Forge Emotional Intimacy in Your "Nice Guy" Marriage
- Paul Coughlin Author, <i>Married But Not Engaged</i>
- 2006 9 Sep
Editor's Note: Read Part I of this series: The "Nice Guy" Marriage: Living in Fear Instead of Bold Love.
You have a lot to teach one another—if both of you are willing to call a truce and approach your problems from a better perspective. The goal of every Christian Nice Guy marriage is to forge the Third Path of Us. This requires both injured parties to stop thinking, talking, and acting as if their way is the only way and approach their marriage from a better perspective. Here are some practical steps you can take today.
For Mrs. CNG
The age-old phrase, you get more bees with honey than vinegar, is at the heart of your important and possibly heroic work. You need to draw him toward you, and the most important thing to remember when dealing with your sometimes maddening CNG is that he must feel safe and comfortable around you before he’s going to become more emotionally connected, truthful, and assertive.
When it comes to emotional intimacy, men usually prefer physical touch and doing activities together that are more active in nature, as women tend to prefer more intimate conversations and thinking together.
So in order to increase the kind intimacy you prefer, you will need to first do it through his preferred forms since CNGs are not likely to make the first move. Increase your willingness to physical touch and action-based activities. And while partaking in them, be careful not to correct him by telling him what to think or do. Just let him be him.
A great way for both of you to get the kind of intimacy you want is to go on regular walks together. Studies show that men are more likely to open up when doing something physical.
Use Your Power Wisely and Justly
You, Queen of Words, have the upper hand when it comes to verbal skill and agility. Chances are you can talk circles around him during these walks or similar activity, often keeping multiple topics going at once while he struggles to stay on track with just one topic.
Just as society encourages men to curtail their physical strength, you too should throttle back on your superior ability to out talk him.
In order to exercise your power wisely and justly to create the Third Path of Us, realize that statistically women are more prone to start relational conversations, and when they do begin them more harshly. Compared with men, women are more comfortable with emotional discomfort and are more prone to blame from the outset, which is bad news for CNG marriages. CNGs don’t do harsh talk or blame—it turns their ears to wood, halting your ability to turn conflict into an intimate moment.
Intimacy expert Dr. Paul Coleman recommends the following gracious but still honest conversation starters:
"I'm angry about something, and I'd like to talk about it"
"I know we've talked about this before, but I need to bring it up again. I'll try to be brief."
"You might not like what I'm about to say, but I need you to listen and see if there is anything that has merit."
"I know that you see things differently than me about this topic, but I’d like to try finding some common ground."
"This isn't easy for me. If I twist my words, please give me a chance to get it right."
When talking with him about important matters, approach him for solutions to the problem instead of as the problem itself. Never, under any circumstance, should you pull out the bazooka of shameful words on him, which create feelings of dishonor, unworthiness, and embarrassment. Such treatment just sends him further into his CNG ice cave.
Talk less but more to the point. Being more talkative isn’t wrong. It’s just less effective when communicating with most guys. And to keep him drawn to you, be mindful of your eyes. Women tend to be more comfortable with prolonged eye contact. Be sensitive to this fact so you don’t mistake his looking away as an automatic sign of evasion.
The number one complaint of married women is that their husband "doesn’t listen." Many men say that they used to listen more. And talk more. But what they said was not treated with consideration. So they have partaken in a time-honored tradition of tuning their wives out. It’s the only way some men know how to handle this situation since going toe to toe with someone who can usually out talk them is not an attractive option.
If you want him to listen, then give him time to think and to speak. And then don’t correct him when he does.
For Mr. CNG
Brother, You’ve Got Soulwork to Do
Overarching fear is a smarmy little liar. It is often False Evidence that Appears Real that suckers you into bad decisions. Consuming fear deceives you into forming a false understanding of who you are (you don’t really matter), who God is (He’s out to get you), others (they are not as critical as you think), and the world at large (it is more receptive to you than you currently realize.) No wonder Jesus said that the devil "is a liar and the father of lies" (John 8:44). This is why your battle for marital harmony is a combination of psychological and spiritual transformation. So commit it today to prayer. Ask God to show you where this fear came from and for the strength to face it. When you face your fear, look for the lie and the deception it fosters that slants your thinking to worst-case scenarios. For some, this may include professional help.
When in a fearful situation with your wife who is trying to draw you closer to her, ask yourself, "What am I really scared of?" And "Is it real or is it an illusion?" The results may surprise you. Like me, you may discover that she has far more goodwill toward you than you thought.
When you feel your heart pounding and your mind begins to go wild in a tense situation, call someone you can trust, who’s not another Nice Guy, and bounce the situation off them and then really listen to what they have to say. This will reduce fear’s cataract-like influence by anchoring you in reality.
Focus on Emotions, Not Marital Rules
CNG, forget about playing by all the "rules." I know what you’re thinking. You went into marriage pretty much like our fathers did. If you don’t get angry with your wife, hold down a job, get the family to church, and spend some time with the kids that this is pretty much all that’s required. More so, you think that your wife should "get off your back" when she asks for more. You may well end up divorced if you stick to this failed script because today’s wife wants and sometimes demands emotional closeness. You must be willing to grow your emotions and then express them.
A lot of men still think that expressing emotions makes them appear weak. Not so, Grasshopper. Not only does it make you more like Jesus, who was more emotional than those around him, but it makes you feel alive in ways you never could before.
Emotions, properly handled, make you more manly and attractive. They grow our souls. They make us more loving, protective, authentic, honest, faithful and optimistic, which is important since Nice Guys often suffer from undisclosed depression, addiction, and even impotency, which is caused in part by repressed anger, another CNG characteristic.
For most of my life I never cried at movies. Or funerals. Or when my children were born. Fear and a false understanding of Christian manliness stopped me from being fully alive.
I remember as a Christian Nice Guy watching the movie Sam I Am with my wife. This movie about a mentally challenged father losing his only child has the hanky factor written all over it. But not for me back then. I remained aloof to the emotional overtones and instead focused on the legal and cultural angles. I was proud that I didn’t get caught up in the "emotion." Oh, arrogance and foolishness of passivity and fear.
Then I saw the movie with my wife and kids after dealing fear a substantial blow. I lost track how many times my eyes welled up, laying with my head in my wife’s lap. She felt my tears and wiped with her slender hand.
This free flow of emotions made me want to love, pardon, and protect. I felt alive, like someone put jumper cables on my earlobes. These emotions, fuel to my body, made me a better leader. And, guys, a better lover.
Women don’t find appropriate emotional displays a turn off. It’s a turn on. As the wife of a CNG told me, "Don’t you guys know that if you cried in front of us that we would run into your arms?"
Write down the 10 most impacting events of your life. Travel the spectrum from happy (wedding night) to sad (the day Buddy your dog died). Then share them with your wife over the next two months on date nights. In addition to sharing the facts of these events, share how they made you feel. If tears come, so be it. You’ll feel so much better afterward and she’ll find you more knowable and loveable.
If it Was Right for Jesus…
With a journal in hand, read the Gospel of Mark, which records more of Jesus’ tough and rugged behavior than any other Gospel. Keep track of how often Jesus wasn’t "nice" but good. This will give you courage and inspiration to be like the real tender-to-tough Jesus, depending on what is needed at the time. My book No More Christian Nice Guy, lists plenty examples of Jesus’ tougher side and specific commentary as to why he behaved the way he did.
You’ll see that sometimes it’s wrong to be pleasant. For example, a father is good to show kindness toward a toddler’s common folly. He is negligent and naïve when he shows the same level of niceness to his teenage son who’s doing drugs. Being pleasant when tough love is needed can be a sin.
The Third Path of Us takes time and effort to find. Expect to make mistakes, and take special care to forgive these mistakes. With time, courage, and intent, his war-zone thinking will be replaced by peace-time living, making you both married and engaged.