People value honesty. Love rejoices in the truth. Married couples expect honesty. Yet how many times do we “fudge the truth” to avoid the conflict? Or, “tell a little white lie” to keep the peace? Think of the question, “Does this dress make me look fat?” Hmmmm…. We fear our partner will misread our intent and become angry in response to our honest reply. We avoid telling our honest opinion for fear it will damage our relationship. But, is it true that we “can’t handle the truth”? Well, a recent study suggests our fears may be unfounded. People may handle the truth better than we think. Specifically, this study revealed three findings about honesty in relationship.
Honesty leads to more social
connection than simply paying attention to what we say.
Honesty leads to more enjoyment than
simply paying attention to our manner of communication.
Honesty leads to a greater sense of
meaning than simply paying attention our manner of communication.
These results were not only true
immediately after the interaction but remained true at a two-week follow-up. In
other words, “You can’t handle the truth” is not true.
The truth is: honesty leads to
greater social connection, more enjoyment, and a greater sense of meaning. If
you’re like me, you want all three of those results (greater connection, more
enjoyment, greater sense of meaning) in your marriage. So, be honest. Tell the truth in love and grow a stronger,
My wife was mad…at me. She was made
at me and I didn’t even realize she was mad. I said something to comfort her
and she took offense. I really didn’t want to hurt her; I wanted to comfort
her. But she heard what I said differently than I had intended. She was hurt. She
was angry. When she told me she was mad, my first impulse was to explain. I
wanted to clarify the misunderstanding and defend my actions. Unfortunately,
that only made the situation worse because then she thought I was not listening.
As you can imagine, the more I tried to explain and clarify my actions the worse
the situation grew.
Suddenly I realized…it doesn’t
really matter if I’m right or wrong. It doesn’t matter whether I intended to
hurt her or not. She was hurt by what I said. I needed to apologize for hurting
her. With that realization, I started over. “I’m sorry….” No excuses,
no explanations, no defense. Just a simple apology. Then I listened to
understand how she had interpreted my statement as an offense. As I listened, I
understood. With that understanding, I apologized more fully. Amends completed,
we hugged one another; and she enjoyed the comfort I had originally intended to
I learned something important from
this incident…well, I learned a couple of things from this encounter.
Sometimes my wife (or my children for that matter) do not hear what I say in the way I intend. They misunderstand. In their misunderstanding they are offended or hurt. I honor my family when I pay attention to how they might understand what I say and when I say things in as clear and loving a way as possible.
When I say something that hurts a family member, I need to apologize for hurting their feelings, even if it was unintentional. That honors my family. It shows them how much I value them.
My relationship is more important than being justified. I would rather connect with my family than prove myself right and make them angry. I would rather celebrate our connection as a family than celebrate my victory in the argument. Go for the connection and celebrate family.
Sometimes I have selfish reasons for apologizing. I might apologize to end the conflict. Or I might apologize with a “but” attached—an excuse, a defense, a casting of blame. Such an apology lacks sincerity. It is selfish. It refuses to accept responsibility. It denies the need to change. A sincere apology, however, simply expresses regret and a desire to make sure it doesn’t happen again. No excuses. No defense. No casting of blame. Just a simple, sincere apology with a plan to make it different in the future. (Read The Hardest Word for more.)
When we make a sincere apology, we
remove the stain of our mistake. We come clean. We pull down the barriers that
divide us and we grow closer to one another. We enjoy a greater intimacy.
A study of 91 couples revealed a surprise about marriage. Understanding your partner was NOT enough to make your marriage stronger and healthier. Just understanding what your partner is thinking and feeling does not lead to a better marriage. Better marriages result when a person not only understand but cares enough to do something with that understanding. Having compassion and a motivation to respond to their partner based on understanding was necessary to have a better marriage. In other words, responsiveness proved more important than mere understanding in strengthening marriages. How do we become responsive?
Listen….not just to the words but to
the emotions and intentions behind the words. Listen to understand the needs.
Listen with a heart of compassion and an eye (or should I say “ear) toward
Respond to their emotion.
Acknowledge what they feel.
Act upon the need of the moment.
When we are responsive to our partners, they will feel validated and cared for. They recognize their importance in our lives. They feel safe and stable in our relationship. As a result, our marriage improves. So, don’t stop with understanding. Engage in a compassionate response as well. (For more on responsiveness and building intimacy in your marriage read The Music In Your Heart.)
My friend stood at an ATM machine
getting money when someone walked up behind her and began to “grope
her.” She was furious. Being an independent strong woman, she turned
around and hit him with her purse in one smooth movement. He fell to the
ground. She prepared to tell him off when he held up his red and white cane
saying, “Wait…I’m blind. I was trying to find the ATM machine.” Now,
my friend, being a kind and compassionate woman, suddenly felt guilty for
having decked a blind man. She apologized and helped him up. What changed? Her
perspective of the situation changed. She went from thinking someone was trying
to take advantage of her to thinking someone was in need due to physical
challenges. How many times does this happen in marriage (perhaps to a lesser
extent and with no physical attacks I mean)?
You walk into the house and say “hi”
to your spouse. He ignores you. As your irritation swell up and you get ready
to yell, you realize he is on the phone. He looks your direction and smiles as he
mouths, “I love you.” In a moment, your realization meets his smile
and your irritation turns to joy.
You and your spouse are having a
discussion in the kitchen while you cook dinner. As you look at the pan stirring
noodles, you hear your spouse say, “That was stupid.” Thinking you were called “stupid,”
you look up to complain. Your spouse is standing over a jar of spaghetti sauce
with sauce dripping down her shirt. She smiles, “I forgot it was already
opened.” Anger turns to laughter.
You walk into the kitchen to find
the sink full of dishes. Frustrated, you begin to rinse them and slam them into
the dishwasher. When your spouse walks into the room you say sarcastically,
“Thanks for cleaning the kitchen.” Your spouse apologizes and explains
that the children have been sick and throwing up all day. You notice the stain
of vomit on her shirt. Anger becomes compassion as you give her a hug.
In each situation the only thing that changed
was the perspective of the situation. Sometimes we need to take a breath before
reacting. We need to take a sacred pause, to slow down and practice a little
patience before we explode. The sacred pause allows us look to our spouse and
ask a few questions, find out more about the situation, and learn more about
what’s happening from their point of view. That sacred pause, that moment of
patience, can turn anger into compassion or frustration into joy. That sacred
pause can save your marriage.
Remember when you first met your
spouse? The excitement of new love? The longing to see them as often as you could?
The endless conversations as you got to know one another? Remember the nervousness when you decided to disclose
some new personal information to them? And the excitement of experiencing
acceptance anyway? How about the laughter and the thrill of trying something new
just because your spouse-to-be enjoyed it? These all represent moments of
self-expansion, growth, and learning.
They drew you and your spouse together. These moments were the building
blocks of intimacy and love.
Jump forward several years, perhaps
even to today. Are things getting routine? Feeling kind of bored? Feel like
your marriage is in a rut? Maybe you even feel a little dissatisfied and wonder
how to “liven things up” a bit. Do you miss the “spark,”
the burning ember of love that seems to have slowly cooled and
grown…comfortable? Then I have good
Research reported (in 2000) in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology offers a great solution. Turn back to your spouse and do the things you did when you first fell in love. Literally, grab your spouse and do something you both enjoyed but haven’t done since you first met. Or, better yet, do something completely new, something you’ve never done before, not even when you were dating. Play a new game, cook a new meal, try a new activity, take a trip to a new place. (If you can’t think of anything else, try the activity used in the study. Tie yourself to your spouse on one side by the wrist and ankle before crossing a gymnasium floor that includes at least one obstacle. It doesn’t sound exciting…so maybe try taking a hike or flying a kite together.) Whatever activity you choose, make sure it is a novel activity, a new activity for you as a couple.
When you engage in these novel activities, you and your spouse will learn new things. You will grow and experience an expanding sense of who you are as a couple. Even better, research suggests that when you engage in these novel, fun, and exciting activities together, you will feel better about your relationship. You will grow more supportive and accepting of one another. In other words, your marriage will grow stronger and more intimate. Now isn’t that worth a little bit of fun along the way?
If you’re looking for a guidance along the path to greater intimacy in your marriage, Scott Means of Heaven Made Marriage has written you a gift. In his book, The Path of Intimacy, Scott guides the reader away from the path of separation and onto the path of intimacy with wisdom and foresight. Isn’t that what we all want in our marriages, to be intimate with one another, fully known and completely loved? To stand before one another completely naked—emotionally, mentally, and spiritually open—yet completely unafraid and completely secure in the love we share with one another? If that’s what you’re looking for (and we all are), this book will serve as your guide on the path of intimacy. Now if you have ever gotten lost, you know how important it is to follow the right signs and not get distracted by the alternatives. With that in mind, The Path of Intimacy exposes the lies that threaten to distract us from the path of intimacy. The Path of Intimacy teaches us to discern the on-ramps that lead to the path of separation from the trail markers that keep us on the path of intimacy. And, The Path of Intimacy prepares us to recognize the markers informing us that we are still on the right path, the path of intimacy. With the insights shared in The Path of Intimacy, Scott Means has offered us the tools we need to remain watchful and intentional in growing a “grace-full,” intimate marriage. (Available on Amazon)
Well, not all thinking can ruin your marriage but….
You know poor communication or contemptuous communication can destroy your marriage. You’ve probably heard that a lack of connection with your spouse or turning away from your spouse’s attempts to connect can ruin your marriage as well. Perhaps you’ve read about the negative impact of contempt on marriage…or the destructive power of lying on your marriage. But, do you realize a thinking style based on the fear of rejection can destroy your marriage? (Read The Thinking Style that Damages Relationship for an overview of the study showing how fear of rejection impacts relationships.) It’s true! When a person enters a marriage fearing rejection, the marriage is at risk. Fear of rejection causes a person to think about their partner abandoning them. Fear of rejection also leads to the fearful person constantly seeking reassurance and asking about the security of their relationship. They may even try to force their partner to remain in the relationship through verbally eliciting guilt. Or, on the other hand, the person with a fear of rejection may comply with everything their partner says or does…which only serves to weaken the relationship (Shut Up & Put Up to Ruin Your Marriage explains more). Unfortunately, these behaviors, engaged in out of a fear of rejection, only serve to create a self-fulfilling prophecy. They push the partner away and may ultimately lead to destroying their marriage.
Don’t worry though. I have three
ideas to help you overcome the fear of rejection and so change your behaviors,
strengthen your marriage, and nurture a sense of security in your marriage!
Many times, fear of rejection flows
from an insecure parent-child attachment. So, if you’re a parent, you can help
your children avoid a fear of rejection by developing a secure, loving relationship with them. By doing so you help protect
their future marriage from the fear of rejection. If, however, you are an adult
with a fear of rejection, learn to nurture
yourself. Think about the relationship you had with your parent. What was
missing? What led you to feel insecure? What caused disconnection between you
and your parent? Then, parent yourself. Provide yourself with those things you
missed from your parent. Nurture yourself with encouragement and love. When you
make a mistake, show yourself compassion and then consider how you can avoid
that same mistake in the future. Trust yourself to grow and learn from
mistakes. Give yourself a hug. Acknowledge your successes each day. Compliment
your own effort. These actions will contribute to the next suggestion for overcoming
the “fear of rejection.”
Develop your identity
and a secure sense of self. You can do this by acknowledge and capitalizing on your
strengths while acknowledging and working to improve in areas of weakness. Participate
in your own growth. Develop hobbies that support your interests. Try new
things. In this way you will develop a greater sense of independence and
competence…and that will not only reduce your “fear of rejection” but
strengthen your ability to grow in intimate relationship as well!
Befriend people who will honor you. Develop relationships with people who show compassion and
understanding, kindness and encouragement. Make sure your partner is a person
who will engage in mutual respect, a person who will value you for you and who enjoys
seeing you grow as an individual as well as in relationship to them. That may
sound like a tall order, but a partner like that is well worth the wait!
Fear of rejection can ruin a
marriage, but you don’t have to let it. Nurture yourself. Develop a strong
sense of identity. Befriend people who be mutually supportive in relationship
with you. When you do, you may feel the “fear of rejection” slipping
away…and good riddance!
What are your expectations in marriage? If your expectations are unrealistic, you’re probably going to be disappointed. The “lived happily ever after” expectation just doesn’t really work out that well. We all have our down times. Nor does the “you complete me” mentality make for a happy marriage. In the long run, we need to become complete as individuals before we can find true happiness with a marriage partner. (Read “You Complete Me” Kills a Marriage for more.)
On the other hand, having low
expectations will also lead to a less satisfying marriage. After all, if a
person has low expectations for their marriage, how hard will they work to make
their marriage better? A long-term satisfying marriage requires investment. Healthy
expectations for your marriage will lead to a greater investment in your
marriage. Think of it in terms of money. If I thought hard work would profit me
five dollars, I’d only work hard enough for five dollars. However, if believe hard
work would lead to a thousand dollars, I’d put in a little more time and
effort. Low expectations lead to less investment which leads to a less satisfying
marriage. So, what are healthy
expectations for a marriage? Here are a few. After you read them over, consider
what you would want to add to the list.
Are you looking for the perfect gift for your spouse? I have an idea, a gift your spouse will love. The great thing about this gift? You can give it to your spouse over and over all year round without breaking the bank AND without your spouse getting tired of getting the “same old thing” again. They’ll love it every time. You can even “wrap it” up in four different parts so it will look like you gave more! Even more impressive, research has shown this gift will improve your marriage. A study involving 114 newlywed couples revealed that this gift led to the experience of more positive emotions in the marriage and a higher level of relationship satisfaction. Really, it sounds too good to be true, but I’ve seen it in action. It’s true! So, forget the wrapping paper. Don’t worry about the packaging. Just give your spouse this gift in four parts. What is this miracle gift you can give your spouse? Emotional support! And the four parts of emotional support you can give your spouse to make it look like even more? Listen and show empathy. Express trust in your spouse. Let your actions reveal your willingness to care for your spouse. Communicate acceptance of your spouse even when they’re at their worst (part 4). Yes, your spouse will love the gift of emotional support…and your marriage will, too.
I spoke with a couple about making deposits into the Family Bank of Honor several weeks ago. They went home and put the discussion into practice. They made loving deposits of honor and grace into their Family Bank of Honor. Much to their surprise, these deposits resulted in a major improvement in their relationship. As we talked about their experience, they realized another important aspect of the Family Bank of Honor. When we think of making deposits, we often try to make big deposits…the bigger the better. However, in the Family Bank of Honor even small deposits carry tremendous value. Small deposits are of great value. In the economy of the Family Bank of Honor, even a deposit of one cent is worth a million bucks! Consider a few examples.
Greeting one another with a smile seems like a minor thing. But it communicates the joy you feel in the presence of your spouse. It reveals the affection and admiration you have for your spouse. It tells your spouse how much you desire their presence in your life. That’s worth a million bucks.
Holding the door for your spouse seems like another penny deposit. But, by arriving at the door first we have established the right to enter first. By holding the door for our spouse, we give up our right and allow them to enter ahead of us. We have placed them ahead of us; we have made them “as more important than ourselves.” That is worth a million bucks.
Offering to get your spouse a drink as you get your own drink seems like a minor penny deposit. But that penny deposit informs your spouse that they are on your mind. You are concerned about their needs and their desires. By offering to get them a drink, you have proclaimed that their needs and desires are important to you. You have voiced a willingness to meet those needs and desires. And that is worth a million bucks!
Letting your spouse pick the activity or the movie for a night seems like a slightly bigger deposit than those listed above, but still only a nickel deposit. However, this nickel deposit represents a personal sacrifice, a giving up of your desires so you can satisfy the desires of your spouse. It communicates that you value your spouse’s interests as much as (and at times more than) your own. You care so much about your spouse that you are willing to give up your own interests and desires to satisfy your spouse’s interests and desires. That is definitely worth a million bucks.
You get the idea. A simple, inexpensive, penny deposit in the Family Bank of Honor is actually worth a million bucks to your relationship. The more you make these deposits, the richer your marriage will grow in intimacy and health. Now that’s worth a million bucks!