Like many of you, our last five months have been rough. COVID, Marilyn losing her dad, my cardiology visits, the impact of the pandemic on Grace Marriage, brown recluse spiders, hip and back pain ... you get it. A lot of unusual and hard stuff has been going on. And … frankly … neither Marilyn or I have handled it particularly well.
Marilyn is sad a lot and is in constant pain. I have been living under an ongoing stress and anxiety that have been like clouds that won’t lift. We both feel like we are trying to endure days instead of being able to enjoy them. In talking with other couples, we are learning we are not alone.
Before COVID, most couples we talked to felt like they were at the upper level of their stress capacity. Then, COVID pushed many of them past the stress threshold they felt they could handle.
Recently, I asked Marilyn, “How are we doing so well in marriage when neither of us are doing particularly well individually?” She said, “I think it is because we are sharing openly with one another about our struggles. You used to internalize struggles. Now, you share them with me.”
I have a friend who is a Ph.D. counselor. He told me, “A key to marriage, and being emotionally and spiritually healthy, is being vulnerable and authentic.”
Many haven’t experienced deep relationships where emotions are freely and healthily shared, or even seen such relationships modeled. So, how do we develop the skill of deep connection? Here are six things we have learned that have helped us maintain closeness in both calm and stormy waters.
1. TIME. Spend time together. If you aren’t spending significant, undistracted, one-on-one time together, you won’t connect deeply with one another. Stiff arm the pressures of the world, prioritize your marriage and make time to just talk.
2. SAFE PLACE. Being a safe place to share promotes connection. Don’t get defensive. Don’t correct your spouse’s perspective. Just be a good listener and let your spouse share. Make sure there is at least one really safe place for your spouse to fall apart — with you.
3. STOP AVOIDING. For many, it is not easy to share emotions. So, we learn a lot of good phrases to avoid sharing when someone asks how we are doing. We say, “I’m good. I’m fine. Living the dream. Hanging in there. Taking it a day at a time.” These are good ways to avoid sharing, but terrible ways to connect with your spouse and others.
4. BE SPECIFIC. When you share, be specific. For example, instead of just saying “I’m struggling”, share the details of what is going on in your mind and heart.
5. EXPERIENCE AND SHARE EMOTIONS. It is normal to be anxious, sad or fearful sometimes. The problem is that, because these emotions are unpleasant, we often deal with them through avoidance or distraction. We’ll scroll on our phone, turn on the TV, or get busy on a project — anything to find relief from the misery. Author Pete Scazzerro says that if we bury emotions alive — they will ultimately come out in really painful and unhealthy ways (like ulcers, panic attacks or addiction). So, don’t bury the emotion. Feel it, then share it with your spouse and others. And… if you need help, seek a mental health professional.
6. YOU CAN’T FIX YOURSELF. GIVE GRACE. Often, the harder we work to fix an emotion, the more intense it can become. I learned this during a medical test last week. The more I tried to calm myself down, the more I started freaking out. Plus, it really didn’t help much when the nurse asked me, “Sir, are you OK?” Here’s the truth: I have fears, anxieties and weaknesses. But the blood of Jesus covers it all. It is for freedom that Christ set us free, and there is no condemnation in Christ. So, surrender your life to Jesus, cast your cares on Him, and accept His grace. In relinquishing the urge to fix ourselves, we find the relief we need from the intensity of whatever we’re feeling. Praise God our hope is in His perfection and not in how well we handle life.
It is a beautiful thing to be fully known, fully loved and fully accepted. So, just love one another. Listen well. Share fully. Be emotionally naked and unashamed…. together.
Deep connection doesn’t just happen organically. It takes prioritization, vulnerability, and intentionality. If you’d like to get on a path to growth with us, join us at gracemarriageath