of Queensland Retirement Villages –

ARQRV is the voice for residents in the Queensland retirement village industry.


Australian Seniors News –

Seniors-centric online newspaper


Australian Institute for Intergenerational Practice –

Fostering meaningful engagement and bonds between the young and old.