I care deeply about staying connected to my husband. I want to have a healthy, happy married life. But I don’t always successfully communicate my love and affection for him. When I ended our 10-year anniversary date by dismissing myself from the table during dessert, I realized I ride a teeter-totter of emotion in our marriage. I’m either coming in hot in anger or building a barrier that distances us to protect myself from what I feel when he doesn’t meet my expectations. Neither method leads to an emotionally healthy marriage.
Emotional disconnection is an indicator of impending divorce. Most divorcees say they grew apart, largely because they “couldn’t communicate.” This is sad because the problem probably wasn’t about communication but about disconnection. My husband and I needed a lot of help to create a safe space where we could share our emotions candidly. Thankfully, we had the opportunity to attend a marriage retreat in February featuring Dr. Josh Straub, a marriage and family coach and professor of child psychology. He shared these 5 invaluable, practical tools for building an emotionally safe marriage.
Meet in the same locker room.
You and your spouse are on the same team. You strive for the same family goals. You may do it in very different ways and you may have different priorities, but you are for each other, not against one another. Tell yourself that over and over again. If it feels like you and your spouse have been competing against one another, take a timeout. Philippians 4:5 says “Let your gentleness be evident to all.” I encourage you to approach your spouse gently and simply ask him to help you understand his perspective.
Talk about your dance.
Every married couple has negative dances they repeat that get us stuck in cycles of unhealthy communication. One of my husband’s and my negative dances is related to his health. He struggled for years with a debilitating auto-immune disease, but he has experienced significant healing. He finally can manage his health without medical intervention, through diet, supplements, and exercise. However, whenever he isn’t taking good care of himself, I become incredibly critical. When I become critical, he withdraws and eventually avoids the conversation altogether. When he avoids, I feel infuriated and we repeat the cycle. Do the work of recognizing your own negative dances. You may be able to stop the negative cycle before it starts, just by identifying it.
Set team goals.
A directionless marriage becomes a purposeless marriage. If you’re missing a sense of purpose in your marriage, it’s never too late to start setting your family values and some short-term marriage goals. Here’s a guide to help you decide what your family values are.
Remember your newness.
When is the last time you went on a last-minute date, planned an overnight getaway, or had spontaneous sex during the day? Sometimes, the key to emotional safety in marriage is love and laughter. Schedule some time for just you and spouse and consider reliving your first date as a place to start. Here are more date night ideas to help keep your time together fun and inspiring.
Have a 15-minute daily check-in.
Schedule a time every night after the kids are in bed to inquire about your spouse’s heart. Ask how he’s feeling after the events of the day and share your own emotions. Listen well and this conversation will lead to more than 15 minutes of conversation if you let it.
What tools have you and your husband used to improve your marriage’s emotional health?