Recently I have been reading two books, “Daring Greatly” and “Hold Me Tight.” The focus of both books has been vulnerability. It amazes me how the person that we are supposed to be the most connected to, our spouse, is also the one that we fear being vulnerable with the most, during times of marital struggle.
A fear suddenly develops in a marriage where one or both partners, no longer feel safe in leaning in toward one another. The risk is just too great. The pain could be intolerable if it’s not received in kind.
I often refer to this as the “gunslinger” time. Both are staring down at one another with distance between them waiting to see who will be the first to drawn their weapon, the weapon being harsh and cutting words. Neither wants to give up their weapon or lessen the space between for fear that the other won’t reciprocate. Can you picture it? The stance is the same, the eyes are narrowed and ready for combat.
This week, I am asking all couples to work on laying down their weapons, closing the space between them and their spouse and also being open to receive the other spouse when they are coming to the middle.
Begin by giving the benefit of the doubt. Does this person really want to tear you down? Why marry you if they only wanted to do that? Perhaps they are scared too?
Then share how it feels on your end. Are you scared? Worried that you are unsafe emotionally? This part can be really hard when you are not used to being vulnerable. It takes practice.
Using words and phrases that affirm how your partner feels when they share is the next step. “I hear you and want to understand. Tell me more.” That is a great statement that does not assume but rather opens up conversation for more.
The final step is finding a way to make your partner feel safe. Does it mean closeness to your partner? Does it mean full eye contact and putting your phone down? Does it mean sharing a joke?
Change takes time. It does not happen over night. It might feel forced in the beginning, but over time, it becomes the new path. It suddenly becomes habit to first give the benefit of the doubt, then to share vulnerable feelings, followed by empathy and creating safety.