Every relationship has its rough spots. There will always be those times, and those topics, that are more difficult to manage than others. During a recent Marriage Intensive our couple, Chuck and Cindy, had a very challenging time managing a few of those ‘speed bumps.’

Married for ten years, they came to The Marriage Recovery Center ostensibly for a ‘tune up’—at least that’s the way Chuck introduced things. Dressed in khaki shorts, a polo shirt and tennis shoes, Chuck emphasized that he always dressed casual, “since that’s the way I take life.”

Cindy was much more proper and immediately noted, “I want to get some things talked about,” which seem to startle her husband. She seemed a bit abrupt in her style, especially compared to Chuck’s easy-going attitude.

We asked both Chuck and Cindy to talk about what had brought them to The Marriage Recovery Center. Again, Chuck presented a rather disjointed, carefree attitude, indicating that he hoped for “some improvement in how we talk to each other.”

Cindy was much more intense, indicating she wanted to “get to the bottom of things.” She immediately began sharing resentment she had been carrying around for several years. Chuck seemed surprised to hear much of what she was saying, and yet when we asked her about this she noted, “none of this should be new to him.” It seemed to be.

As we continued our work with Chuck and Cindy, we watched as she barreled into topics with haste and abruptness. We watched Chuck wince more than once as she unloaded her gunny-sack of resentment. After several instances, we stopped her.

“Cindy,” I said. “Have you noticed Chuck wince as you talk about the issues bothering you?”

“Not really,” she said, sounding surprised.

“She says whatever is on her mind,” Chuck said sarcastically. “I’ve learned to tune her out.”

Looking at Cindy, we noted, “We really suggest you slow down when talking about particularly painful topics,” I said. “Painful topics are tough enough to talk about, but can be particularly challenging if you don’t slow down so you can ensure your mate is hearing you, and to ensure that you manage your emotion.”

“I’d like that,” Chuck stated. Cindy nodded her approval.

This seemed to be new information for her and he seemed to particularly appreciate it. Both were receptive to this new way of talking about troubling topics. Here are some additional strategies to use when talking about something painful. 

First, slow down for trouble. When facing a challenging topic, it is common for our heart rate to speed up, adrenaline to pump faster, and our focus narrows. We are quicker to become angry, which only amplifies the problems. We are not able, in this state, to fully attend to our mate. Slowing things down allows us to pay closer attention to our feelings, our reaction and most important, to what our mate is telling us.

Second, slow down to manage emotions. Managing emotions takes concentration and effort. We must do something very difficult: attend to the person talking while also attending to our inner reaction. If we slow down we can more easily breathe, calm our self and pay close attention to what our mate says to us.  

Third, slow down to listen more effectively. Slowing down, paying attention to our emotions and physical reaction, we can listen to the heart of what our mate says to us. Managing our reaction allows us to ‘stay with’ our mate. We are more effectively able to listen, empathize and even validate what they are saying. We can own certain truths about their concerns, which is effectively disarming.

Scripture implores us to manage our emotions as well as our behavior, as we are to be “sober-minded, dignified, self-controlled, sound in faith, in love and in steadfastness” (Titus 2: 2).

Finally, slow down to bring true connection. We don’t simply want to avoid trouble as we relate to each other—we want to create a wonderful connection. This is done when we slow down for the speed bumps that will happen in close relationships. Slowing down allows us to truly hear what our mate is saying, and what they may not be saying. Slowing down allows us to fully attend to them.

As we worked with Chuck and Cindy, they found remarkable success as they slowed down during more difficult conversations. In slowing down they were not only able to manage their emotions, but were able to more effectively listen to the concerns of their mate, solving problems and propelling their marriage in a better direction.

Share your feedback or send a confidential note to me at drdavid@marriagerecoverycenter.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 sexual addiction, emotionally destructive marriages, codependency and affair-proofing your marriage. Please feel free to request a free, twenty-minute consultation.

Publication date: June 18, 2013