For anyone who has been married for even a short time, you already know that there are conversations the two of you should be having – but you're not. We all avoid these conversations, each of us for varied reasons. Why do we do this? Why do we not have the conversations that we know we should have? The reasons are many and maybe you can relate to a few of these examples:
- Maybe there has been more stress than normal in your home and you don't want to add one more thing.
- Maybe, at the end of your day, you just don't have enough emotional reserve to bring up something that could potentially cause conflict.
- Maybe you are the type of person who avoids conflict altogether.
- Maybe you have gotten into a habit of tuning out with TV, social media, or something else that is an easy distraction.
- Maybe you have tried to bring up this ongoing issue before and it did not turn out well.
- And more, a great deal more!
Whatever the reason, you simply cannot allow your marriage to slowly die a thousand deaths because you weren't sure what to do, or because you weren't willing to do what you know you should have. By the way, I can take all the reasons for not having these critical conversations and distill them down to one core fear that is keeping all married couples from having these talks: RISK. We are afraid to risk rejection. We are afraid to risk getting hurt. We are afraid to risk having a blowup—again. We are afraid that the thoughts in our heads; that we are unlovable or unworthy, will prove to be true. We are afraid. It is this fear and the risk that comes with it that will hold you back from having the marriage you have always dreamed of; a marriage where nothing can get in the way of your love for each other.
So, just what are the conversations that married couples must have? To be fair, this is a very big question with way too many answers to list all of them here, so I will give you some solid ideas on how to think in this area. I would much prefer to teach you how to think about having a great marriage, rather than teach you what to think about having a great marriage. Think of what follows as our Conversation Framework for Healthy Marriages. Sounds fancy, right? With that in mind, here are the kinds of conversations you should be having.
There is a reason that I use the phrase "physical intimacy" rather than sex. Sex used to be what married couples did behind closed doors, but this term has lost any of the positive meaning it used to have because it now includes casual sex, pornographic sex, extramarital sex, and so on. Physical intimacy, on the other hand, is a much more precise phrase. During the course of physical intimacy with your spouse, there are dozens of chemical interactions that happen in your bodies and brains which are intended to knit your souls together in ways that only make sense for two people in a life-long, committed relationship. We have written on this subject in great detail in another blog post here if you are interested.
If physical intimacy in marriage is truly THAT important, and it is, then why do we avoid conversations with our spouse surrounding this topic? The answer: risk. We are all worried that these conversations could go poorly and end up having the opposite of the intended effect, which means we worry that these conversations could drive us apart instead of pulling us together. The solution is not to avoid these conversations altogether, since doing so would only keep us stuck where we are, rather the solution is to examine our own motivations before we do. This self-examination allows us to align our conversations with the purpose of physical intimacy in marriage.
Which should lead you to the question, “What is the purpose of physical intimacy in my marriage?” If you are struggling with the answer because hearing yourself think it seems so selfish, then you must deal with that first because your selfishness is likely what is making these conversations so difficult. Instead, when it comes to physical intimacy, try to see the purpose as emotional connection, meeting your spouse’s most intimate needs, and simply enjoying some time together.
These conversations should be centered around the purpose of physical intimacy in your marriage and how to get on the same page. This means understanding what your spouse enjoys and doesn’t, and the emotional connection you both feel as a result. Don't be afraid of these conversations. You can do this and you need to do this.
The subject of “family” can easily be a trigger for most married couples. And this is precisely why you should not avoid these conversations. The more you avoid them, the more gunpowder you are adding to the powder-keg that will eventually blow! The thing to be mindful of with regard to families is that both you and your spouse will have very strong opinions about them, some good and some not so good. While your opinions about family are important to you, you should learn to moderate those opinions when talking to your spouse about family. For example, if your wife loves her dad, but you can’t stand him, you must learn to see him, at least partially, through her eyes. Doing so will bring you and your wife closer together and you both win. If your husband loves watching sports with his family and you can’t stand the thought of sports, then try to learn a bit about his favorite team and why he and his family are so passionate about that sport. Doing so will only serve to bring you and your husband closer and, you guessed it, everybody wins. The goal with conversations about family is to understand why your spouse feels the way they do and for you to move a bit closer to how they feel.
Some of you will say that you cannot or will not change your opinions of either your family or your spouse’s family. Just remember that you and your spouse will both be happier when you learn to find common ground among your families. Therefore, your conversations about family should have the goal of compromise and common ground. At some point, you may even be able to tell your spouse, “While I don’t completely understand, seeing this scenario through your eyes has changed how I see things with family.” Now that’s a good and mutually beneficial conversation!
Where and How to Live
You and your spouse will have different ideas about what city to live in, what kind of house or apartment to live in, how big or small of a yard you want, and the decor of your living quarters. You will disagree on at least some of this — which is completely normal. The interesting thing is that the more you have healthy conversations about these things, the more aligned you will become.
What is the best way to start these conversations? As a general rule, it is best to lead with what you love before you dive into what you don’t. In other words, your spouse already knows most of the things you don’t like about where you live because you complain about them more than you should. That is why leading a conversation with the things you love, the positive stuff, is so refreshing! Discuss what you love about where you are, but don’t forget to dream together about where you would like to be someday. In fact, you may find that a fun date night would be driving to the kind of neighborhood one or both of you likes or even to a different city that you want to learn more about. Your spouse’s likes and opinions should matter as much as yours, so stop taking yourself so seriously and learn to enjoy these kinds of conversations.
Things That Bug You
Your spouse is likely more aware than you realize about the things that bother you. If you aren’t intentional about being more positive, you will become very negative which then leads to complaining about every little thing that bugs you. Learning how to navigate conversations about the things that bug you may be the most difficult so far.
Here are some guidelines that will be helpful as you navigate these conversations. First, not everything that bugs you is your spouse’s problem. If your particular preferences (what you like and don't like) result in things that bug you, do your best to be realistic and work on those yourself. After all, working on yourself and how you view things is one of the few things you have complete control over. Second, realize that for each thing that bugs you about your spouse, there is something about you that bugs them too. This is what grace is for. Give grace freely to each other and you will find yourself much happier. Next, learn to use “I” statements instead of “you” statements. Saying, “I struggle when I feel ______” will always result in a more fruitful conversation than, “I hate it when you ______.” Lastly, try leading with a sincere apology. You might say something like, “I know that I act _______ when _______ happens. I’m sorry that I do this.” What you have just done is talk with your spouse about something that bugs you while also taking ownership of what you need to work on. This approach is both realistic and beneficial.
Dreams for Your Future Together
Your future together is much too important to simply let it play out according to “whichever way the wind blows.” Intentional conversations about your future together should be positive and inspiring. Would you both like to travel? Where? What kinds of vacations sound the most appealing to you? Do you prefer sipping umbrella-clad drinks on a remote beach or hiking knee-deep through mountain trails? Posh hotels or camping? At what age would you like to retire and how will that change the things you currently do together?
Think of dreaming together as weaving a beautiful tapestry or remodeling a favorite room in your home; it takes time, patience, and lots of changes and adjustments to get to the final outcome that you both desire. Dreaming together should be a fun endeavor, not something to check off of your to-do list. Don't rush through dreaming together, if you do you are missing the point entirely.
In summary, while most married couples avoid some important conversations, they will find that these conversations are really not that difficult to have when they are intentional about having them. Risk is the greatest deterrent to these conversations and since there is no meaningful relationship without risk, what are you really waiting for? Are you just being lazy and checked out? Don't let this happen to you. A simple and meaningful conversation may be exactly what you both need to move you from where you are to where you want to be! By the way, the opposite of RISK is VULNERABILITY. If you want to read our post about vulnerability, you can find it here.
P.S. One more thing on the subject of risk. If you want to enjoy deep and meaningful love, it will require you to take risks. At times, you will take a risk that does not turn out well. When this happens, you will be tempted to never risk again. We understand completely because we've been there too. However, we all must learn to risk again because that is what deep and meaningful love requires and because deep and meaningful love is worth the risk.
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By Brad & Tami Miller. Contact us at brad@TandemMarriage.com. Copyright © 2020