“Let love be sincere; … love one another with mutual affection; anticipate one another in showing honor.” (Romans 12: 9-10)
How a couple adapts to their first years of marriage together can set a trend for the flourishing or struggle in the following years of marriage and family life. Whatever the growth areas are during the early years of marriage, staying emotionally connected is key, especially through effective communication. The issues and differences will emerge. Some differences are resolvable, others are perpetual. How a couple works through or accepts each other’s uniqueness and differences can set the trajectory of their marital unity and connection.
Understanding, empathy and connecting with your spouse does not automatically happen. Without active, purposeful and regular dialogue, emotional closeness will wither, and a shared sense of life and journey will falter and risk drying up. Emotional closeness and connectedness are the life blood to a healthy and growing relationship with your spouse.
Take time, quality time. This means being ready to listen patiently and attentively to everything the other person wants to say. It requires the self-discipline of not speaking until the time is right. Instead of offering an opinion or advice, we need to be sure that we have heard everything the other person has to say. This means cultivating an interior silence that makes it possible to listen to the other person without mental or emotional distractions. Do not be rushed, put aside all of your own needs and worries, and make space.
Often the other spouse does not need a solution to his or her problems, but simply to be heard, to feel that someone has acknowledged their pain, their disappointment, their fear, their anger, their hopes and their dreams. How often we hear complaints like: “He does not listen to me.” “Even when you seem to, you are really doing something else.” “I talk to her and I feel like she can’t wait for me to finish.” “When I speak to her, she tries to change the subject, or she gives me curt responses to end the conversation.” – Pope Francis from his Apostolic Exhortation “The Joy of Love” (Amoris Laetitita)
Steps to create dialogue that nourishes your relationship
To prevent or correct emotional disconnect, you and your spouse can develop the discipline and habit of daily conscious dialogue that will nourish and breathe life into your relationship.
- Intentionally plan time for honest dialogue. Make sure you have enough time for both partners to have a turn. If possible, find a private, comfortable, quiet space to talk in.
- Decide who will be the first “sender” (the one doing the talking) and who will be the first “receiver” (the one doing the listening). You will switch roles later.
- (Optional) Start by holding hands and each partner making some statement of affection and commitment to the other. For example, “You are incredibly special to me.”
- The sender begins to talk about what they want to share. Be careful to do it in small bits (you’ll get a chance to say everything you need to — short segments increase the chance that your partner will “get” it all). Make sure that you talk about yourself — avoid criticizing or commenting on your partner’s behavior.
- The receiver repeats back what the sender has said and asks, “Did I get that right?” For example, “What I think I heard you say is that you are really looking forward to lunch with your sisters for emotional support. Did I get that right?”
- If there are no corrections the receiver then asks, “Is there more?”
- Continue sending and mirroring (repeating) until the sender feels that he or she has said everything he or she wishes to.
- The receiver then “validates” what the sender has shared. For example, he or she might say “It makes sense to me that you are looking forward to lunch with your sisters this week. They have been really important sources of support for you, and I know that you’ve been having a rough time recently.” Validation is simply telling the other person that their world makes sense to you — even if it is different from the way the world looks to you! It is important to remember that validation does not mean agreement, just that their world makes sense to you.
- The receiver then “empathizes” with the sender. Empathy is letting yourself imagine how the other might be feeling. For example, you might say “I imagine when you don’t see your sisters for a while you start to feel lonely and a little cut off from your family.”
- After completing the three steps of mirror, validation, empathy, switch roles.
- End by again holding hands and sharing appreciation for each other.
The key to promoting a healthy and growing relationship is being present to each other in meaningful daily dialogue. Take the time today to nourish your relationship and you will be better for each other tomorrow and all the days of your marriage.