Is there a widening gap in your marriage? One that you aren’t sure how to bridge?
What about the emotional gap with you and an adult child? Or with you and a friend? That gap, which can leave you and your loved one feeling isolated from one another is more serious than you may realize.
The No. 1 cause for divorce today is lack of communication. Just a decade ago it was infidelity, but today failing to communicate, communicating poorly, or just letting the emotional gap widen between a husband and wife can be fatal to marriages. It can also be fatal to any other relationship you have and want to maintain.
Because of the personality differences between you and your spouse – as well as different upbringings, different values, and different ways you approach life – you have enough of a gap to start with. But when one of you goes into your emotional cave instead of communicating and leaves the other to deal with the feeling of being shut out, that gap widens even more. Whether it’s you who retreats emotionally or your husband (or both of you), it’s essential to look at healthy alternatives to emotional withdrawal and ways we can keep connected so the gap between you and your loved one isn’t allowed to widen.
Here are 10 ways to narrow the gap in your marriage (and most of these principles apply to your other relationships, as well):
- Realize the deeper core wound that is causing the gap
There is often more at play in your relationship than a simple statement that went south or an argument that came out of nowhere. When you realize the deeper core wound that is driving the argument or fight, you can address it immediately.
Instead of thinking, my spouse is just an angry man, say instead, “I had no idea that my husband struggled so much with feeling he was not succeeding in the relationship.” Instead of thinking, I can’t say anything to him without him becoming defensive, say instead “I didn’t realize certain words of mine triggered his feelings of being attacked or torn down.” What you focus on grows. If you focus on what the other person is doing wrong, that will grow. If you focus on the fact that he has a good heart, and there are just some unrecognized wounds at play, that will heighten your awareness to see the best in him.
- Resist the urge to be defensive, accusative, or angry
Your husband’s — or an ungrateful child’s — words can make you want to lash back, storm out of the room, or go silent. But try to resist that kind of emotional reaction to another person’s words, actions, or responses. Instead of being defensive, accusative or angry, be open and curious. Tell yourself “My husband is a kind, loving man and might be acting like a jerk right now, but what is really going on inside him?”
When you attempt to understand where another person’s anger, negative actions, or emotional responses are coming from, you can work toward narrowing the gap, rather than contributing to its width.
- Reject the lies that get you off course and create division between the two of you
We all believe the lies of the enemy, the lies from old voices in our heads, and the lies from hurtful accusations that were made years ago. Your husband’s wounds aren’t the only ones in the picture. We, as wives, get triggered by a situation or by certain words and then we believe our lies: I am alone. I am devalued. I’m not appreciated. I’m not respected.
Combat those lies by telling yourself: This feeling of abandonment or rejection is not real. What is real is we love each other and we’re struggling through some mental and emotional attack. Then further combat those lies with the next step.
- Receive the truth of who you are in Christ
Ephesians 1:3-14 tells us when we are in Christ we are chosen in Him before the foundation of the world, we are predestined to adoption as God’s children, and we are as forgiven as God is rich. Ephesians 2:10 tells us we are God’s personal handiwork or masterpiece. Elsewhere in Scripture we are told that we are saints, friends of God, and beloved children.
John 8:32 tells us “Then you will know the truth and the truth will set you free.” Once you receive the truth (about who you are in Christ) you can be more emotionally regulated to your husband’s feelings and wounds. You can also help him see the truth, of not only who he is in Christ (if he is a believer), but the truth that you are not his enemy. You are in his court. You will fight for him.
- Respect and yield to his lead
Sometimes the gap starts to widen simply because your husband is not feeling respected. There are times my husband goes silent and I can’t figure out what I said or did. When he’s ready to talk, he will let me know, in a kind way, that I was assuming control of the relationship and not respecting his lead.
Yielding to your husband’s God-given lead and keeping the confrontation to a minimum can help your husband feel respected and keep him from becoming distant.
- Refrain from negative responses
When you become a safe place for your husband to share his heart he will do that more openly. We can be that safe harbor when we refrain from rolling our eyes, criticizing their ideas, interrupting with our point of view, or throwing a sarcastic barb when they’re talking.
When you and I let our husbands — and children — know that we will listen nonjudgmentally, we may find they open their hearts more readily and their mouths more often.
- Reconnect regularly
Do you have a regular gap-closing routine? That wouldn’t be a bad idea. And for most healthy couples, it involves a weekly date night in which you protect your time together. If you can’t get out together weekly, try making dinner time the arena in which you genuinely listen and ask questions to draw out of him what is going on in his world.
Some couples incorporate physical activity together – anything that brings them shoulder to shoulder. Find out what type of connecting activity is important to your spouse and make an effort to incorporate it often. (I pointed out in my book, When a Mom Inspires Her Daughter, how important this principle is for moms and daughters, too, regardless of their age.)
- Remain open to each other
Stay connected and on the same page with one another by keeping your hearts open to one another, in the Lord. That is best accomplished through praying together. If you and your spouse are battling the typical obstacles to praying together – which are diverse schedules, interruptions, and the intimidation factor – start by praying around the dinner table together. Or praying together before bed. Find a way, and the more you pray together, the easier it will be.
Another way to remain open toward each other is to write out your prayers for your husband and leave them for him to see. Or, as one couple with young children practices, start a journal and leave it in a place where the two of you can open it and read each other’s latest encouraging note to the other. This is a non-threatening way of sharing your heart with one another, and also regularly encouraging each other.
- Remind him how important he is to you
When was the last time you told your husband if you had to do it all over again, you’d still choose him? When was the last time you thanked him for all he does or just made the effort to build him up verbally with admiration and appreciation? Ephesians 4:30 reminds us to let no unwholesome word escape our lips, but only words that build up others, according to the need of the moment, and that give grace to whoever hears them. That’s an especially helpful reminder when it comes to any relationship, especially marriage.
Start affirming, appreciating, and admiring your man and you may see the distance between the two of you start to close rather rapidly.
- Re-invest in your togetherness
In what ways do you need to re-invest in your marriage? Perhaps you already know. That marriage conference you heard about at church but didn’t think you could afford? That weekend away that he’s been talking about but you didn’t think you could get the time off work or the money to make it happen? Divorce is much more costly than the money it will take to make a memory and reconnect with one another. So, be willing to take that extra step and do what it takes to invest in your marriage.
Another alternative to a getaway is to get into a small group with other couples at your church. If you’re not attending a church regularly find one, or ask a strong Christiaan couple how you and your husband can find a group (or a mentor couple to meet regularly with you) so you can grow together. Most people are willing to help those who express the need. So be real, open up, and be willing to invest the time or money to go that extra step and maybe even that extra mile.
Which step do you most need to work on? Let me know in the comment section below.
For more on closing the gap and eliminating emotional disconnect in your marriage, see my book, 12 Ways to Experience More with Your Husband.
For more on closing that emotional gap with your daughter, see my book, When a Mom Inspires Her Daughter.