I believe I’m approachable as a husband, but my wife tells me she’s afraid to tell me serious things about our marriage. She says I’m defensive and she feels threatened. I don’t agree with her. Is this more her problem than mine? How would I know? Can you help me with this?
Since your response to your wife’s claim actually seems somewhat defensive, I suspect she may be right! Is this issue her problem? It’s not only her problem, but your problem and a marital problem. Of course your wife must learn to be courageous and assertive. She may struggle with passivity and low self-confidence. This is her part in the marital equation. However, it’s your problem because your wife doesn’t feel safe with you. What’s taking place within your personality to create this barrier to her coming to you? Finally, this is a marriage problem, because you both have no established way of dealing with sensitive topics, leaving issues unresolved, which builds barriers to intimacy.
Someone has said we all need to convey the attitude, Please tell me what’s on your mind, even the things you know I’d rather not hear. Of course this level of intimacy in marriage—or “‘into me see”—creates trust and transparency. Such a relationship is not easily attained, however. This level of approachability is built upon a number of key factors:
*Trust: I trust I can approach my mate and they will listen to what I have to say;
*Openness: My mate will be open to what I have to say;
*Humility: I am able to approach my mate with humility and believe my mate will be humble in response;
*Effecting Change: My words, preferences, and sentiments will impact my mate and some kind of change will result;
*Collaboration: We’re able to work together to arrive at a solution that works for us both.
What can be done about this problem? Let’s consider a few ideas:
Make your relationship a safe environment for your wife to come to you with any concerns. Safety is the key word here—if your mate is going to venture forward in sharing very personal, sensitive issues with you, she needs to feel safe with you. Have you encouraged her to share what’s on her heart?
Help your mate solve any concerns she has. Because you are “one flesh,” you are to help your spouse with any legitimate burdens or cares she faces. While there are some issues that are hers alone to face, you are expected to help her with burdens she cannot bear alone.
Check your heart and attitude for defensiveness. No one wants to approach someone who is easily offended. Have you sufficiently dealt with your personal issues so your mate can come to you without being concerned you’ll react personally? Can she bring a criticism and know you’ll deal with respectfully? Can she anticipate your openness to change?
Practice creating a safe, open, and effective “container” for your feelings and concerns. You both are responsible for keeping a healthy connection. As you both practice intimate sharing, with critical feedback at times, growth will occur. You can feel secure in your love for each other even amidst challenging feedback.
Practice keeping this “space” free from any unresolved resentments or concerns. Together make a pact that you will keep a short list of concerns. Healthy couples know a long list is the breeding ground for resentment, hostility, and, ultimately, distance.
Celebrate your intimacy. Intimacy is, after all, not simply a “mutual admiration society”—though it is that! It is also a safe haven from harm, a place to be fully known, and a place to enjoy close connection. If you’re fortunate enough to enjoy intimacy in your marriage, celebrate it.
A healthy relationship is one where both partners are approachable. Both work at sending the message, “I want you to feel safe to tell me whatever I need to hear.” If either spouse is guarding themselves, work needs to be done to create safety again.