A wife is talking about the couple’s upcoming move from an apartment to a house. “We have so much going on with the packing and everything,” she tells you. “All Tyler and I talk about are the logistics of the move, and I don’t feel like we’re communicating about anything else. I just don’t feel close to my husband anymore. I’d like us to have better communication in our marriage. He feels like my business partner not my husband.”
Does this situation sound familiar? Have you heard married people you know describe a similar scenario along with their feelings of disconnection from their spouse?
If so, how do you respond as a marriage mentor?
Set aside 10 minutes a day — in the morning or after the kids are in bed — to ask each other about the “high” and “low” of your day.
When you have that down, take turns asking these questions:
What’s stressing you out?
What are a few emotions you’ve felt in the last day?
What are you excited about as you look ahead to the next few months?
Follow the L.U.V.E. response (Listen, Understand, Validate, Equip).
Be present; listen with your eyes and ears, as well as an open heart. Repeat what you hear. After the person affirms that you’ve heard her or him correctly, start asking questions.
Mentor: “So you say you’re only talking about the move and how to get it all done. And you don’t feel close to your husband anymore, like he’s just a business partner? And you’d like better communication your marriage?”
Ask questions to better understand the underlying issue.
Mentor: “Help me understand what’s going on. How long have you felt disconnected from your husband? What does this look like on a day-to-day basis? Is there something you were doing before as a couple that isn’t happening right now?”
Empathize with the spouse; let him or her know that many married people have experienced the same issue. If you can, let her or him know that you and your spouse felt disconnected from each other at one point in your marriage. Sharing your struggles and how you rose above them provides a sense of normalcy and hope.
Mentor: “This makes so much sense. I can see how frustrating that would be to not have that connection. I remember a busy time in our lives when we had the same problem. It must be so difficult for you.”
Here’s where you’ll supply a tool, skill or information the mentee can use. You’ll be preparing a spouse or couple spiritually, emotionally and mentally to act in a way that strengthens their marriage.
In this example, the couple is missing out on “heart talk” or life-giving communication. To have better communication in their marriage, encourage the couple to spend 10 minutes a day sharing with each other about what’s happening in their lives at the heart level. You could say something like:
“It sounds like you’re missing out on what’s called ‘life-giving talk’ or ‘heart talk.’ That’s the time when you and your spouse share your inner worlds — your feelings and deeper thoughts, the meaningful details about your lives.
“One thing you can do is set aside 10 minutes a day for heart talk. You could schedule 10 minutes in the morning after you get up or when you get home from work, or maybe at the end of the day after the kids are in bed.
“To get started, ask each other questions: What’s stressing you out today or recently? What are three emotions you’ve felt in the last 24 hours? What are you excited about as you look ahead to the next few months?”
What if the couple doesn’t respond well to the idea of spending 10 minutes a day in life-giving conversation? Maybe they say, “We don’t have time for that” or “I can’t do that touchy-feely stuff.” What can mentors do?
The third biggest challenge couples face is lack of meaningful conversation (according to the more than 800,000 people who completed the Focus on Marriage Assessment).
“Death and life are in the power of the tongue” (Proverbs 18:21). Your communication will either bring life to your marriage or slowly kill it.
Provide a list of conversation-starting questions.
Provide a list of “feeling” words so it’s easier for them to name and share their emotions with each other.
Tell them: “The 10-minute talk is as simple as sharing the high and low parts of your day.”
Role-play heart talk
Show them how it’s done. Invite the couple to your home for coffee or dessert. Then role-play the “10-minute conversation.” Share feeling words with your spouse; ask about the high and low of their day. Give the couple an example of how easy it can be to have a meaningful conversation.
Ask if they feel safe
Sometimes a spouse might feel safer emotionally if they avoid heart talk and instead stick to the basics of small talk, work talk and problem-solving talk. “Sometimes it feels safer to not have those deeper conversations, because they might stir up conflict,” explains Erin Smalley, strategic spokesperson for Focus on the Family’s marriage ministry. “What if they’re criticized?”
Mentors who sense this roadblock can tell the couple this: “If you feel reluctant to share at the heart level, ask each other this question: What would help you feel safe to have deeper conversations?”
To prepare for talking with a couple about heart talk and to strengthen the connection in your own marriage, spend 10 minutes sharing with your spouse three feelings that you’ve experienced in the last 24 hours. Take turns sharing. Maybe you’ll say, “I felt really stressed at work and here’s why.” And then your spouse would respond this way: “So it sounds like you’ve been stressed. Tell me more about that.”
If they are still resistant, suggest counseling. You can help them find a counselor, or they can call Focus on the Family at 1-855-771-HELP (4357) weekdays from 6:00 a.m. to 8:00 p.m. (Mountain Time) to request a free consultation with a counselor.