– Are you a safe spouse? Most people assume physical safety. I’m talking about safety on an emotional level. What does it mean to feel safe, when asking your husband for help with the kids? Or what does it mean to feel safe when asking your wife why she seems more on edge than usual? Stay tuned to the end for a relationship quiz to help you determine how healthy your marriage is. In this video, my husband and I share how both of us can be unsafe in our marriage. Let me know if any of it looks familiar.
– Do you ever hear a principle and think “Well, that doesn’t apply to me.” When it came to emotional safety, I thought I was extremely safe. I didn’t attack Russ verbally during an argument, I never regretted anything I said because I never said anything. I was the nice one in an argument. I simply walked away and never brought the topic up again. Because if you ignore it long enough, it goes away, right? Let’s talk about emotional safety. Angry outbursts, being defensive, being critical, disrespectful, those are all obvious examples of being emotionally unsafe with your spouse, but shutting down is included in this list.
– Now, if you would ask me years ago if I was safe, I would say yes because I thought it meant physical safety but I since learned there’s a whole nother level of safety, which is your emotions.
– Me, too. I was shocked to learn that shutting down was being emotionally unsafe. I truly thought I was being the nice one in the argument because I didn’t say anything mean. But shutting down is one of the four leading predictors of divorce, according to marriage expert, Dr. John Gottman. Early on in our marriage, I thought Russ was the one who was not emotionally safe because of his intense verbal command of the English language, combined with his magnification and over-reactions, he could shut me down for days.
– Don’t remind me. I thought she was the one that was not emotionally safe. She would shut down or stay in what I called a funk for weeks. Our marriage counselor gave us some visuals to describe what we look like in an argument. He’s the tiger, I’m the turtle. The more the tiger comes after me, the more I’ll hunker down in my turtle shell.
– Danielle thought she was being the nice one by shutting down, she since learned that shutting down is just as damaging to the relationship as my words were. We both needed to learn how to be emotionally safe. Now, before we talk about being emotionally safe, let’s step back and talk about the signs of what is happening when you engage in an argument.
– So you have these stress hormones that are flooding your system. The adrenaline, cortisol, epinephrine, those stress hormones shift you out of the logical part of your brain back to the reactive part of your brain, the Amygdala.
– Now, when your amygdala gets triggered, you only have three options. You either fight, flee, or freeze. I have a tendency to fight and Danielle will do a combination of either flee or freeze.
– Fleeing from the conversation was my way of protecting myself when I got hurt. But I’ve since learned there is more damage done when I don’t return to the conversation.
– It’s just as important for me to stop arguing as it is for Danielle to take some time away from the argument. It used to make so anxious when she would walk away because I wanted to fix the argument in the moment. Our first fight, she wouldn’t talk to me for three days, and when I was used to fixing a fight in three minutes. It’s just like at work, we would just hash it out and resolve the situation.
– Now, some couples will push back when they want to resolve conflict before bed and quote the bible verse Ephesians 4:26 where it says “In your anger do not sin. Do not let the sun go down while you are still angry.” They do this believing, they should argue until the fight is resolved, But I love what Danielle saw when she studied this verse. It says “Don’t let the sun go down while you are still angry.” Now, it’s not up to your spouse to make you unangry. Your feelings of being angry, sad, or frustrated maybe more about what’s inside of you versus what your spouse does.
– And most people assume that they are emotionally safe but few have all of the safety characteristics. Instead of being defensive, a safe person receives feedback. Instead of shutting down an argument, a safe person stays engaged. Instead of trying to fix whatever it is your spouse is telling you about, a safe person shows empathy. Instead of interrupting while they are talking, a safe person listens well and seeks to understand their spouse’s perspective.
– Now a good exercise to practice emotional safety is to ask “Have I done anything to frustrate or hurt you this week?” Now, it’s important to make sure you’re fresh, that you’re emotionally safe and ready to listen and most importantly, try to understand your spouse’s perspective. Now, I always ask the men to go first by being leaders here. So step one, ask your spouse if you have done anything the past week to frustrate or hurt them. And whatever they say make sure not to get defensive or react negatively.
– And that includes body language, your tone, and the words that you’re using.
– Yes, remember their perspective is their truth whether you agree with it or not. Alright, step two is to validate their feelings, even if you don’t think they’re justified. For example, say “I am sorry I frustrated you” or “I’m sorry I hurt you. The last thing I want to do is frustrate you or hurt you.” And then, step three, ask them what they would have liked you to have done differently. And when they answer, commit to trying to do your best next time. Even though there’s a good chance that you’ll mess up again in similar situation, I often do. But overtime you get better at it. And if they ask for something you know you probably can’t do, then suggest something back. The key is to work together on a common solution to try to keep the frustration or hurt from happening again. When you finish, you’ll switch and let your wife lead the process. Now, this will take some time to get good at but it’s one of the best ways to grow closer to each other. Danielle and I have learned that getting good at managing conflict and repairing after hurting each other is when we often feel the closest to each other. I never would believe that we could feel this close after conflict before actually seeing this process work.
– Now, we’re going to role play an example of what it looks like to be emotionally unsafe and emotionally safe and this is an actual thing that has happened.
– So first we’re gonna give the example of how we were not emotionally safe. So here’s the context, early in our marriage, we were at a friend’s dinner one Saturday night and Danielle felt ignored.
– So on our drive home, I’m sitting in the passenger seat and I’m sulking, not saying anything.
– What’s wrong?
– What you mean nothing? Something’s wrong.
– You ignored me all night.
– That’s a bunch of bull, what are you talking about? I did not ignore you.
– You always ignore me when we’re with your friends, it went on for hours.
– You are always exaggerating. You just want to ruin my fun night.
– And then that’s the end of the argument ’cause she will stay like that for days. Not saying a word.
– Alright, so now, we’re gonna give you an example later in our marriage when this scenario happens and we’re gonna show you how to be emotionally safe.
– Okay so, under this emotionally safe scenario, we’re both getting back into the car and during the evening, I got my feelings hurt. I have felt really ignored during the evening and it’s natural for me to want to blame Russ for it but when I do now is I think about, “Okay, why did that hurt me so bad?” Because when my feelings are that’s strong, I know it’s more about me than it is about what something Russ might have done to me. So, I think about “Okay, how can I take responsibility for this?” Okay so, I’m just kinda peeling back what is bothering me and try to process the whole situation.
– Is something wrong, honey? Did I do something tonight that hurt you or frustrated you?
– I just- I felt ignored for most of the evening at the party and this was really frustrating.
– Oh, I’m so sorry. Last thing I want you to do is to feel ignored. Can you tell me more on why you felt ignored?
– I don’t know, it’s probably why I’m being so quiet I’m just trying to think through why it’s just so hard ’cause it’s hard to contribute to a conversation when it’s all about football, you’re reminiscing about growing up here when I didn’t grow up here. I feel ignored and it feels so real in the moment. And what I’m trying to do is take responsibility for feeling ignored and you know my childhood emotional wound is feeling ignored and in the moment it feels so real. And yes, I was mad at you in the moment but as I think about it, I know this is more about me, but gosh, in those moments, it just feels so real that it’s happening.
– Wow. That makes a lot of sense. I can really understand why you felt ignored. I’m so sorry. Can you please forgive me? And also, can you help me by telling me what I could have done differently that might have help next time in the same situation?
– Sure, and of course I forgive you. I don’t really necessarily see this as your problem. It’s more about me than you and there’s something that you could do that would help me is perhaps next time you can involve me in the conversation, even if it means changing the subject.
– Okay. Well first, thank you for forgiving me. And that’s a great point about next time. I’ll definitely try to be more aware of what’s going on and include you in the conversation, even if it means we changing the subject. Even if that subject is football.
– You’re so sacrificial. Now, let’s talk about how those two scenarios were different. Obviously, the ending went differently but the beginning also did. Did you notice that I started with I-statements and the feeling that I had in the second scenario? In the first I was accusatory with You-statements and an angry tone and then I pulled the “always” word. When we use the “always” word in marriage, as in “you always ignore we when you’re with your friends” we’re showing our spouse that we are keeping score and who wants be married to someone who keeps a record of when he or she messes up.
– And so, remember to be emotionally safe based on the characteristics that we described earlier. That way your spouse can be honest with you. ‘Cause if you don’t turn towards each other all the time, you might turn elsewhere.
– And you’ll experience three things in this exercise. You’ll be encouraged, you’ll learn something, but you’ll also get your feelings hurt. It took several years before I learned how Russ was walking on eggshells around me because if he said anything I didn’t like, I would shut down. I was shocked that my shutting down was creating this anxiety within him. Again, I was just protecting myself and preventing myself from saying anything mean. A safe spouse would stay engaged in the conversation, even when it gets hard.
– For sure. Now, there’s a popular verse in the bible that’s included in most weddings. It’s found in 1 Corinthians 13:4-7, where it says “Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It does not dishonor others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs.”
– Now that is a picture of safety. Listen to this again and think about your spouse. The way I choose to love my spouse should be characterized by being patient, being kind, not envying, not boasting, not being proud, not dishonoring him or her, not being easily angered and not keeping a record of wrongs. God gave us that picture of what love really is and He knew that we would all need His help to live that out in marriage.
– Alright, so here’s our challenge for you. Pick one of the attributes in the verse, like patience or kindness, not envious, doesn’t boast, and work on implementing it into your marriage the next week. You’ll have moments where you’ll have to pause and ask God to help you, that’s okay. Then the following week, apply a new one. As we close, and if you remember nothing else, here’s the bottom line. In order to have a thriving marriage, we must become a safe spouse. Thanks so much for watching and we look forward to seeing you next week.
– Being critical, defensive, and showing contempt, are all obvious unsafe emotional behaviors but did you know that shutting down was just as bad? Be sure to take this relationship quiz to learn how you can better connect with each other. If you liked this video, check out this next one of going cold and distant on your spouse. Remember, to have an extraordinary marriage, be intentional.