When your spouse brings up a difficult issue or topic, do you find yourself becoming tense? Do you feel anxious?
Congratulations, you’re human. And no, that doesn’t mean you get a pass. Because dealing with difficult issues is crucial to having a happy and healthy marriage.
Here are 5 proactive tips to help navigate those difficult conversations…
1) Understand your initial reaction will probably be defensive
Tense marital interactions tend to cause our emotional flight-or-flight drives to kick in. So because most of us recognize that we can’t just leave, our first reaction is often to fight.
Do your best to recognize this. Understand that you’re having a rush of adrenaline and a borderline involuntary defensive reaction. Do your best to let it pass, and don’t let it be your guide into the conversation. Practically speaking, this usually means shutting up and focusing on point #2 while your heart rate lowers…
Let your spouse say what they want to say and don’t interrupt them. Psychologists tell us that the chemical reaction that occurs in the brain when a person feelslistened-to is indistinguishable from the reaction that occurs when a person feels loved. Simply put, when people do a good job listening to us, we feel loved. And when people interrupt us or don’t let us finish what we want to say, we feel unloved - as though they have no interest in what we think or feel.
3) Make sure you understand the issue
When your spouse has finished sharing, ask clarifying questions. Give them your summarized version of the issue and ask if you’re understanding them correctly. The greatest response in the world will be meaningless if you’re not actually addressing the issue they’re trying to raise.
4) Remember that there’s probably an issue behind the issue
Whatever your spouse is bringing up has deeper issues behind it, whether they recognize it or not. If we repeatedly ask our spouse to do something and they simply don’t do it, we feel unloved and/or disrespected - ‘like our spouse doesn’t care about what we want or need. And that's the real issue.
If you “win” the argument but your spouse walks away still feeling unloved and/or disrespected, you didn’t “win” anything. Try to identify the real need, and meet it.
5) If you need it, ask for time to process what they’ve shared
Sometimes an issue is so emotionally charged or overwhelming, we can tell that we’re not going to do a good job responding in the moment. If you find yourself in that place, it’s OK to say, “Can I have some time to process this and get back to you? I want to respond thoughtfully rather than just reacting.”
If you go this route, be sure to give your spouse a timeline (e.g. “Can we touch base over breakfast tomorrow?”) and then be faithful to follow through and re-initiate the conversation.
Think through how you generally respond to the tension of your spouse bringing up a difficult topic or issue.
If you can identify even one thing on this list that you need to do better, and commit to doing it (to the best of your ability), you will have taken a significant step toward improving communication in your marriage.
- Pastor Jeff
Understand this, my dear brothers and sisters: You must all be quick to listen, slow to speak, and slow to get angry.- James 1:19