Taking Your Spouse Seriously (Part 3)
The second objection to my original post is going to sound something like this, “But I do take my spouse’s emotions seriously, but he/she does not believe me.”
Let’s start with the language you might be using and consider what you might unintentionally be communicating.
“You shouldn’t feel that way” or “Don’t feel that way” -
What you are really communicating - “How I feel about this is right. You are wrong, and you should feel like me.”
Instead try, “Do you know what it is about this situation that make you feel this way?”
“You don’t have a right to be mad about this” -
What you are really communicate - “Your anger is invalid, and you do not have a right to your emotions. What you, as the speaker, need to recognize is anger is often a cover emotion for fear, frustration, or pain.
Instead try asking, “Does this situation frustrate you”, “Are you scared of what might happen?” and “Does this hurt you?”
“I have never gotten upset about this. Why should you get upset?”
What you are really communicating - “My emotional reactions are superior to your’s and you should bow to my greater wisdom.”
Instead try - “How can I help you work through this? Do you just want me to listen?”
“Just chill” or “Why do you always make a scene/fuss/get to upset.”
What you are really communicating - “Your emotions are not worth my time or energy. Therefore, you as a person are not worth my time or energy.”
Instead try - “Do you need a break? I can handle this while you take a moment.”
“We were having a great conversation until you brought that up” or “You won’t turn that loose so we can move on.”
What you are really communicating - “I have no interest in anything that makes me uncomfortable/upset/detracts from my good times. Therefore, you are not worth as much to me as having fun.”
Instead try - “You have brought this up a few times now. I see that you are still upset. What can I do to help you put this behind us?”
“You are being over-reactive.”
What you are really communicating - “I have not interest in understanding why you would react this way. You are not that important to me.”
Instead try - “This really seems to upset you. What is it that bothers you so much about this?”
“You are always so angry.”
What you are really communicating - “I do not care about why you are angry. Therefore, I do not care about you.”
Instead try - “What is it about this situation that make you angry? Could it be related to something else?”
“Why do you cry so much?”
What you are really communicating - “I only like you when you amuse/please me. I do not have time for your pain.”
Instead try - “What is hurting?”
“Why are you so demanding?”
What you are really communicating - “I do not care to invest in you because it cost me too much.”
Instead try - “What need is not being met? How can I meet it better?”
“I don’t have the time or energy to listen to this now.”
What you are really communicating - “I don’t have the time or energy to listen to you right now because you are less important than whatever I have been investing my time and energy in.”
Instead try - “I want to hear what you are need to say, but I am exhausted. Can we return to this at (set a specific date and time, then stick to it)?”
What you are really communicating - “You are worthless to me.”
Instead try - “I am having a hard time even talking about this right now. I heard you, and I want to respond, but I am going to need 15/20/30 minutes to collect myself.”
Walking out the door.
What you are really communicating - “You are not worth the effort.”
Instead try - “I am going to need a little time and space to process this. I do not want to react out of anger. Let’s pick this up in an hour, First, I am going to take a drive, but I am coming back.”
Spouse complains of a real wound or inconvenience, and you respond with how you have been equally huert or inconvenienced. Example: Spouse says, “I have a headache.” You respond with, “I had a horrible headache today. I could barely think it hurt so bad.” Or, “When you did X it hurt me.” You respond with, “Well, when you did Y I was devastated.”
What you are really communicating - “My pain is more important than your pain.”
Instead try - “I am sorry to hear that. Is there anything I can do to help you feel better?”
The thing is when we avoid our spouse’s emotions it is typically out of a sense of guilt for either being the causes of these negative emotions or frustration that we can not fix them. Sometimes the painful truth is we are the cause of the negative emotions because we have made foolish decisions. If this is the case, then the only right thing to do is to own it. I know it may hurt your pride, but what is more important? Your pride or healing your marriage? A person can only stand so much wounding before they retreat either through physically leaving or by emotionally retreating into a shell - neither option leaves you with a whole and functioning spouse.
Owning it may mean that you have to face some unpleasant emotions of your own, and it means that you are not going to blame your spouse for the pain, guilt, and shame you may now feel. And you should understand that a mere apology does not make your spouse’s negative emotions go away. It may take days, weeks, or months for them to process any pain you may have caused them in your foolishness, and the longer that foolish behavior has persisted the longer it may take to regain their trust and their ability to feel good about the relationship. Getting angry at your spouse for feeling pain over the past will only prolong their healing process. This is not to say that they can indefinitely hold a mistake over your head, but understand that repeated willful decisions to put your desires above their well being will require a longer period of unconditional faithfulness to honor them in order to heal.
This is not invalidating your efforts to make things right. It is you understanding that the pain is legitimate and is not easily fixed or dismissed. It is a declaration that you take their emotions seriously and you will work to defend them. It is demonstrated love that says your spouse is of utmost importance to you. But above all, it says that you are willing to do what it takes to build intimacy and promote healing so that you can move into the future together.