Communication presents a critical problem in most marriages. Why? BecauseTalking Spouse marries Secret Agent Spouse.
Every event of Talking Spouse’s day has special meaning and is shared with more than one person. This morning she was flossing her teeth, and the floss shredded. The pieces of floss reminded her of the time she was water skiing at age 13 and her ski rope broke. Even though that was a bummer, that time at the lake with her dad and Aunt Betty was great. At four in the afternoon that day, she and Aunt Betty had a real heart-to-heart about boys. Aunt Betty was wearing a bright green strapless swimsuit, and there were little bits of corn stuck in her teeth from the corn on the cob she was eating.
All this from shredded dental floss! And she’s going to find her husband and tell this story, including every excruciating detail, because that’s what she does.
Unfortunately, Talking Spouse marries Secret Agent Spouse. Secret Agent Spouse rarely has anything to say. He has thoughts and feelings, but no one knows what they are because … he’s Secret Agent Spouse. Every event of his day, no matter how big, means nothing and is not shared with anyone.
This morning, while in a hotel on business, he was flossing his teeth, and the floss shredded. His left hand shot into the mirror, shattering the glass and cutting his hand badly. As he recoiled from the mirror impact, his right foot slipped into the toilet and got stuck. Luckily, he was able to call for help. The paramedics came, bandaged his hand and got his foot out of the toilet. It turned out that one of the paramedics was his best friend back in high school. Is he going to tell his wife what happened? Are you kidding? He’s forgotten the whole incident by lunchtime.
Back home, Talking Spouse asks him about his bandaged hand and limp. He responds with, “Oh, it’s nothing. Just a little accident.”
Your Secret Agent isn’t a bad guy. He hasn’t killed anyone. He’s not having an affair. He’s a moral, decent, and upright person who works hard at his job. You know he loves you.
The one problem with him — and it is a big one — is that he doesn’t show you love in the way you need to be shown love. He doesn’t meet your deepest and most important need as a wife: to be emotionally connected to him. He doesn’t open up and share himself with you.
Your Secret Agent is intimacy-challenged. He hides his true self behind his wall. He might be a pretty expressive guy, one with a great sense of humor. He may have no trouble talking, at least about superficial things: generalities about his day, financial matters, his job, home maintenance, the kids, vacation plans. But he closes down when it comes to any personal, below-the-surface conversation.
The Secret Agent Spouse could be the husband or the wife. The Talking Spouse knows how to express feelings and share on a deeper level. This spouse is ready, willing, and usually desperate to punch through the wall and experience emotional intimacy. The Secret Agent Spouse, however, stays behind the wall and refuses to allow any deeper level conversations to occur.
The key to breaking through your Secret Agent’s wall and becoming emotionally connected is the process of spiritual bonding. There are many avenues to intimacy, but the spiritual is the most important one. To illustrate, here’s a dialogue that I’ve had in my therapy office with hundreds of spouses married to Secret Agents:
Spouse: “Dr. Clarke, I’ve tried everything to get my spouse to open up and talk on a personal level. It’s going to take an act of God to change my spouse and get us emotionally connected.”
Me: “You’re more right than you know. Let me ask you some questions. First, what kind of spiritual bonding do you do as a couple?”
Spouse: “Spiritual bonding?”
Me: “Do you have regular spiritual conversations in which each of you shares how you’re doing in your relationship with God?”
Spouse: “No, we don’t.”
Me: “Do you pray together regularly? And I don’t mean just at mealtimes.”
Me: “Do you discuss how you’re applying biblical principals to your lives?”
Me: “Don’t feel too bad. Very few married couples spiritually bond. This is for three main reasons: Your parents didn’t model it for you. No one ever taught you how. Not many churches provide specific teaching about spiritually bonding as a couple. But the secret to breaking through your Secret Agent’s wall and becoming emotionally connected is the process of spiritual bonding.”
Spouse: “This all sounds very personal. Shouldn’t we get emotional intimacy first, and then branch out to the spiritual?”
Me: “Now is always the best time to include God in your relationship. Real, deep emotional intimacy in a marriage never happens without God’s presence. It requires faith to step forward toward spiritually bonding when you feel vulnerable and aren’t ready to be personal with your partner. It is unknown territory, and it will seem awkward and uncomfortable at first. But if you step out and do it, God will reward you lavishly.”