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Dr David Christian Marriage Advice

Building a Safe Connection with Your Spouse

Building a Safe Connection with Your Spouse

If you are like most of us, you leap into conversations headlong, oblivious to the results that might occur.

You walk into the house, see something that bothers you and make an instant complaint. Perhaps you are met by some criticism and you offer an immediate rebuttal. Either way, what results is a fight—large or small.

Sound familiar.

During a recent Marriage Intensive, the husband, Jason, a tall, slender man about thirty-five, seemed intent upon making his point about why he thought he and his wife, Sherri, were having problems.

“She has a temper like you wouldn’t believe,” he said. “I never know which Sherri I’m going to come home to.”

Sherri, her long, blonde hair pulled back in a pony-tail, wearing jeans and a sweatshirt, notably winced.

“I’ll give you that,” she said sharply. “But, I’m not reacting to nothing. I could use more help with the kids and you won’t talk about finances. I need help.”

The encounter between Sherri and Jason was common for folks who come to The Marriage Recovery Center.

Notice what occurred in their short, intense interaction:

  • Both were reactive with each other;
  • Both were accusatory;
  • Both made character assaults on the other;
  • Neither paused to acknowledge the other’s concerns;
  • Neither paused to create a therapeutic container.

Now I suspect some of you are asking, “What is a Therapeutic Container?” A Therapeutic Container is that place of connection between a couple, where they feel safe and cared for. It is a connection of respect and honor, allowing for differences without feeling threatened. Because the process is usually the problem with couples who are contentious with each other, the process is the solution to many of their issues.

Studies are very clear—the way a discussion begins is a great barometer for how it is likely to end. In other words, if you start a conversation with a criticism, you are likely to be met with defensiveness and a counter-attack. If you make a provocative, accusatory statement, you’re likely to be met with defensiveness and hostility.

Why then, if we know that criticism doesn’t work, and encouragement is a much better tool for changing behavior, do we persist in attacking the ones we love? The answer is simple enough—we are creatures of habit and lack a great deal of self-awareness.

I mean no disrespect to anyone by saying this---but I find it to be true. I have found very few people who live by Ephesians 4:29: “Do not let any unwholesome talk come out of your mouths, but only what is helpful for building others up according to their needs, that it may benefit those who listen.”

That is all fine and good, you say, but what about those times when you are feeling “unwholesome” and just have to say something? That’s where the Therapeutic Container comes in.

Here are a few more guidelines on how to build and use this Therapeutic Container.

First, agree together that you will build a safe way to talk about heated topics. Agree that any topic worth talking seriously about is worth creating a respectful, cautious, environment in which to talk about it. You cannot make accusatory statements, assassinate character, make global statements or attack your mate. Maintaining safety is the responsibility of both people.

Second, agree on some ground rules for this Therapeutic Container. Agree, for example, that one person talks at a time. Agree that each person is allowed to share their point of view, without any accusations. Agree to talk slowly, maintaining good eye contact, a soft tone to your words and making your expectations clear. Even in the midst of tension, try to keep things light with much give and take. 

Third, agree to seek mutually beneficial results. This must be a win-win proposition. Your mate must sense that you care about their well-being, having their interests in mind as much as your own. Voice affirmation of their wishes, validation of their thoughts and empathizing with their feelings. 

Fourth, stay focused and keep an eye on the Therapeutic Container. If either person begins to lose their temper or use coercive language, take a time out or slow things down. Everything depends on maintaining Ephesians 4:29 language—and if you do, good things will result.

Finally, celebrate your progress. Thank your mate for listening to you. Notice when they acknowledge your feelings and desires. Make statements of appreciation for how hard they are working at monitoring their emotions and language.  

If you are ready for change and want further direction, please watch my video series, 30 Days to Change and Intervention on my website. We are here to help and offer phone/ Skype counseling on issues related to this article. Please go to our website, and discover more information about this as well as the free downloadable eBook, A Love Life of Your Dreams, including other free videos and articles.  Please send responses to me at and also read more about The Marriage Recovery Center on our website. You’ll find videos and podcasts on sexual addiction, emotionally destructive marriages, codependency and affair-proofing your marriage.

Publication date: June 23, 2014