Build a Strong Emotional Connection with Your Spouse
- Monday, April 12, 2004
Do you want to come home to your marriage? If you feel close enough to your spouse that you can trust him or her with your heart, you're blessed. If your marriage feels distant, though, you're not alone.
Too often, the close connection God wants married couples to enjoy becomes strained and broken. Couples can try to repair the damage by applying wise principles to their marriage, but no advice or newfound skills will make a difference unless they feel emotionally safe, close, cherished, and respected together. It's that strong emotional connection that truly motivates spouses to build a healthy marriage.
Here are some ways you can build a strong emotional connection with your spouse:
• Recognize the longings of your hearts. Realize that, even in the midst of your fighting, both you and your spouse yearn to be seen, understood, and valued. Understand that both of you are longing for the other to be a trustworthy person who will be emotionally available and respond in a caring manner.
• Overcome the obstacles to a safe connection. Don't settle for an emotionally distant marriage; know that there is hope for your marriage to change. Working with your spouse, review each of your schedules and build in time for each other regularly. Recognize how your past affects your current relationship. Understand the ways in which you were hurt and what vulnerable places you now have, so you can seek healing for those issues and not blame your spouse for them. Talk about your daily disappointments and the little ways you each (often unintentionally) hurt each other, so these small things don't build up into big things that will come between you. Work on resolving the big issues of disagreement in your marriage. Try to actually be there for your spouse whenever he or she needs you. Seek to understand and respect the differences you and your spouse have in your families of origin and your lifestyle preferences (such as getting up early or staying up late).
• Build trust. Be reliable, so your spouse will know he or she can count on you to be honest, dependable, and on time. Let your spouse know that, no matter what, you will always care for and value him or her. Be genuinely interested in doing what's best for your spouse and your marriage.
• Be emotionally available. Make sure that your marriage is a top priority in your life. Give plenty of time and energy to your relationship. Whenever you find yourself harboring resentment against your spouse, pray for God to help you forgive and reconnect.
• Respond sensitively. Be approachable. Genuinely listen to your spouse without judging, criticizing, or problem-solving. Make sure your spouse knows that you care about his or her thoughts and feelings.
• Clarify why your spouse acted in a certain way. Ask questions to get more information so you can better understand what's bothering your spouse, and why. Then discuss the issue, offering comfort and constructive suggestions for how to do things differently.
• Give physical affection. Regularly touch, hug, and kiss your spouse. Be in close physical proximity whenever you can.
• Don't be afraid to fight. Realize that it's healthy to directly air your hurts with each other, if by doing so, you use your anger to bring about valid and constructive change. At the end of a healthy fight, you should feel more connected than you did before, because you've each had a chance to honestly wrestle through an issue with a partner who cares about finding a solution.
• Expand your emotional base. Strive to understand the emotions that lie beneath the emotions you and your spouse express, so you'll know how to more clearly bring the real issues to the forefront of your discussions. Acknowledge each other's different emotional temperaments, respect the way you each feel and the ways you each express emotions, and focus on your feelings during an argument instead of the details of what you're fighting about. Use self-control when expressing your emotions by understanding them before expressing them. Listen gently to your spouse, trying to discern what's in his or her heart. Use a tone of voice and body language that communicates respect for your spouse.
• Argue effectively. Make sure your goal is to work toward a solution. Avoid defending yourself or blaming your spouse. Strive to understand your spouse's perspective on the issue and to clearly communicate yours. Respect your spouse's perspective, even if you don't agree with it. Ask questions to clarify what you heard until your spouse agrees that you heard him or her correctly. Be willing to be influenced and to do things differently. Believe that change is possible, no matter what your situation, because all things are possible with God. Persevere through setbacks. Speak words of kindness to each other, and support each other as you each try to change.
• Pursue healing. Honestly ask your spouse how he or she has hurt you, without criticizing your spouse's character or highlighting his or her faults. Listen as your spouse shares how you have hurt him or her. Strive to understand the significance of the hurt. Express your emotions. Discuss how the hurtful event happened - what you did and why you did it. Understand the perspective of the spouse who hurt the other. Take responsibility for hurting your spouse. Ask for comfort and reassurance. Forgive. Commit to being available to your spouse in the future.
Adapted from Safe Haven Marriage, copyright 2003 by Dr. Archibald D. Hart and Dr. Sharon Hart Morris. Published by W Publishing Group, a division of Thomas Nelson, Inc., Nashville, Tn., www.wpublishinggroup.com.
Dr. Archibald D. Hart specializes in psychotherapy from a Christian orientation and lectures widely to church groups and ministers on topics of stress management and how to handle emotions from a biblical perspective. He is professor of psychology and Dean Emeritus of Fuller Graduate School of Psychology, Fuller Theological Seminary. He also serves as the Executive Editor and Director of International Relations for the American Association of Christian Counselors. Dr. Hart is also an internationally known speaker and author, whose books include Adrenalin and Stress, Children and Divorce, The Sexual Man, and The Anxiety Cure.
Dr. Sharon Hart Morris is the cofounder and director of the Marriage, Family, and Relationship Institute at La Vie Counseling Center in Pasadena, Ca. She received her Ph.D. degree in marriage and family therapy from Fuller Graduate School of Psychology. She is the author of numerous articles and chapters in books on relationships, and an expert in emotionally focused therapy, as well as contributing editor for Marriage and Family: A Christian Journal. Dr. Morris teaches internationally and contributes regularly to both broadcast and print media.
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