To Live the Dream of Emotional Closeness
It’s like a dream, isn’t it? A family in which your spouse and your children come to you to talk about their joys and their sorrows, their accomplishments and their failures, their courageous moments and their greatest fears. But this doesn’t come easy; it doesn’t happen in our sleep. It takes work. It begins with our own willingness to risk the vulnerability of talking to our spouse and children in the same open way we hope they talk to us. That, in itself, represents a significant challenge for me. As we learn to take that risk ourselves, there are other things we can do to promote the emotional safety in our family that will encourage open communication and emotional closeness.
- First, welcome the expression of emotion. When your child comes to you crying, accept their sorrow. When your spouse comes to you in anger about a coworker, accept their anger. Don’t try to minimize their emotion. Don’t tell them to “calm down.” Simply welcome their emotion. Accept it. Acknowledge it.
- Second, join them in their emotion. “Rejoice with those who rejoice and weep with those who weep” in your family. If you spouse is angry about the way a coworker was treated, be angry in the moment with them. When your child is brokenhearted after breaking up with their boyfriend of 2 months, be brokenhearted with them. They are likely overwhelmed by those emotions. They need you to share that emotion with them, to share the burden of the emotion and so make it more manageable.
- Third, hold their emotion. This involves empathizing and “sitting” with them in the emotion, whether it be joy or pain, happiness or sadness. Join them and hold their pain with them. Let them know that you are strong enough to sit with them and their emotions. Their emotions do not overwhelm you. Instead, you can feel those emotions with them, share the pain, and so share the burden of that emotion as you manage it together.
There is a scene in the movie Shadowlands (watch it here) in which CS Lewis sits with a young boy in front of the wardrobe of the boy’s recently deceased mother and CS Lewis’s wife. Together they talk about their doubts and their overwhelming sorrow. CS Lewis welcomes the young boy’s sorrow and doubt. He joins the young boy in his pain. He shares the burden of that emotion. Then, CS Lewis starts to cry. The young boy also starts to cry. They sit together hugging one another as they cry and grieve their loss together. They hold this emotion together. They share the pain.
It is in sharing emotion that we overcome. And, it is in sharing emotion that we grow more intimate with one another. It is in the vulnerability of sharing emotion that we draw nearer to the dream of a home in which emotional safety allows us to stand before one another to reveal our deepest selves and know we have found unconditional love and acceptance.