Part three in a series about repairing your marriage after an affair
References “NOT ‘Just Friends’” by Shirley P. Glass, Ph.D with Jean Coppock Staeheli
By Benjamin Deu, MA, LMHC, Seattle Christian Counseling
This article is third in a (three-part series). It aims to help couples discuss weaknesses in their marriages in a way that acknowledges the perspectives of both spouses
Learning how to communicate compassionately with your partner is the only way you will recover from infidelity. If you were not good at talking through thorny subjects before the affair, now is the time to learn.
Tool 1: It doesn’t have to be honey, as long as it’s not vinegar
“Think about your intent. If your intent is to vent your spleen, then it doesn’t matter how you say it. You may feel better afterward because you’ve gotten rid of all those toxins, but the other person feels poisoned. If your intent is to help the other person understand where you’re coming from or make a request or to do something differently, how you say it makes a big difference. If you come on strong, even if you’re not being nasty but merely overly persuasive, the other person will resist being influenced by you.” (179-180)
Spouses often deal with discovering an affair by attacking their spouse. They are hurt and vulnerable, so they turn their pain on the person who made them feel this way. While it can be tempting to try to make your partner feel as bad as you do, you are only feeding the cycle of negativity, and creating more work for yourself later should you decide to repair the relationship.
Refuse to pay back your partner’s negativity with more poisonous barbs. If you need a time-out, take one. Screaming matches accomplish nothing. Discussions do. Agree with your partner to table the discussion for later, decide a time, and then go do something that has absolutely nothing to do with what you had been arguing about. Glass calls this “disagreeing without being disagreeable.” You do not have to agree with what your partner says, but you do have to hear them out. “A partner who believes you heard the main point is more likely to listen to your point of view.” (180)
Don’t keep bringing up the past. Rehashing the same argument, and fighting about who said or did not say what gets you nowhere. Instead, clear your slates and ask your partner where they stand on the issue now. Make sure you understand each other. Glass suggests making a list of topics you still cannot discuss reasonably, and table those until your relationship improves.
Let each other speak. Do not talk over one another, interrupt, or cut in with contradictions. It is only natural to want to immediately address statements that seem false or inappropriate, but launching in with an angry accusation while they are still talking discourages them from hearing your point of view. Keep your peace until they are finished, and then calmly explain your perspective.
When someone else has hurt you, it is easy to feel justified being hurtful in return. But this is not the example Christ set for us. “Get rid of all bitterness, rage and anger, brawling and slander, along with every form of malice. Be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving each other, just as in Christ God forgave you.” (Eph. 4:31-32 NIV) If you set another person’s behavior as the standard for your own, you will never restore your marriage. But if you struggle to forgive them as the Lord would, there is hope.
Tool 2: Have a conversation; don’t just talk at one another
Two people taking turns stating their opinions without considering what the other person says is not a conversation. It is understandable that you may be angry and hurt and desperately what to make your partner understand you, but have enough humility to open your ears to voices other than yours. You also need to have enough humility to share the conversation. Rather than going on for several minutes, take brief turns. It makes it easier for your partner to absorb what you are saying, and makes it less likely they will grow bored and stop paying attention.
“Practice alternating between being the speaker and being the listener. As the listener, listen attentively and let your body language signal your receptivity. Don’t interrupt. When the speaker is finished, acknowledge what you’ve heard and then respond with your own perspective.” (182)
Tool 3: How to use “I” and “You” statements
Glass says a lot of people mix up when to use “I” statements, and when to use “You” statements. For the uninitiated, “I” statements are a less confrontational way of expressing your perspective to your mate when it is your turn to speak. “You” statements are best used when you want to make sure you understand what your partner is saying. When it is your turn to talk, focusing on your own feelings makes it less likely your spouse will argue with you or become defensive.
Confrontational: “You’re so inconsiderate. You never call when you’re going to be late.”
“I” statement: “I get worried when you’re not home when you say you will be.”
Confrontational: “I think it is unfair of you to say that.”
“You” statement: “So what you think is you would like me help out more with the kids.”
When discussing a problem with your spouse, include a positive related to the issue. Glass uses a great example of an exchange between a husband and wife:
“Jessica was in the car talking to her husband John, on the cell phone. He said he would be home from the office at 6 p.m. and would set the table and make the salad for dinner. She got home at 6:40 p.m., but he wasn’t home yet. When he opened the front door at 7 p.m., she said, ‘When you told me you were going to get home before me and make the salad, I felt happy. When I came home and saw you hadn’t done it, I was disappointed.’ This was instead of saying, ‘You never get home when you say you’re going to,’ or ‘I should have known better than to think you’d keep your word.’” (182-183)
The Bible offers two lessons about dealing with people who have wronged you– to confront them about how they hurt you, and to forgive them as Christ would. What does this mean for marriage? You are to be neither doormat nor tyrant. If your partner does something hurtful, tell them. After you have talked it out, forgive them, and do not hold it over their head. Does the Lord try to keep us feeling guilty by constantly reminding us of our faults? No, “As far as the east is from the west, so far has he removed our transgressions from us.” (Psalm 103:12 NIV)
Tool 4: Put on your listening ears
Having a conversation is not just about two people speaking; it is essential they also listen to what the other says. Maybe sure your mate knows you are paying attention. You can do this by nodding, keeping eye contact, and acknowledgements such as “uh-huh.” The more heard you both feel, the more productive the discussion will be, and the better your conversations will go in the future. It also helps if you briefly summarize what the other has said after they are done speaking. It helps avoid misunderstandings, and shows you have been paying attention. Glass recommends three techniques for doing this:
Reflecting: This involves the summarizing technique we discussed earlier. Repeat the crux of your partner’s statement back to them.
Example: “It makes you worry when I don’t call to say I’ll be home late.”
Validating: Your mate wants to know you believe them. Show this by agreeing with what they have said.
Example: “I can tell how tense you are when I get home an hour later than usual.”
Empathizing: Perhaps the most important part of active listening, this technique lets your partner know you are on their side.
Example: “I can understand why it makes you nervous when you don’t know why I’m not home yet.”
Remember– your spouse may not be looking for a solution. They may just want to discuss how they feel about the problem. Avoid offering unsolicited advice. Instead, follow the active listening tips above, and wait until they ask you how you think you should handle the problem. (184) Avoid empty reassurances. Telling them not to be so upset because “time heals all wounds” or “it will all work out” is not helpful. By doing this, you devalue their emotions and make them feel worse.
Christian counseling for talking with your spouse
They will help you talk about the more difficult parts of your relationship, and help you learn how to deal with them. Confrontation is a part of life, whether it be with family, coworkers, or your spouse. A professional Christian marriage counselor will use biblical principles and therapeutic techniques to help you approach others. The better you are at kindly stating your perspective and hearing those of others, the stronger your relationships will be.
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