For the last three weeks, we’ve been looking at emotional intimacy—the benefit, the goal, and the process. Today, we’d like to caution you about two landmines you will want to avoid. We don’t want you to sit down for a lovely, deep, meaningful conversation with your spouse and suddenly—BOOM!
First, emotional intimacy is not about fixing your spouse. It’s about really hearing his or her heart—understanding what gives them joy or pain—rooting for them. If you have not seen the brief video, “It’s Not About the Nail,” watch it now. You will see that the wife has a very real and obvious problem. The loving husband merely wants to make her better. His intentions are good. But this isn’t the right time to fix the problem. The wife desperately wants him to hear her.
Trying to Fix the Problem
Trying to fix the problem can take various forms. The well-intentioned husband in the video is overt about it, but you might also say:
“Don’t take it personally.”
“You might try . . .” or
“What I would do in that situation . . .”
These examples are all forms of trying to fix the problem. Sometimes the fix takes on a tone of condemnation as in:
“If you would spend less time on Facebook . . .” or
“A few hours at the gym would take care of that!”
Or, you might attempt a gentler way of getting your spouse’s problem fixed by using a leading question:
“Don’t you think it might be advisable to schedule a few hours a week at the gym?”
Your goal is to hear your spouse’s heart and make a safe place for them to share. This is not to say that there are not problems that need fixing. However, this is not the time or place to do it. Any of the above attempts will achieve the opposite effect. They will shut your spouse down and demonstrate that you are not a safe person with whom they can share their inmost feelings.
The second landmine is arguing or defending yourself. Your spouse may be dead wrong about something they share. This is not the time to correct them and tell them,
“This is what really happened . . . ” or
“This is what they actually said . . .”
Sometimes the arguing takes on a personally defensive tone as in:
“That’s not what I said!”
There may come a time after your spouse has thoroughly shared the story from their perspective that you could say:
“Thank you for telling me that. Can we pray together and you ask God if there is anything he would like to add, subtract, or clarify?”
God may or may not answer on the spot. If the prayer is sincere, we guarantee God can do a better job of clarification than you ever could. And, you will enjoy the benefit of not placing yourself in an adversarial role.
When we speak at a seminar or a marriage retreat, the #1 request is always the segment on emotional intimacy. We do a live demo—unrehearsed. I have no idea what Bob is going to ask me and he does not control how I respond. Once we did a live demo for a seminar at our home church. Bob asked the question and my honest reply painted him in a less-than-flattering light. Realize that those listening in on our conversation were people Bob would see on a regular basis. The temptation must have been huge to defend himself. And he could have. But he didn’t. It was a courageous move. It took a lot of restraint and self-discipline. That’s what we are asking you to exercise when your spouse shares something with you that feels like a put-down.
Ready for the Hard Questions?
We have purposely stayed away from the riskier questions until we were able to warn you of the landmines. But if you have already ventured into the rewarding realm of emotional intimacy with your spouse—if you have practiced the process with “safe” questions—if you feel completely secure with your spouse—we offer a few harder questions this week:
Describe the one thing about me that frustrates you the most.
Do you think I control you? How does that make you feel?
Do I frustrate you by talking too much and not giving you a chance to express your feelings?
If you have touched your spouse’s heart and allowed them to touch yours in the last few weeks, there are many more emotional intimacy conversation-starting questions in our book The Marriage Dance, available at Amazon. You can also quickly and easily sign up for our FREE weekly tips and blog posts at the form below.