We THINK we want to know. We SAY we want to know. But do we REALLY want to know why our spouse is acting or thinking a certain way? If they tell us their true feelings about something, are we going to jump all over them? We pose our question to them. But the question THEY want to know before they respond is …are we going to make it safe for them to answer us honestly?
Below you will see a cartoon that shows two spiders facing each other. The one spider has obviously asked a question of the other one. The way we know this is the other spider says, “I’ll make you a deal. I’ll be more open about my feelings if you don’t eat me.” That’s a good deal. Who wants to be eaten alive in any context?
Again, we ask you the same question:
Do You Really Want to Know Why?
Please prayerfully consider your answer to this question. If your spouse tells you the truth, will you in effect “eat them alive” with your reaction afterwards?
We ask this because we’ve seen this happen in many marriages. I (Cindy) have actually done this in my own.
A while back I asked Steve a question to which, he asked me, “Do you really want to know?” I said yes. But when he gave me his answer, I verbally jumped all over him. I didn’t like his answer.
But then I vividly remember his reaction to my tirade. He said, “What makes me want to be honest with you when react like this when I tell you the truth?” He said, “I’m only telling you what I honestly feel.”
OUCH!!! He was right. I don’t remember what the issue was at the time. But I do remember I had one of those “AHA” moments after our conversation.
I need to be safe in my reactions after my husband is honest with me. If not, he will hold back from sharing them with me. And he should; I would. So, my ongoing question to myself is, “Do I truly encourage honesty?”
How Safe Are You?
We are posing the same question back to you. We receive so many complaints from spouses who say that their spouse is so “distant.” Their spouse doesn’t “open up” and tell their real feelings. Well, how safe are you? Can your spouse truly be honest? That may not be the only reason they will or will not open up; but it’s an important one.
Here’s something Gil Stieglitz wrote on this issue, as it pertains to husbands:
“Every husband wants to let his wife into his soul, but many women can’t handle this privilege. They disqualify themselves by recoiling, interrupting, changing the subject, or judging. Becoming the intimate friends of a man requires a level of emotional and mental sobriety that comes only from the Spirit of God. I believe that is why the Bible tells women to grow in this area (1 Timothy 3:11; Titus 2:4).
“Our wives must understand our souls are not safe. There are all kinds of scary thoughts, memories, and emotions that inhabit them (Jeremiah 17:9). But if we can share this side of ourselves with safe people, we won’t act on those impulses. The person who can weaken inclinations, emotions, and schemes through conversation is safest. It is the people we allow into our souls that make the biggest impact. The key to this level of influence is nonjudgmental listening.” (From the book, “Marital Intelligence”)
Now, we realize that many times the reverse is true. Many husbands are not safe for their wives to open up and be vulnerable. And this is just as sad. Our spouse should be the safest person on earth for us to talk to. After all, he/she is our marriage partner. According to the Bible we are to “cleave together.” And you can’t get much closer than that!
So, do you really want to be a safe partner for your spouse?
If you truly do want your spouse to be honest with you, you have to make it safe for him or her to do so. Please read:
Also, here’s a great article that relates that you may find enlightening as you read it:
I’ve also posed that same question to my husband, “do you really want to know?” when he has asked me about certain matters. Steve will wonder about this or that; and sometimes I know that my answer will be more complicated and wordy than he will want. He’s a pretty “simple answer” person. So, I’ll tell him that I’ll be happy to answer his question; but I’m not thinking he wants to listen to the rabbit trail of an answer. Usually, he passes on wanting an answer. (He knows how complicated my mind can be. So when I give him that warning, he’ll usually take a way out.)
So, here are a few questions for you:
• Are you really prepared to hear the answer to the question you are asking? What if it isn’t one that is easy to hear?
• If your spouse is totally honest with you, will your reaction “punish” him or her in such a way that he or she could end up deciding it isn’t worth sharing certain things with you? Are you a “safe” spouse to open up to?
• How well do you encourage honesty? How open do you really want your spouse to be to you concerning difficult issues?
Prayerfully consider your answers. They’re important ones.
Disruptive Imprints from the Past
There’s another angle to the questions we’re asking you. How safe has your spouse felt to share with others, before you entered into his or her life? Maybe this isn’t as much about you. Maybe it is your spouse’s past experiences coming back to haunt your marital relationship.
Could it be possible that your spouse may trust you more if you lay the groundwork to help him see that you are safe?
But how do you do that? Ask God to help you to discover more about the disruptive imprints from your spouse’s past that shapes how he or she approaches relationships. These are things from the past that can emotionally haunt him or her. As a result, it hurts your relationship.
We recommend a book that can help you to “identify the source of missteps and learn exactly what you can do about it!” It’s one that we recommend HIGHLY. It is written by relationship experts Milan and Kay Yerkovich. In this book, they “draw on the powerful tool of an attachment theory to show how your early life experiences created this intimacy imprint.” They also equip you to better deal with and break the pattern of these imprints. Here is a link to this book, plus another one concerning listening and talking. It also gives you temperament tools, to help you better understand your spouse:
These are really excellent books. We hope you can and will obtain them.
Timing of our Questions and Other Reasons
But here’s another slant to the question, do you REALLY want to know what your spouse is thinking? If you do, please realize that it’s also a timing thing.
Last week we shared something from Lisa Goldberg on this matter. It bears repeating. She wrote:
“I have a hard time focusing and listening when there are distractions around. So, Steve will make a point of asking for my full attention or for us to remove ourselves from a room in our home that distracts me. After 9 pm, Steve’s brain is pretty much checked out. That’s not a good time for me to bring up a difficult topic. Together, decide when a good time is to talk and where you will be most effective at sharing and listening.”
It may be that our spouse is too tired or preoccupied to share. Just be aware of that. Don’t ask important questions when it’s a H.A.L.T. time. (That is a time when your spouse is Hungry, Angry, Lonely, or Tired.) They are volatile times. You may not get a great response during one of those times. So, ask later.
And lastly, it may be that your spouse doesn’t feel safe for differing complicated reasons. And he/she may not know how to explain it to you. If so, ask God for wisdom as to how you can make it safe for him or her. We have a lot of tools and tips posted throughout this web site that can be a good place to start. Look around, asking our Wonderful Counselor, the Holy Spirit to guide you. Then glean through and take advantage of that, which the Lord shows you to read and act upon. We hope you will.
Cindy Wright of Marriage Missions International wrote this article.
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Filed under: Communication and Conflict