Taking Your Spouse Seriously (Part 2)
Last time, I talked about the importance of taking your spouse’s emotions seriously and I talked about our obligation and honor to open up to their emotional experience. This time we are going to talk about the flip side of that equation.
In writing this, I am anticipating the question that so many of you are going to ask - How do I get my spouse to take my emotions seriously? He/She seems so resistant to the idea that my emotions are valid.
The answer is - and you are not going to like this - you don’t.
One of the biggest blessings and frustrations of humanity is that we do not get to control another human being. If you don’t believe me, track down a friend with a one year old and try to get them to eat a food they find abhorrent. They are going to refuse to open their mouth, twist their head away, scream, and if you take advantage of that pit of agonizing sound to shovel in a spoonful, it is likely to be spit right back into your face. Now, if you can’t control a twelve month old child who is substantially weaker and less experience than you, how on God’s green earth do you expect to control another adult? Oh sure, you can try to manipulate, coddle, and cajole them into doing your bidding, but what respectable adult has time for that?
As grand as it may be when one’s spouse is willing to seeing the world from your perspective, you cannot force it. You must accept that this is a choice that is completely up to them. And as frustrating as it may be for you, this is where you get the chance to do some serious self-examination.
Why is it so important to you that your spouse take your emotions seriously? Is it born out of a desire to know and be known more intimately? Do want your marriage to grow in unity? Or are you looking for a way to make them responsible for how you feel? Are you hoping that if they do take your emotions seriously that you will have carte blanche permission to let your emotions run muck? Are you trying to justify any and every display of emotion as your divine right that they must bow to?
Every good thing can be twisted if our motives for wanting it is wrong. (For proof of this, just pause to examine how the world deals with the issue of sex). I am not saying that the desire is to be known in this manner is wrong. I think it is perfectly normal and healthy to want such intimacy with one’s spouse. However, we have to be careful not to let this become an idol, the magical cure for all that ails your marriage, or a self-serving want that leads to bitterness if denied. The key, as with most things in the Christian life, is in the waiting. We must learn to wait with grace, with dignity, and with sacrifice that is given joyfully and without a hint of resentment or martyrdom.
We lead by example, not through nagging or coercion. Pouting, whining, accusations, and threats lead us no where, and these attempts at emotional blackmail is only going to teach your spouse one thing - your emotions are as distasteful as those strained peas were to that child we attempted to feed. Because in employing such tactics we are demonstrating that our emotions only come in the flavor of negativity topped with blame. And no one wants to eat that.
Am I saying that we should only offer up our positive and happy emotions? No, of course not. That is not honest. It is not real, and at that point you just drizzling it all with some hypocrite sauce. And there is nothing the least bit appealing about that dish, I don’t care how many cherries you pile on top.
So we set a good example. We clearly communicate, “I need my feelings on this topic to be acknowledged”, “I know you may not agree with me, and that is ok. I just want to know that you have taken my feelings into account”, or “I am feeling a little overlooked right now, and I could use some reassurance that you that me feelings on this subject matter to you.” If you do not feel heard ask if they can restate how what you just said. Then you will have the option to clarify or fill in any gaps.
Acknowledge that you take their feelings seriously by asking how they feel, and then listen. Even if you do not think that their feelings are correct, hear them out. Don't try to tell them what to feel or why they are wrong to feel that way. Just listen. Let them know that you heard them, and I mean really heard them. This communicates that their emotions are important to you.
If you do think that their emotions are out of line, offer to share why you have different perception of the situation. For instance, if my husband gets irate at someone for cutting him off in traffic, I begin to speculate. “What if they just got a call someone they love is being rushed to the ER? I would hope you would do anything it took to be at my side if it were me.” You shouldn’t expect some type of sweeping change in their reaction, at this point you are just planning the seed for new ways to view a situation. And what do you do when you plant seeds? You drop it, cover it over, and walk away. The same thing in this situation - say it, drop it, cover it with grace, and walk away.
Be deliberate in asking your spouse in how they feel about certain situations. Interest is the number one way of communicating that you hold something in high regard. If they shrug your question off, offer up how you would feel. For instance, “I know I would be hurt and frustrated if Joe got the promotion if I thought I was next in line for it.” Sometimes by offering our perspective we can open the doors for them to share their perspective. Plus, you are giving them the vocabulary they may not have to express what they feel.
Be sensitive. Depending on your spouse’s background, expressing emotion might be something completely foreign to them. They may have grown up in a household where “real men didn’t cry” or “girls shouldn’t be so dramatic.” Think of it like learning a new language. No one picks up Mandarin in a day. It takes time, commitment, and work. Being impatient could slow or stop the process. So be careful not to push and go heavy on the grace. And remember that the bigger an emotion is the harder it can be to express. A little patience can go a long way to avoid wounding the one you love.
Above all pray. Pray for help in accepting your spouse where they are, and pray that God will help them see why this is important to you and why it is good for them. If you pursue this path guard your heart against selfish motives and seek Godly motivation.