In a recent survey conducted by Focus on the Family Singapore, couples were asked to respond to one of the statements: “It is difficult to share my deepest thoughts and feelings with my spouse.”
It is noteworthy that a significant percentage (30% of total respondents) indicated that they strongly agreed/agreed with the statement.
Interestingly, more wives (32.3%) compared to husbands (25.6%) strongly agreed/agreed with the statement.
There are many reasons why husbands and wives are afraid to be vulnerable and engage in authentic conversations. But perhaps the root cause is the lack of emotional safety in the marriage.
In an emotionally unsafe relationship, there is a feeling of distrust, disconnect, and defensiveness. You are afraid to speak your mind or show your true feelings because there is an undercurrent of anxiety, wondering how your spouse would react.
In contrast, when couples feel secure and trust each other, they let their guard down and express their thoughts or share their fears, hurts, or deepest longings without worrying about being judged or invalidated. Of course, no one is perfect, so it is impossible for couples to always be responding perfectly to each other. But if we want greater intimacy with our spouse, we need to be intentional about fostering emotional safety in our relationship.
What is the first thing you say when you meet your spouse after a long day at work? Is complaining or making snide remarks a default way of greeting each other? Once you allow negativity to set the tone for your conversations, the atmosphere no longer feels safe for sharing.
Be deliberate about how you greet each other after being apart for a good part of the day. Regardless of the kind of day you had at home or at the office, make it a point to greet each other with a kind word or caring gesture.
A workshop attendee once shared a strategy – when he drove home after a long day at the office, he would turn off his car ignition switch, but he would not get out of the car immediately. He would intentionally do a “mindset switch,” reminding himself that he is going home to his family, and they deserve the best of him.
Regardless of whatever had happened at the office, especially if he had a bad day, he kept to his commitment to be loving and gracious in his words and body language. It created a warmer, reassuring atmosphere at home, which in turn allowed for enriching and deeper dialogues as a couple.
“You are always looking at your smart phone.”
“You always interrupt when I am speaking.”
“You never ask for my views or opinion on any issues.”
These are examples of absolute language that couples often use when they are upset with each other. In intimate relationships, absolute language is ineffective because it tends to put couples on the defensive. If one spouse is bombarded with absolute language on a regular basis, it is a sure-fire way of causing him/her to withdraw emotionally.
It is not uncommon for couples with strong personalities to want to make their point instead of listening to what their spouse is saying.
Even if we disagree with our spouse or believe our perspectives on issues are far weightier than theirs, it does not warrant harsh judgment or criticisms. Having a self-righteous attitude hinders genuine connection. We listen to know our spouse better, not to convince our spouse that we are right in all matters.
Try this instead: Replace judgment with curiosity. Ask questions to understand why our spouse holds a certain view or assumption. When our spouse knows we are accepting and open to differing views, they would be more willing to engage in deeper conversations.
We listen to know our spouse better, not to convince our spouse that we are right in all matters.
There may be times when you’re having a discussion with your spouse, and you get triggered by something he/she said. When this happens, you may feel a wave of strong emotions, but remember you always have a choice on how to respond.
An unempathetic approach is to verbalise what is on your mind without being sensitive to your spouse’s feelings.
A more gracious approach is to turn your mind to what your partner has said and pay attention to your emotional reaction. Ask yourself what you are feeling – Is it fear (because your partner hit a raw nerve), embarrassment (because she is more knowledgeable than you), or pride (because you can’t lose to her/him)?
If you notice your emotions riding high, and you are combing your mind for a rebuttal, hit the “Pause” button. Let your spouse know that you are losing your cool, call for a time-out to regain your composure, and pick up the conversation when you are ready.
If you notice your emotions riding high, and you are combing your mind for a rebuttal, hit the “Pause” button.
There are times when your spouse is unwilling to share his/her thoughts and you are unsure of the reasons. It is important to accept his/her need for space and not insist that he/she express her views or share her feelings.
Before it becomes a pattern that either one of you is not interested in engaging in heartfelt conversations, consider creating a dialogue around emotional safety. Share with each other the behaviours or words that make you feel safe or unsafe during conversations with each other. Identify ways to improve trust in the relationship to facilitate authentic conversations with each other.
Emotional safety is a key building block of flourishing marriages. When it is present in your relationship, there is a deep sense of closeness and connectedness as a couple. Be purposeful in creating and maintaining emotional safety, and you and your spouse will reap the rewards of a trusting and fulfilling relationship.
What is one thing you are willing to do in the next week to increase the presence of emotional safety in your marriage relationship?
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