Saturday, November 21, 2020

Conversational Boundaries without Stonewalling

Difficult conversations can lead to flooding. Here are steps to remain calm while staying present for    yourself and your partner.

Difficult conversations can lead to flooding. Learn how to set conversational boundaries without stonewalling. During stressful times, it can be challenging to have conversations with friends and family about sensitive topics without getting uncomfortable.

Think about the last time you had a difficult conversation that upset you. Did you want to just leave? Did you feel that you needed to control yourself from saying what you truly felt?  Did you choose not to respond? To shut down?  Did you want to avoid a fight, but then felt resentful? Did you blow up and say things that you later wished you could take back? 

Flooding leads to Stonewalling

Dr. John Gottman’s research shows that in ailing relationships there is heightened physiological arousal during conflict discussions called “flooding.” Flooding happens in other relationships with friends, coworkers, parents, siblings, in-laws, etc. For most people, when they are flooded, their heart rate rises to over 100 beats per minute. You feel overwhelmed and intensely stressed. Your capacity to hear and understand someone else is limited. In this state of mind, you are more likely to say or do something you will later regret. 

Additionally, flooding isn’t good for your health. It suppresses your immune system, which makes you more susceptible to infectious illnesses.  So when you find yourself flooding, it is important to take a break and self-soothe (i.e., engaging in an activity like deep breathing that takes you away from the upsetting thoughts and calms your nervous system). If you don’t do this, most likely you will end up Stonewalling—disengaging and emotionally withdrawing from the interaction. You cannot have a conversation that validates and creates harmony. It is also upsetting for your loved one to speak to a Stonewalling listener. Your stony silence is not neutrality or setting a boundary. It communicates disapproval and emotional distance. 

How can you manage stressful conversations without Stonewalling?


One helpful coping method is self-soothing. This is the antidote to Stonewalling. 

  • Do you hold your breath when you’re upset? Make sure you’re breathing. 
  • Check-in with yourself and validate your feelings.
  • Ask yourself what you need to feel centered. Give yourself permission to go in another room to cool down or out for a walk outside.
  • Let your physical senses ground you. Touch something and focus on how it feels. Sip and truly taste some tea. Listen to a calming song. Notice items in the room that you may have never observed before. Inhale through your nose and note any smells.

It takes at least 20 minutes for your physiology to return to a calm baseline state. Try not to continue thinking about the upsetting situation (especially coming up with better responses you wish you could say). This puts gasoline on your upset feelings. Breathe. Focus. Relax your tensed muscles. 

Practice acceptance 

Acceptance and Commitment Therapy (ACT, a modality developed by Steven Hayes, Ph.D.) explains the concept of “acceptance” beautifully. Acceptance means the willingness to open up and make space for uncomfortable feelings, sensations, urges, and emotions. You try not to control your inner experience or someone else’s perspective. Instead of fighting the feelings you experience internally, try to accept them without judgment as appropriate responses to these situations. 

You may think that acceptance sounds like “giving up,” but it’s not. It’s merely dropping the internal struggle that causes anxiety and stress. You can still have opinions and beliefs and communicate in a way that respects your values and sets healthy boundaries. 

Another concept in ACT is “committed action,” meaning you take effective action based on your values. What can you do to advocate for what you believe in? How can you communicate what’s important to you without jeopardizing your emotional wellbeing? 

Be an example of what you stand for. Others are more likely to change by your example than by the arguments you “win.” By practicing acceptance before you start the conversation, you also create space where you can truly listen to someone else’s feelings and points of view. 

Setting boundaries

Learn how to set conversational boundaries without stonewalling. Setting boundaries is an important aspect of establishing who you are as a person and how others are allowed to treat you. As a crucial part of mental health, it also includes learning to be kind towards yourself. As a result, you can be less reactive, since you set the rules you live by and let others know of them as well. One example is letting someone know that if they have discussions with you where they are being disrespectful, you will end the conversation because it takes a toll on you. An example of how to say this could look like: 

“I’ve noticed that when we have discussions about this topic, I feel drained. I’d like to have this conversation with you, but only if you are willing not to make personal attacks. If you continue to do so, I will walk away from this conversation.” 

Boundary setting informs the other person what your limits are and then enforces them. This is an act of kindness towards yourself and someone else. 

Life can be difficult. Let’s be compassionate towards ourselves and others. Let’s see the cup half full, not half empty. Even better, let’s self-soothe, practice acceptance, and communicate healthy boundaries so that our cups are full.

Monday, November 9, 2020

5 Biggest Little Ways to Improve Your Marriage

 A few small actions carry surprising power in building a lasting relationship.

Adapted from The Surprising Secrets of Highly Happy Marriages, by Shaunti Feldhahn

Not long ago, the marriage of some close friends—I’ll call them Daniel and Jessica—suddenly imploded. We did everything we could to stand with them in their crisis to speak hope for their future together. Unfortunately, their marriage didn’t survive.

I’ll never forget a conversation I had with Jessica one day. Through her sobs, she said, “He worked so hard for a year to take us on that amazing vacation to Hawaii. But all I really wanted was for him to put his arm around me at church!”

Huh? Do you think in the midst of all her pain that she was thinking clearly? Actually, I do.

I could fill in lots of other details, but ultimately the pattern is a sadly common one. You may have seen it too. Daniel was a godly, well-intentioned husband who showed his love in several ways, including working long hours to provide for his family and to do nice things for them. You see, for him, providing is love.

Unfortunately, he didn’t realize that what he was working so hard for wasn’t what Jessica most needed—and in some ways was actually robbing her of the closeness she needed the most. (And of course there were ways she didn’t know she was hurting him.) What she needed most, more than all the expensive vacations in the world, were a few simple, specific day-to-day actions.

But as simple as loving gestures in public? you wonder.

Yes! My research on happy couples showed that an extraordinarily high percentage of them were (often without realizing it!) doing a few little specific actions that were making their spouses feel deeply cared for. Jessica, as it turns out, is like nearly all other men and women in her deep rooted desire for these surprisingly meaningful gestures.

Day-to-day actions

Clearly, a few small actions won’t fix deep relationship problems. But for most of us, a handful of simple day-to-day actions increase the likelihood that our spouse feels that we care deeply about them, instead of feeling that we don’t. There’s just enormous power in that!

For nearly every man or woman, the same few small, gender-specific actions not only matter but have a huge impact on a couple’s level of happiness. But these little actions take on even more power when accompanied by those that matter to your spouse individually.

Let’s begin with the few small actions that the surveys indicate matter a lot to almost every man or woman—what we might call the Fantastic Five.

When individuals were asked on the survey if a particular action made them happy, the affirmative response numbers were staggeringly high for five specific actions for each gender, even among the struggling couples. Close to 100 percent of all husbands and wives said these actions mattered, with between 65 and 90 percent of all husbands and wives saying these actions would deeply please them.

In other words, you are very likely to make your spouse feel deeply cared for if you make a habit of doing the same five things consistently.

The Fantastic Five for him

A wife will have a big impact on her husband’s happiness when she does the following:

1. Notices his effort and sincerely thanks him for it. (For example, she says, “Thank you for mowing the lawn even though it was so hot outside.” Or, “Thanks for playing with the kids, even when you were so tired from work.”) This deeply pleases 72 percent of all men.

2. Says “You did a great job at __________.” This deeply pleases 69 percent of all men.

3. Mentions in front of others something he did well. This deeply pleases 72 percent of all men.

4. Shows that she desires him sexually and that he pleases her sexually. This deeply pleases 85 percent of all men.

5. Makes it clear to him that he makes her happy. (For example, she expresses appreciation for something he did for her with a smile, words, a big hug, etc.) This deeply pleases 88 percent of all men.

The Fantastic Five for her

On his side, a husband will have a big impact on his wife when he does the following:

1. Takes her hand. (For example, when walking through a parking lot or sitting together at the movies.) This deeply pleases 82 percent of all women.

2. Leaves her a message by voice mail, e-mail, or text during the day to say he loves and is thinking about her. This deeply pleases 75 percent of all women.

3. Puts his arm around her or lays his hand on her knee when they are sitting next to each other in public (at church, at a restaurant with friends, etc.). This deeply pleases 74 percent of all women.

4. Tells her sincerely, “You are beautiful.” This deeply pleases 76 percent of all women.

5. Pulls himself out of a funk when he’s morose, grumpy, or upset about something, instead of withdrawing. (This doesn’t mean he doesn’t get angry or need space; it means he tries to pull himself out of it.) This deeply pleases 72 percent of all women.

Keys that unlock any door

Did you notice that all these happiness-inducing actions are simple, learnable, and doable by any wife or any husband? If you put each of the five biggest little things to work every day, I’m betting your marriage will improve—in some cases, radically.

And here’s more great news: All these small but powerful actions matter regardless of what the person’s love language is. For example, most wives (82 percent) are affected when her husband reaches out and takes her hand, regardless of whether physical touch is her thing.

There’s no looking back for our friends Jessica and Daniel. But I’m so thankful that God is good. He is always at work to redeem our broken hearts—and I know He’ll do it for our friends. Still, a corner of my heart mourns the heartbreak that might have been prevented if they had truly understood the power of doing these best little things.

We all know that small, thoughtful acts are not a magic cure-all for every marriage problem. But having talked to so many who nurtured much happiness with simple but powerful actions, I know all of us can build that all-important foundation that helps us believe that our mate notices and cares.

Because as it turns out, believing that the other person cares is far more important to building a happy marriage than most of us ever realized.

Tuesday, October 27, 2020

Holidays, COVID-19, and Addiction Recovery: Now What?

Partners need to address how they need to address how they will integrate recovery into couple family life and specifically, manage the holiday season.  

As the holiday season draws closer, families are faced with the uncertainty of how exactly these events will unfold. Traditions and long-held practices in celebrating holidays are up in the air as the world continues to grapple with the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic. 

According to the CDC, about 41% of the population in the U.S. report experiencing mental health issues as a result of the pandemic, including anxiety, depression, and trauma-related symptoms.  About 13% of the population admits to starting or increasing substance use. People in recovery from an addictive disorder face increased stress and an increased risk for relapse.  

The holiday season can invite many emotions stemming from the traumas of our past, memories of previous holidays ruined by addiction, and anxieties about the future. Alice’s partner Greg* started a recovery program several months ago. Alice commented, “Our past Thanksgiving celebrations always ended up a disaster, especially last year. Now that Greg is in recovery and we have this COVID thing, we have to figure out what we are going to do this year.” Alice and Greg began talking about their expectations and hopes for this year’s celebrations.

Relationships have never been more important  

A healthy relationship between partners is the single biggest predictor of long-term recovery for those impacted by addiction. Severe substance use and compulsive behavioral problems create significant damage to family rituals and roles in the couple relationship. An approach that supports couple recovery highlights the importance of both individual recovery, as well as relationship recovery. The implications are clear: Partners need to address how they will integrate recovery into couple and family life and specifically, manage the holiday season. Couple recovery involves conversations on how to provide support for each partner’s recovery (wellness) as well as relationship recovery. Let’s start with managing the holidays. 

Rituals of connection provide safety and stability in relationships

In his book “The Relationship Cure,” Dr. John Gottman states that rituals are like routines in that they are repeated over and over so that they are predictable—everyone knows what to expect. The difference between a routine and a ritual is that rituals have symbolic meaning. Rituals draw people together creating safety, predictability, and connection. This is the opposite of what happens in active addiction where uncertainty and unpredictability create fear, confusion, and a lack of safety. 

Three essential steps for couples and families for managing holidays this year  

Step 1: Both partners acknowledge past trauma and triggers without blame or defensiveness. Use the “Softened Start-Up” formula describing perceptions, feelings, and needs. To avoid criticism, describe the self, not the partner. Sharing your feelings can be scary. It is important for partners to acknowledge, without judgment, what is important to each person and make that a part of the plan. Vulnerability actually increases intimacy and emotional connection. Talk about: 

  1. Impact of addiction. Example: “Last Thanksgiving was difficult and upsetting because of the arguing and the impact of alcohol (and/or other substances) consumption on our celebration. I feel anxious about Thanksgiving this year, even though we started recovery. I need for us to figure out what we want this year and create new ways to celebrate that feel meaningful.” 
  2. Impact of COVID-19.  Example: “I miss being with our families. I am sad and frustrated. I would like to arrange a (video conference/socially distanced gathering/a family-only Facebook page with pictures and updates, etc.).”

Step 2: Develop a plan that supports what’s healthy for you, your partner, and you both as a couple. It can be empowering to establish a plan for welcoming the holiday season and essential for individuals and couples who have been impacted by addiction. Establish rituals that are predictable and meaningful as part of your plan. Before putting a plan together, ask each person what means the most to them about that holiday. Then decide what plan you would like to develop. Decide what happens and who does what and when.

Part of this plan may include revisiting Step 1 as needed and on a continuing basis. After all, one’s feelings never go away. If anything, they are bridges already built, waiting to be crossed to meet your partner on the other side. They are already there. You just need to use them in ways that are accepting of yourself and your partner. 

Step 3: Make sure that this fits what is healthy for you.  In the workshop Roadmap for the Journey: A Path for Couple Recovery, there is an exercise designed for decision-making involving partners writing out a list of core needs, recovery needs, and areas of flexibility. This sorting out helps define boundaries and supports good self-care. A final check before going through with the proposed agreements involves each partner asking themselves three questions:

  1. Is this decision potentially helpful to my own recovery or wellness?
  2. Is this decision potentially harmful to my own recovery or wellness?
  3. Is this decision neutral to my own recovery or wellness?

Example: Marty loved getting together with her family on video conferencing and looked forward to doing so during the holidays. Her partner, who is in recovery from an alcohol use disorder, stated that it was really uncomfortable personally, because of the drinking that took place during these conference calls. It was important to come up with a plan that addressed those concerns and made family video conferencing work for both partners. The core need was time with the family, a recovery need was creating a safe environment with the family, and an area of flexibility included the time of day for the call, which occurs before “happy hour.” 

This process is a practice. Creating an openness to each other’s ideas, feelings, and needs provides the best environment for successfully navigating the holiday season.  

Friday, October 2, 2020

4 Mindful Listening Principles to Better Navigate Conflict


By Gillian Florence Sanger,  The Gottman Institute, September 30, 2020

Disagreements are an inevitable component of all relationships. No two people are identical in thought and belief patterns, regardless of how similar they might be. Even in the strongest relationships, conflicting needs and opinions arise from time to time. Avoiding conflict is therefore an uphill battle, so instead, learn how to navigate these challenges in more effective and compassionate ways.

Often during disagreements, you might think: ‘If only they would listen to what I’m really saying’ or ‘I wish they would see things from my point of view.’ It is understandable that you yearn to be heard and understood; however, perhaps flip this lens around for a moment: ‘How can listen more closely? How can start to understand my partner’s point of view in a new way?’

None of this is to say that you cannot or should not also ask to be listened to with care and respect. However, let’s consider your own capacity for mindful listening. How can you practice listening in ways that help your relationship effectively move through whatever conflict or challenge it’s facing? Chances are, as you strengthen your capacity to listen more mindfully to others, you will start to receive the same in return.

Approach with curiosity

If you arrive in conflict assuming that you already know exactly how another person is thinking and feeling, you close yourself off from discovering something new about your partner’s perspective. Cultivating curiosity is about meeting your partner (or anyone) with a sense of openness and a willingness to learn. Practice this by asking for more details, seeking clarification where needed, and mindfully noting any assumptions or judgments held.

Tune into your inner silence

As Oren J. Sofer writes, “To truly listen depends on a kind of inner silence. It requires that we empty ourselves and make space to receive something new.” Tuning into your inner silence is not about denying your own needs, feelings, or beliefs. Rather, it is about setting your own views aside for a time to better understand the experience of another. If the mind races while your partner speaks, you can come back to your inner silence simply by noticing your breath and then returning open attention to the person.  

Listen to understand rather than to respond

What is your intention when listening? Are you listening to understand or to respond? It is not uncommon when someone is speaking to formulate a counter argument. However, true listening requires presence and a yearning to understand. Moving into a place of understanding does not mean condoning a particular behavior or agreeing with a certain belief; it simply means you are open to seeing where another person is coming from. It is indeed possible to understand and to validate without agreeing.

Cultivate heart-centeredness

Lastly, one of the most important practices for mindful listening is cultivating heart-centeredness. Sometimes, approaching an argument or discussion with care and compassion is difficult, yet the more you practice, the easier this becomes. When you disagree with someone you love, you can:

  • Take a moment’s pause, perhaps inviting the person you’re with to do the same.
  • Close your eyes and take a long, deep breath.
  • Then, draw your attention to the heart space, simply letting your awareness rest there for 30-60 seconds. 
  • With your attention on the heart space, tap into your love and care for the person. Can you recommit to finding a way for both sides to be seen, heard, and held?

After this mindful pause, return to the conversation. Notice if anything has shifted. More often than not, this simple heart-centered practice greatly shifts the energy of the discussion, imbuing the dialogue with increased calm, patience, and presence.

When practicing mindful listening, it is important to note that you won’t always manage it perfectly. Human relationships are complex and dynamic, but the more you practice tuning in with presence, openness, and care, the easier it becomes to navigate conflict effectively. Furthermore, as you practice mindful listening from your end, you might just find that you naturally and effortlessly invite others to do the same. When both sides are open to listening and understanding, conflict loses its charge, instead becoming an opportunity for wonderfully profound, mutually enhancing growth.

Saturday, September 26, 2020

How to Create “Feel Good” Habits in Your Marriage


by Laura Guida, 9/23/2020, PREPARE/

Everyone knows we should all be striving to create healthy habits in our daily lives, and we also know the struggle that can sometimes be. It’s hard! Habits are little behaviors, routines, or rituals we do on a regular basis – sometimes they just kind of happen over time, and other times we’ve worked to make it happen. In addition to the healthy habits we have, we also likely have some unhealthy ones that we try to break. That is also hard!

We most often think of habits when it comes to things like lifestyle: nutrition and exercise, or maybe even more relevant these days, work life, specifically productivity as so many of us have transitioned to working from home. However, there’s another part of life that can benefit from healthy habits – your relationships! And specifically, your marriage.

Healthy habits give us structure and consistency, and when shared with someone, there’s a bond or sense of togetherness that is nurtured with every little ritual we accomplish. We know togetherness is important for our relationships because it helps us feel connected to each other.

Habits can vary in size and effort – some feel huge and like it will take a long time to establish, while others are small, sometimes even feeling insignificant because they’re so effortless. But those little habits that simply make us feel good are so easy to implement into our lives. “Feel good” habits are likely already happening in your marriage. Identify things you already do that are small, routine, and make you feel good about your relationship – little things that give you a sense of connection on a daily or weekly basis.

Wondering how to identify them? Here are a few questions to prompt you:

  • Do you do anything before you and your spouse part ways for the day?
  • Do you do anything for your spouse in the morning or evening to make their day lighter/easier? Does your spouse do anything for you?
  • Do you have a daily or weekly activity you do together that you look forward to because it makes you feel good?
  • Is there anything you or your spouse regularly say to one another that creates an immediate moment of connection?

Hopefully you were able to identify a feel good habit or two from thinking through those questions! But who doesn’t want more of these moments in their marriage every day or week? Here are three ways to create some feel good habits in your marriage:

  1. Do something for your spouse, consistently.
    This could be something like making them a cup of tea each night, or making them coffee or a protein shake while they’re getting ready for work in the morning. It doesn’t even have to be daily. Maybe it’s filling up their car with gas or taking it through the car wash every weekend. The idea is that it’s something small they could do for themselves, but the fact that you do it for them routinely will make you both feel good.

  2. Consume content together.
    We all likely watch, read, and listen to a lot of content every day. There is no shortage of things to consume. Our encouragement here is to find something you both enjoy and designate it as the thing you consume together. Maybe it’s a TV show you’ve always wanted to watch, or a new book to read, or even a weekly podcast. The point here is to resist the urge to binge it on your own, and only let yourselves consume it when you can do it together. It will give you something to look forward to, as well as a chance to experience something together.

  3. Establish a parting ritual.
    Figure out something you can do each time you part ways – whether that’s when you each go to your own corner of the house to work, or if that’s literally walking out the door each morning. And keep it up beyond when you leave for work, do this each time you leave your spouse for a period of time. For some it’s a classic kiss and “I love you,” but it can be quirkier or weirder too – whatever phras

    e or small touch you want to do that fits your unique relationship and makes you both feel good.

We hope by identifying and creating feel good habits in your marriage helps you feel more connected to each other while also adding some structure and consistency to your daily lives.

Thursday, September 10, 2020

3 Keys to Decision-Making Without Resentment


   Relationship Basics

We make decisions every day. In fact, research suggests we make about 35,000 choices each day as adults. That’s a lot! Decisions range from minuscule to significant. Some of these small decisions we make every few seconds are things such as taking a sip of coffee, responding to a text message, or even readjusting in our chair. More medium size decisions are things like what to have for dinner, plans for the weekend or even what color to repaint your living room – decisions we make that are fairly low risk and usually don’t require our finances to take a large hit. These medium decisions are where you may start seeking input or opinions from others. Oftentimes the first person on your list will be your spouse, especially if that decision, like the ones in our examples, impact them as well. They’ll eat the dinner you selected, likely enjoy the weekend plans with you, and of course, live in the repainted living room – hey, you may even make a decision that requires their help to execute it!

At the far end of the decision-size spectrum are the big decisions. These are the ones that are life-changing or at least feel significant because of the financial impact.

There’s variety in just how big these decisions feel, and that will vary by the individuals involved. Some of these big decisions would be adding a new pet to the family, moving to a new state, switching careers, buying a house or a car, or even expanding your family by having a baby or adopting.

Decision-making is a concept that is related to the roles and responsibilities you share with your partner. There’s some delegation that has happened – whether intentional or not – that designates who does what. And some of the things we have to make decisions about may already have a designated “owner” depending on how you’ve split up those roles and responsibilities in your relationship and household. Maybe you always make dinner, so you decide the meal each night. Or maybe your partner takes care of all car maintenance, so when it’s time to buy a new car, that decision is in their court.

Of course, in your solo decision-making on behalf of both of you, you likely still employ the “rules” that have been set – sometimes clearly defined, and other times completely unwritten. Rules such as, healthy meals during the week and indulgences on the weekend, or that you only drive pre-owned cars, so going to the dealership to purchase something brand new is out of the question. Relying on these previously defined roles, responsibilities ,and rules to execute those decisions means that some of those medium to bigger decisions get made without a lot of discussion between you and your partner.

But, when these decisions are big and hefty, and kind of uncharted territory, how do you decide?

There are a lot of different ways to go about decision-making. And of course, it will vary between couples. The decision-making process for one couple may look and feel completely different for another couple, and that’s ok! What we want for you is a decision-making process that minimizes argument and is free from resentment. Ultimately, you and your partner need to come to a decision that you both agree on and feel good making. We know this can be hard – there are often many things to consider, nuances to understand, and future circumstances to envision. It can be even more difficult if this is one of the first big decisions you’re making together. Here are our three tips for making big decisions together.

  1. Agree on what really matters.
    As we mentioned there are a lot of factors that go into our decisions. There are the details of all your options and then there is the factor of how these decisions will play out over time. And of course, the unknown variables or things we can’t control or know when making the decision. So from what you are able to know, strive to come to an agreement of the things that matter most to you as a couple. A good approach to getting there is to first consider what matters to you personally, and have your partner go through the same thought process. Then, after you’ve both made your mental or literal list of features/components/factors, come together and share. You may learn about something that is really important to your partner that you weren’t aware of. Once you’ve both shared, then start to negotiate if your combined list is too long or if you disagree. Make sure to utilize good communication skills to facilitate this discussion – it will help a ton!
  2. Divide tasks and do the work.
    Once you’ve decided on what matters and agreed on it with your spouse, then it’s time to start figuring out all the options you have in this decision. Depending on what kind of decision-makers you and your partner are, this may require weeks and months of research or just a few simple Googles. Either way, divide up the tasks in a way that works for both of you, and then do the work. Pick a day where you’ll reconvene to share your findings, or if you work better sharing a google doc or even just texting options back and forth, do that. Just set some expectation of when you’ll share what you’ve learned. And the key here is to really do the work. Put in the effort. If you say you’re going to look up five new cars or figure out the cost of living in two different cities or do some research on kid-friendly dog breeds, do it and be invested in the process. The whole divide-and-conquer approach to making a decision together doesn’t really work if you don’t do your part. This is also key in fending off feelings of resentment down the road.
  3. Trust yourself and your partner.
    At the end of the process, only you and your partner can actually make the big decision. So, the best tip of all is to simply trust. Trust in your communication skills to effectively articulate your personal desires and concerns as well as to facilitate the important discussions along the way. Trust in the effort and dedication you and your partner put in to figuring out what is best for your family. And trust yourselves to make the right decision.

And quick BONUS tip – learn from the process. At some point after the decision has been made, look back at what you did together to get there. Have a conversation about it. Reflect on what went well and how you felt about it and ask your spouse those questions. Decision-making isn’t a test, and no one is going to grade you as a couple on how well you did. But there’s a lot of value is talking about and learning from the experience. Just as with most things in your relationship, your decision-making process will evolve, change, and grow. Taking time to communicate about it ensures you both stay on the same page.

Saturday, September 5, 2020

Approachability: The Key to Emotional Safety in Marriage

By Drs. Les and Leslie Parrott February 25, 2020 Marriage, Relationships
By Drs. Les and Leslie Parrott February 25, 2020 MarriageRelationships

One of the most loving things you can do in your marriage is to make yourself radically approachable to your spouse. When you’re approachable, you’re open, welcoming, and receptive–and most importantly, your spouse feels safe with you.

Your approachability makes others feel like they belong when they’re near you. It makes them feel wanted and included. Making your spouse feel as though he or she belongs with you is one of the most selfless things you can do for them.


Approachability was both a behavior and a persona that was modeled by Jesus in Biblical accounts. Jesus was profoundly, shockingly approachable. And, he was this way by intention and design.

Jesus wanted people to know that it was safe to come to Him, talk to Him, and ask Him for help. He didn’t operate on principles of isolation or exclusion. He also didn’t make His followers or friends feel unwelcome–as though they should never have spoken to him.

Unfortunately, it’s all too easy to make ourselves less approachable than we should be, to the people who should feel the safest in our presence.


In marriage, it’s easy to become so comfortable with one another that we can actually come off as unwelcoming to our spouse. This is the last place on earth where we should feel unwelcome.

When we’re dating and newlyweds, we’re on our best behavior–and we crave spending every spare moment together. But as time goes on, it becomes easier to be selfish and to shut our spouses out when they need or want us.


Life takes over–maybe we have children, demanding careers, or run a business. Perhaps there are financial or health struggles. Maybe we’re exhausted when the day is done, and we just want a little time alone.

Being overwhelmed can make us put up walls between ourselves and our families, and our spouses may find us to be less approachable. Soon, we’re no longer on our best behavior for our spouse.

At home, we often see each other at our worst–and we end up reaping the consequences. By stunting our spouse’s communication with us, we make them feel emotionally unsafe. When we feel unsafe, we end up holding one another at arm’s length.

It’s a vicious cycle. And once the cycle begins, expectations are shattered and relationships can devolve very quickly.


Whatever your challenges in your marriage, it’s imperative to love one another through the hardest days. Love opens our hearts again, even when we’ve been through difficult times with our spouse.

Love also cultivates approachability. And that fact is most apparent in the life of Jesus, who loved people freely and openly, just as they were.

Jesus was able to love past his followers’ and friends’ imperfections. He forgave freely. He was incredibly, radically accessible.

No matter a person’s background, Jesus loved them and didn’t hinder them from coming to Him. If Christ can do this for others, surely we can do it for our spouses, too.


If you’re ready to become more approachable in your marriage, here are a few ground rules:

  • Remind yourself that you and your spouse are on the same team. You share many goals, dreams, and visions for the future.
  • Pray together and individually. Bless your spouse and pray for them.
  • Do good to your spouse.
  • Tell your spouse they can come to you. Help them feel safe when they do.
  • Be a good listener. Don’t listen to respond, and don’t use their concerns against them.
  • Give to your spouse without expecting anything in return.
  • Take a walk in your spouse’s shoes. Leverage empathy to better understand where your spouse is coming from.

Being approachable to your spouse is the secret to open, thriving communication. Approachability cultivates trust between the two of you and helps you both feel emotionally safe. And, it’s an incredibly important attribute of your marriage that will open the door to healthier, more effective communication, problem-solving, and conflict resolution.

If you’d like to know more about Jesus’ example of unconditional love, there’s more in my (Les) book, Love Like That.