When It’s Time to Communicate in Your Marriage, Does Your Spouse Disappear? Do You?
Marriage conflict terrifies you, so you:
- hide your desire, even from yourself. I’d rather be blind than see something that will cause relationship conflict.
- try to control everything. If I control everything well enough, it can’t escalate into relationship conflict.
- tune in to tunnel vision. If I focus on what I want completely, there won’t be room for relationship conflict.
Do you recognize yourself in these strategies to avoid marriage confrontation? Do you recognize your spouse? Marriage communication can be messy.
This blog about marriage communication will help you:
- clarify your values.
- communicate with clarity in your relationship.
If you don’t tend to hide, control, or tune in to tunnel vision, chances are it’s easy for you to know what you want in your relationship, and you’re not afraid to communicate it to your spouse. If this is you, you might want to the next step in marriage communication: Discover.
Your fears and desires are pushing your spouse away and making communication difficult.
The toughest part of communicating clearly in your marriage is addressing the two areas where you feel most vulnerable: your fears and your deepest desires. Because these are hard, we want to avoid them in any marriage conversation.
But what is the cost to your marriage communication when you avoid the tough conversations?
- Your fears (or those of your spouse) don’t get attention. Unattended fears alert your animal body’s alarm system and you eventually explode or flee, leaving your marriage bombed or abandoned.
- Your desires (or the desires of your spouse) remain invisible. Unattended desires kill growth and you (or your spouse) slowly disappear. Your marriage and the connection you felt slowly fades away.
When you communicate regularly in your marriage, your fears are addressed. When fears are tended, they calm down: no alarm bells needed. But talking about our fears can feel vulnerable and scary, so we tend to avoid those conversations.
When you avoid those scary conversations in your marriage, your animal body feels threatened and takes over.
Instead of gentle marriage conversations, your animal body only knows how to sound the alarm:
- Freeze: You resent your spouse and offer them the cold shoulder. If I’m blind, I won’t see you.
- Fight: You find fault with your spouse and boss them around. Because I feel out of control, I will control everything.
- Flight: You can only see what you want, leaving no room for your spouse to disagree. It’s my way or the highway: I’m outta here.
Your animal body’s response to fear will destroy good marriage communication. You need to find a way to tame the beast inside you before it destroys your marriage.
How do you do that? By protecting your desires and fears.
How do you tame your fear so your marriage communication can remain calm?
Seeing your fears and desires is what will allow you to tame them.
Let’s look at an extreme example. Jill Heinerth is a cave diver. 100 of her colleagues have died exploring caves the way she does. Life-threatening fear is part of her job. Each day, before she jumps into the water to explore a cave, she asks herself one question: “What might kill me today?” She respects fear as a signal alerting her that she needs to pay close attention.
Fear is what helps her create a checklist so she can pay attention, stay alive, and keep exploring.
Similarly, close attention to your fears and desires will keep your marriage from dying.
How to create a checklist that will protect your marriage communication:
When Jill Heinerth tunes into her fear, she identifies those things that will kill her during the dive:
- A lack of air
- Getting lost in the dark
Fears are the flip side of our desires. In Jen’s case she wants to:
- Find her way
To tame her fear so she can devote herself to the cave exploration she loves, she practices protecting herself:
- Is my air tank full and functioning?
- Is my light working? Do I have backup?
After she goes through this checklist, Jill does one more thing: She practices what she would do if she were to get into a sticky situation.
- She imagines herself tracing her air tube and straightening it or unblocking it.
- She imagines herself finding her way in the dark or trading out a light battery.
Jill says to her fears, I see you. I know the risks. I’ve done what I can to keep myself safe. Now it’s time to go discover something new. This practice allows her fears to abate and she is able to devote herself to the dive she loves.
After you go through your relationship communication checklist, your fears will also abate, and you will be able to devote yourself to understanding what your spouse needs. This switch of your focus is fundamental to good marriage communication.
Now create your relationship communication checklist
Like Jill, tune into your fears so you can identify the things that will kill your marriage communication. Last time we identified your fears:
- I’m afraid my spouse won’t want to visit my family.
- I’m afraid that if I want to spend time with my family, I’ll have to choose between my spouse and my family.
Fears are the flip side of our desires. In this case:
- I want to visit my family during the holidays.
- I want my spouse to enjoy simple things like sitting at the table frosting cookies as much as my spouse enjoys adventures like surfing.
To tame your fear so you can devote yourself to the exploration of better marriage communication, you need to practice protecting your fears and desires. Relationship fears are a signal to clarify your values. Values are as important to your core relationship communication as air is critical to Jill’s success as a cave diver.
- Visiting my family is important to me because I want to remain close to them.
- It matters to me that my spouse gets exposed to frosting cookies so my spouse can see why it brings me so much joy.
After you go through this checklist, do one more thing: Practice imagining success as you communicate with your spouse.
- Imagine you and your spouse visiting your family.
- Imagine your spouse having fun frosting cookies with you and your family.
Just like Jill, before you discover what your spouse wants, you need to practice a safety check. This will tame your fears and allow you to communicate with clarity and patience.
Think about how an animal’s behavior changes when it feels safe. Respect the animal nature of yourself by giving yourself a cave-diver’s checklist.
Create your relationship checklist.
Practice seeing your fears and addressing each one.
This will tame them so you’ll be able to listen to your spouse and communicate instead of letting your fears constantly interrupt.