My husband, Bob, and I sat in a marriage counseling session. Not because our marriage was falling apart, but because we were blissfully ignorant and simply wanted to help other couples. This was a training seminar, so we and nine other couples agreed to be counseled … in front of everyone else. What did we have to lose?
Surprisingly, within the first five minutes of our session, the counselor observed: “Your problem is that you look really good on the outside, but you don’t know how to speak to each other’s heart.” Shocked by the counselor’s comments, Bob and I were not content to simply have a good-looking marriage.
So, we committed to setting aside time to become more emotionally intimate. Bob and I sat face-to-face and tried to eliminate all the typical interruptions. We began to share the life experiences that shaped us — experiences we had tip-toed around, suppressed or just not taken time to talk about. Our conversations produced laughter, healing tears and ultimately a bond that was more secure than any we’d known in our first 28 years of marriage.
You, too, can enjoy an emotionally intimate relationship with your spouse if you’re willing to invest the time being vulnerable with each other and with God. Consider the following tips that worked for us:
Pick safe topics to get the conversation started
After we returned home from the seminar, Bob and I focused on our conversation for about two months, setting aside 30 to 60 minutes to talk on most days. When we started, we chose comfortable topics because we wanted to make this an enjoyable and enduring activity.
You might ask your spouse about his or her favorite memories from when you were dating and why that memory or activity is special. Ask if it’s something he or she would like to do again. Basic conversations might go well with a dinner date. If your spouse isn’t much of a talker, consider a casual starter question like, “What first drew you to me?” as you’re driving in the car.
Make it clear that it’s safe to share anything with you
Six months before we married, Bob came across a list I had never meant for him to see — my reasons for wanting to marry him. “What’s this?” he asked innocently. I felt exposed and my intense weeping cued Bob that he’d done something wrong. Although the incident was hurtful for me, something Bob said in the ensuing conversation will forever speak to my heart. He said, “I don’t ever want to hurt you.” From that moment, Bob became a secure place for me to share my feelings, my hurts, my dreams.
Do you communicate to your spouse that it is safe to tell you anything and that your intention is to be on his or her team — not to criticize or tear down?
Learn what makes your spouse come alive
One morning while I sat on the patio nestled among the pots of flowers and herbs, Bob asked, “Will you explain to me why you like the flowers and herbs so much?” Then he listened. Bob is practical, enjoys making everything into a numbers game and takes his vitamins alphabetically. He may never fully understand my love of colors, fragrances and the creative process. But he wants to know me. He wants to understand my heart.
Do you know what makes your spouse come alive? You can speak to his or her deepest emotions by simply asking.
Ask the hard questions
For Bob and me, the beauty, the healing and the bonding in our relationship came when we took on the more difficult topics. The pain from my chaotic childhood still affected me, and I had a lot of crying to do as I dealt with those old wounds.
“What makes you fearful?” “What has hurt you?” “What are the words that crush your heart?” “Do I say them sometimes?” Bob asked those questions (and more) and gave me the gift of his uninterrupted attention. He didn’t offer suggestions, criticize me or inject his own stories. Mostly, he held me and let me cry. We took turns sharing our stories and gave each other equal time for expression.
What are some questions that may be difficult for your spouse to answer but that could lead to a deeper level of emotional connection between you?
Invite God into the conversation
Inviting our heavenly Father into the conversation was life-changing. When Bob and I were baffled as to why certain negative attitudes and behaviors kept resurfacing, we prayed. I’d ask, “Lord, what am I really feeling?” While I might identify anger, God’s specific and more helpful answer was that I was feeling unappreciated. “When did I start feeling that way, Lord?” And God brought the painful incidents to mind. “Father, what should I do with this pain? I want to look at this through Your eyes.” In those moments, I remembered God’s promise
s to love and care for me (Jeremiah 31:3; Hebrews 13:5).
Do you know how to be emotionally intimate with the marriage partner God gave you?
Twelve years ago Bob and I were quite happy with our marriage. We had a stable family life and everything functioned smoothly. But we never knew how much deeper our marriage could be until we learned to speak to each other’s heart.
Roxann and Bob Andersen are co-authors of The Marriage Dance. They present marriage seminars at churches, retreats and other events.