Most couples have “hot issues” they would rather not talk about. These are the topics that bring instant tension. They may have been talked about in the past, unsuccessfully. Because the issues are “hot,” and are likely to create stress and tension, many couples avoid them—indefinitely.
Such was the case with Garth and Jena, who had, unfortunately, a mountain of “hot issues” they had accumulated over their twenty-year marriage. Each emotion-laden issue was a like a brick, forming an invisible barrier between them.
“We don’t talk about things,” Jena said, looking at me during their recent stay at The Marriage Recovery Center. “We both know there are issues that we don’t want to face.”
“I don’t know why we need to rehash old issues,” he said. “I know what they are, and Jena knows what they are. What’s the point of dragging them around with us?”
“That may be the point,” I said. “You both know there are issues that still have emotional after-effects and so you avoid them. But, they are impacting you still. You are still dragging them around.”
Jena nodded and jumped in.
“He doesn’t want to talk about his affair a few years ago, and to be honest, probably is tired of talking about some of my issues---my spending. But, I want to talk about these things. I want to resolve issues.”
“I just don’t see the point of it,” Garth insisted. “We talk about it, we get mad, we don’t talk for the next two days, and so it goes. Talking about things means fighting about things!”
“So, what that says to me folks,” I continued, “is that you two haven’t created a safe place to talk about these issues. Problems don’t get resolved. Let’s take a look at what happens when you talk about hot issues, and what needs to happen to create safety to talk about these issues and resolve them. Would that interest you?”
“Absolutely,” Jena said.
“I suppose,” Garth said, a bit more reluctantly.
Using my blackboard, we outlined some of the ways they interact currently that causes problems, common to many couples:
- Criticizing each other for their point of view
- Shaming each other for their feelings
- Failing to fully listen to each other
- Talking over each other
- Using sarcasm to express anger
- Failing to manage their emotions.
Outlining what they were doing to each other made it clearer what needed to change. Here are some steps we agreed on:
First, cultivate an open attitude with your mate. Openness is a quality that is cultivated in marriage. Creating at atmosphere of openness suggests that you remain curious and receptive to what your mate has to say. You want to know what is bothering them, and why.
Second, avoid defensiveness. The opposite of openness is defensiveness. Defensiveness broadcasts, “I don’t want to hear what you have to say.” Openness says, “I want to know what you are thinking and feeling.”
Third, agree to listen and explore issues without criticism, shame or judgment. No matter what your mate feels or thinks, refrain from criticism. Allow your mate to have their feelings without judgment or accusation. Create an atmosphere of safety, openness and encouragement.
Fourth, validate each other’s point of view. In addition to hearing each other, explore what your mate needs to fully process the ‘hot topic.’ Seek to understand what keeps a particular topic ‘alive.’ Usually an issue remains ‘alive’ because something is missing. Perhaps there is a lack of listening; there could be a lack of validation; possibly no clear game plan to fix a problem.
Finally, explore what your mate needs to feel a sense of completion. Having created safety, being actively curious about what is still bothering your mate, find out what else they need to feel settled with the ‘hot topic.’ Remember that there is incredible power in simply listening to your mate and seeking their counsel. Scripture says, “The way of the fool is right in his own eyes, but a wise man listens to advice” (Proverbs 12: 15).
While every couple has ‘hot topics’ that are challenging to work through, using these tools will help you not only move through them, but grow through them.
Share your feedback or send a confidential note to me at TheRelationshipDoctor@Gmail.com and read more about The Marriage Recovery Center on my website www.MarriageRecoveryCenter.com and YourRelationshipDoctor.com.You’ll find videos and podcasts on saving a troubled marriage, codependency and affair-proofing your marriage.
Publication date: July 9, 2012
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