For the last few weeks, we’ve looked at going deeper with our spouse [Check out The Benefits of Unlocking Emotions in Marriage and Emotional Intimacy: The Goal]; we’ve looked at getting out of our heads and speaking heart to heart. Many people don’t know the difference. Heart questions speak to the “little girl” or “little boy” inside you. If you are like me, it is easier to deal with intellectual matters. Dealing with emotions seems risky. Who knows what you might stir up? And yet, emotions give us a huge clue as to why some situations make us nervous, why we want to avoid certain people, why seemingly innocuous words make us furious. Emotions also help us understand why our spouse often acts in ways which seem odd and unexplainable to us. And that’s why your marriage will become so much richer when you understand your spouse’s heart.
But how, exactly, do you do that? It is a learned skill—one you must practice and get comfortable with. Here are a few guidelines to help you as you get started.
9 Tips to Understanding your Spouse’s Emotions
- Pick a question designed to understand your spouse’s heart and set aside some time—at least 20 minutes several times a week. We spent 30-60 minutes most nights for a couple of months when we started. After a while, it didn’t seem necessary to have a dedicated time because this communication style became part of our normal conversation. We incorporated it into date nights. Because we were empty nesters, we could have a heart conversation over dinner or while doing dishes. Remember that this is a journey, not a sprint.
- Try to make sure there are no distractions. If you have young children, wait until they are in bed. Turn off the TV. Turn off all the screens. Choose a time when you are not under pressure to get on to the next agenda item.
- Decide which spouse will choose the topic and which one will respond. Then, speak one way at a time. One spouse responds to the question and the other listens—deeply. They pay close attention. They don’t let their mind wander. They focus. They don’t multi-task.
- Make sure your spouse knows they can share anything and you will not get angry, or mock them, or get bored. Make sure they know this is a safe place for them to share.
- Don’t interrupt. This is not the time to correct—it is the time to understand. Don’t regale them with a joke or tell about the time you . . . This is their time to answer the question you asked.
- Learn to listen closely. At an appropriate time, you may ask a clarifying question. Perhaps there was something you didn’t understand. Perhaps you can ask a follow-up question (Were you scared? Did that happen on a regular basis? Were those feelings ever resolved?) so you can go deeper still.
- A good place to start in by asking about the forces that shaped your spouse during his or her early years. We have tried to include a few of these with each of the blog posts in this series. The appendices of our book The Marriage Dance have an abundance of questions.
- If your question hits a long-buried emotion that begins bubbling out, allow your spouse to cry if they need to. This is not the time to run away.
- Switch roles with your partner when half your allotted time has passed. However, let the Spirit lead on this one. If your partner is sharing deeply, don’t cut them off. This is exactly where you wanted to get.
Next week we will talk about a couple of landmines you want to avoid. Until then, here are some questions you can use to speak to each other’s heart.
Safe question: What do you like about me?
Question about your spouse’s feelings: Have you ever felt unconditionally loved and cared for as a person? What was it that made you feel loved?
Harder question: Under what circumstances do you look forward to making love?
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