By Dr. David B. Hawkins, Crosswalk.com
Have you wondered about the health of your marriage? Have you wondered whether your marriage is healthy, or if it is in need of significant assistance? Most have wondered about their marriage at one time or another, hoping to gauge whether they needed serious help or not.
While there are many questionnaires available to assess your marriage, and they are worthy of your time and attention, I have a much simpler method for determining whether or not you need immediate help. It is, perhaps, overly simplistic and may appear, at first, too simplistic. However, I challenge you and your mate to rate your marriage using the following, very basic, criteria:
One a scale of 1-10, with 1 equaling “never,” 5 equaling “sometimes,” and 10 equaling “always,” rate your marriage on the following statement:
I am completely confident that I can approach my mate with any concern and be assured they will care about my problem and help me find a solution.
Most couples coming to see me at The Marriage Recovery Center rate themselves very low on this statement. The vast majority look stunned when answering this statement, knowing that the statement has revealed something deep and critically important about the state of their marriage.
One such couple, Jarrad and Cecelia, came to me as most couples come--very wounded and defensive. I asked them to answer the above statement and, not surprisingly, both rated their marriage as “never” when it came to feeling confident in approaching their mate with a concern.
Cecelia is a 35-year-old, athletically built woman who was spoke with an edge that hinted at her underlying annoyance with her husband.
“I can’t say anything to him without a huge reaction,” Cecelia said, glaring at her husband. “I can’t approach him with a problem without him overreacting and taking it personally. Whatever I say I can count on coming back at me.”
Jarrad, a tall man with a thick, black beard and balding head, looked away, as if to avoid the blow.
Turning slowly back he countered, “I can’t say you’re any better. I don’t come to you with my problems. I try to share but you only criticize me.”
“I’m not criticizing Jarrad,” she said. “I’m trying to tell you things that need to be addressed in our marriage.”
I decided to jump in.
“So, neither of you feel free to go to your mate seeking an answer to your problems. I can sense that both of you feel defensive when the other one offers information,” I said. “It will be very important that I help you both learn how to say things so that your mate will listen. It is critical that you learn to listen to each other and attend to concerns the other has about you.”
“That would be nice,” Cecelia said sarcastically. “I can’t wait for that to happen.”
Jarrad shrugged again, muttering under his breath.
“I want to give you some suggestions about how to talk to each other. Would you both agree, however, that it is critical to create a safe environment to really listen to each other?”
Both nodded their heads. I offered them the following suggestions and offer them to you as well:
First, agree that you MUST be available emotionally for your mate. This is not optional. You must be available to listen to your mate, non-defensively, caring about their concern and readying yourself to offer assistance. If you don’t provide a soft, listening ear, someone else will.
Proverbs offers, “Pleasant words are a honeycomb, sweet to the soul and healing to the bones.” (Proverbs 16:24) We are all hungry for a soft ear and soft words when we are in distress.
Second, agree that you must be able to give and receive feedback. It is absolutely imperative to have the kind of relationship where you feel safe and free to offer information to your mate. You must be able to share critical feedback as well as to give it, but done in a way that conveys caring for your mate.
Third, create safety for giving and receiving feedback. Let your mate know you wish to have a connection with them and want to hear what they have to say. In fact, you must convey an eagerness to hear them and have a warm, life-giving conversation. Reach out to them. Even if you are initially rebuffed, don’t let that deter you from doing your part to make positive contact. Again, be the first to reach out.
Fourth, share only necessary information useful for healing the relationship. You are engaging in an emotional dance, and any harsh, misstep can throw the dance off. Again and again, throughout the conversation, you must do your part to create and maintain safety. If you do not, your mate will most certainly back away, either by fighting, flighting or freezing. You want to stay in emotionally connected flow.
Fifth, heed information given to you and respond accordingly. You must convey to your mate that you are receptive to their words of encouragement or challenge. You must, in short, receive what they have to say. Check any temptation to respond defensively. Check any tendency to offer critically feedback. Just listen, hear and heed what they say.
Finally, maintain safety going forward. This connection is fragile. If you want your mate to continue coming close, you must make it safe for them to do so. Welcome feedback. Welcome any approach to you, even if their words have a sting. Listen for the kernel of truth in their words.
How did you score in the one question you need to rate the health of your marriage? Hopefully these questions helped you isolate strengths and weaknesses that need attention. We’d love to hear from you. What has worked in your marriage to restore connection? Please send responses to me at [email protected] and also read more about The Marriage Recovery Center on our website. You’ll find videos and podcasts on emotionally destructive marriages, codependency and affair-proofing your marriage.
Dr. David Hawkins, MBA, MSW, MA, PhD, is a clinical psychologist who has helped bring healing to thousands of marriages and individuals since he began his work in 1976. Dr. Hawkins is passionate about working with couples in crisis and offering them ways of healing their wounds and finding their way back to being passionately in love with each other.
Over the past ten years, Dr. Hawkins has become a leader in the field of treatment for narcissism and emotional abuse within relationships. He has developed several programs for treatment of men dealing with these issues and the women who love them. Dr. Hawkins is also a speaker & trainer for the American Association of Christian Counselors and writes for Crosswalk.com, CBN.org, and iBelieve.com. He is a weekly guest on Moody Radio and Faith Radio and is a best-selling author of over thirty books.