Together or Apart: How to Effectively Communicate with Our Spouses
By Nathan Gwilliam
This is Entrepreneurs of Faith, a Sunday episode of Monetization Nation. I’m Nathan Gwilliam, your host. In today’s episode, we’re going to discuss an article written by clinical mental health counselor, Rod Jeppsen. In his article, Jeppsen teaches us how we can more effectively communicate with our spouses.
It can be hard to be the spouse of an entrepreneur. We often get sucked into projects and responsibilities or have to work long and odd hours, especially when we’re first starting our businesses. We’re asking a lot of our spouses; that’s why it is important to continue to put effort into our relationships and learn how to communicate more effectively with our spouse.
The Magic List
Jeppsen describes how some couples come to him and say, “We have nothing in common anymore.” They’re often looking for a magic list of things they can do to fix their relationship. While those lists are easy to find online, Jeppsen says for the most part, a list of creative things to do or ways to connect with each other again seldom works long term — unless there is a reliable emotional connection.
We, as children of God, all have emotions. We may express them differently but we all experience emotions, and we crave for emotional connections. Watching a movie together, even if it’s a really good movie, won’t necessarily give us that connection.
As entrepreneurs, we sometimes prioritize our work over our relationships. We stay late at the office instead of coming home for dinner or respond to emails before bed instead of talking with our spouse. Doing these things may draw us emotionally farther from our spouse.
Background and Emotional Connection
How do we stay emotionally connected? One way is through understanding how our backgrounds affect our relationships. We all have different experiences in our relationships that shape and mold what we do and expect in marriage. Jeppsen says we can ask two essential questions based on our backgrounds.
1- How much are we willing to emotionally connect with our spouse?
2- Are we willing to let our spouse into our emotional space?
Jeppsen says, “When we’re focusing on our spouse’s behavior rather than seeing the history of why that behavior may have developed, we will often generate rigidity and keep softness away. Having insight and compassion for difficult times our spouse experienced during his or her growing-up years will usually instill a desire to be more supportive. Compassion, softness, and gentleness provide fertile ground to share emotions. Learning to talk about our feelings with our spouse is a catalyst in producing emotional safety and connection.”
Our relationships will deepen as we connect emotionally with our spouses through understanding their background and the emotions they’re experiencing.
As religious leader Russell M. Nelson counseled, “Communicate well with your spouse. . . . Couples need private time to observe, to talk, and really listen to each other.”
Label, Feel, Acknowledge, and Share
Jeppsen shares four steps to make sharing sensitive issues easier.
1- Label Our Emotions
Put a name on them, like “desperation,” “anticipation,” or “eagerness.” When we identify our emotions, we are able to communicate our feelings and ask for appropriate help.
2- Feel Them
Slow down. Ask, “Where and when do I notice the feeling?” It is important to not suppress our emotions. Emotions are signals to our body that we are experiencing something. As we pay attention to those signals, we are able to learn and understand more clearly what we are experiencing.
3- Acknowledge Them
We have emotions for a reason. We shouldn’t shame ourselves or our spouses for having feelings. Feelings and emotions are not inherently good or bad; it is what we do with those feelings and emotions that pulls us out of neutral territory. We should seek God’s help and direction on how to handle emotions we are ill-equipped to deal with ourselves.
4- Share Them
When we share emotions with our spouses, it often draws the two of us closer because we are being emotionally vulnerable with our spouse, allowing them to see deeper into our hearts and minds. We can strengthen our marriages as we take the time to talk authentically and listen intentionally to one another, being thoughtful, respectful, and expressing affection often.
As we learn to identify, recognize, understand, and talk about our emotions together, we can strengthen our relationships. Jeppsen shares two inspired principles we can apply: (1) husband and wife have a solemn responsibility to love and care for each other, and (2) husband and wife are to help one another as equal partners.
A Gentle Startup
How do we start a conversation about our feelings? It may seem like a daunting task, especially if it’s at the end of a long work week. Dr. John Gottman, a well-known marriage researcher, gives us a framework for discussing our concerns rather than criticizing our spouse, calling it the “gentle startup.”
1- Express how we feel.
We should try to focus on what we are feeling rather than what the other person is doing or saying. For example we can say, “I’m worried, concerned, afraid, or fearful.” We can express our feelings with “I” statements, such as, “I feel . . .”
2- Talk about one specific situation or event.
We should try to be clear, to the point, and avoid evaluating or judging our spouse. As we include what we have been experiencing because of the event and our related feelings, it creates a space of vulnerability and sharing, which we can also create for our spouse to share as well.
3- State a positive need.
We should describe what is important to us in the relationship, what needs or hurts we want our spouse to be more aware of in our relationship. We can ask our spouse to take positive steps to meet our needs and be polite in our request. Saying “please” or “I would appreciate it” can go a long way because it shows that we value and respect our spouse.
4- Express gratitude.
We should compliment our spouse on those things that are working for us. Earnestly look for and acknowledge ways our spouse is a blessing in our lives. It is important to recognize the good they are doing, so they feel appreciated and seen.
5- Attachment Injuries
“Nevertheless neither is the man without the woman, neither the woman without the man, in the Lord.” (1 Corinthians 11:11)
Jeppsen says, “Most of us are either deeply grateful or deeply longing for emotional connection with our spouse. . . . If we reach out to our spouse in need and, for whatever reason, our spouse is not available or is unable to soothe us, there is a high possibility we might experience what Dr. Sue Johnson calls an attachment injury. These injuries generate negative reactions that come in several forms.”
After a long day running our business, it can be tough to be there for our spouse. It might seem easier to check out emotionally, but that can lead to attachment injuries. These injuries can come in these forms: attacking, placating, defending, withdrawing, and pursuing.
When we are attacking, we lash out and criticize our spouse for not being there, with absolute statements like, “You have never been there for me. What I need doesn’t matter to you.”
Placating comes when we agree with our spouse’s viewpoint, hoping the discussion will not continue or intensify. However, nothing gets resolved, and the result is usually an accumulation of resentment.
To defend, we provide evidence, as if we are a courtroom attorney, as to why we are justified in our reactions in the present circumstances.
When we pull away and go silent, it’s called withdrawing. We keep our distance from our spouse and only talk about daily living necessities, without any meaningful connection.
Pursuing is when we need a connection so intensely that we continue to ask questions, demand answers, ask for commitments, and attempt to stay in control of the agenda to appease our hurt feelings instead of for the sake of the relationship.
Jeppsen says, “These reactions are not abnormal when we feel like we have lost our attachment with the one we love. But they are dangerous because they can generate a negative cycle. First, the attachment injury; second, the negative reaction; then a negative reaction to the first reaction; and around it goes. In this way, each spouse contributes to and also gets hurt by the cycle.”
In order to avoid these, we must learn how to communicate with our spouses so that cycle doesn’t have a chance to continue forever. This is also why we need to be there for our spouses whenever possible so that the cycle doesn’t start.
Physical and Emotional Intimacy
Intimacy is an important, multifaceted component of marriage. Jeppsen says, “Feeling close to each other, having actual physical contact, and feeling a strong emotional connection are all interrelated.”
Being close to each other emotionally fosters the connection and closeness that deepens and enriches sexual intimacy. “It is challenging for a spouse with low sexual desire to engage sexually if he or she feels little or no emotional connection. In this sense, regular, meaningful emotional connection creates a haven of safety for sexual intimacy,” Jeppsen says.
Even physical contact such as kissing each other good night, regularly holding hands, or giving each other an affectionate hug or squeeze can be of great value.
A Better List
Jeppsen says if we still find ourselves longing for that list of creative things to do or ways to connect with each other again, there is good news: “As the two of you remain emotionally connected or become emotionally connected again, it will be much easier to create a list you can both contribute to. It will be your list, and because you created it, you will be more likely to do it. Couples who build stronger emotional connections usually work closely together and can find solutions for their marriage regardless of their backgrounds, hobbies, interests, or activities.”
As entrepreneurs, we can create our own list with our spouse that is tailored to us, our needs, and our schedules. We are each in unique situations with our marriages, families, and businesses so what works for one couple may not work for another. We can try out different things as we learn to communicate with each other more effectively.
Here are some of my key takeaways from this episode:
1- We need to connect emotionally if we want to build stronger connection.
2- To communicate our emotions we must label, feel, acknowledge, and share our emotions.
3- We can breach the topic of our emotions using the gentle startup: expressing how we feel, talking about a specific situation, stating a positive need, and expressing gratitude.
4- Attachment injuries come when our spouse is unavailable to help us with our needs or vice versa. To avoid these attachment injuries we should strive to be available to our spouses whenever possible and effectively communicate with them.
5- When we are emotionally intimate, it will usually strengthen our physical intimacy.
6- We can create a list of things to do to connect with our spouse tailored to our unique situation that will likely help us more than a generic list from the internet.
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