Many people believe they want to get naked in their marriage. Truly naked. They go into marriage with a belief that good things will just “happen.” That methods they’ve learned from their friends or even their parents will allow their clothing to just come off. No risk! Just the potential for an excellent reward.
The deeper challenge is that getting emotionally naked in your marriage takes focused practice and understanding. So much so, that people often don’t put forth the effort to get there.
Over the years I’ve developed a number of key strategies for couples to peel off their emotional clothing. To become truly naked to their spouse in ways that seems foreign at first. In reality, somewhat painful at best!
Staying Fully Clothed Emotionally
When working with couples I’ve had derivations of the following conversation on a number of occasions. It goes something like this: addressing the husband, I may say something like “You know your wife wants to hear from you even when you’re having a terrible day. She wants to connect deeply with you.” When asked supportively if this is correct, she will often give a knowing and definitive nod. He seems completely taken aback by this as he was taught essentially that sharing feelings is “weak.” Certainly not manly or desirable. And who wants to be seen as a wimp in marriage? No one!!!
Of perhaps greater import, is that unless a couple can become emotionally open with each other they’ll rarely (if ever!) feel completely connected. She will be unable to trust him on a consistent basis. He will feel that she doesn’t want to dig in deeply on things that matter to him. In reality, why should she want to do so? When she does reach out to him he can seem to be aloof and disinterested. Meanwhile, he can perceive her as distant and not wanting to connect with him in physically intimate or affectionate way. This leads to disconnection and a belief that this will never change. Ouch!
Learning to “Bare It All” Emotionally
I’ve heard it said that it’s easier for some couples to be physically naked with their spouse than risking emotional nudity. Acquiring new ways to trust emotionally doesn’t need to seem like rocket science. Indeed, it isn’t really rocket science. In fact, it takes two people gradually becoming willing to share, errr, BARE it all. One key item for men is making the paradigm shift from essentially always keeping feelings hidden to sharing even his most key fears. This can be done with a well-trained marriage therapist or even gradually at home as the couple is ready. Either way, it can work.
One key challenge is that most believe “we’ve already tried that. Believe me, it did NOT go well!” The difference now is that you’ll be following three key ideas. Check this out.
First, realize it will be a gradual journey to go from emotionally withdrawn to connective. I like to ask some of the couples I work with to just improve one out of four times initially, i.e., that’s just 25 percent. That is, wives risk asking your husband how he is feeling when he looks really overwhelmed by his day. Husbands, be willing to share your feelings with her, even when it looks like your job may be at risk of being RIF’d in the near future.
Next, recognize that ANYTHING worth doing in this life comes at a risk. Going back to school comes with a risk. Asking your boss for a raise comes with a risk. In fact, asking (and accepting!) your wife to marry you came with a risk. The key point here is that if you don’t risk you’ll be in the same position 1 month or even 10 years from now. Do you REALLY want that???
Thirdly, make sure that you recognize that improvement takes consistency. Don’t just try for awhile and then give up because it wasn’t perfect. Recognize what the universe wants you to know, it will NEVER be perfect. Just keep risking and recognize it will get better.
Becoming Naked Together
Now you maybe thinking “Michael, I’m getting major goose bumps from the cold winds just thinking about becoming exposed emotionally.” Hey, I get that. Please know that there are wonderful resources to help you out. One on my favorites is speaker/author Brene’ Brown (https://Brenebrown.com). One of her most profound concepts is that of “vulnerability.” When I ask men what the word means to them, almost exclusively they’ll respond “weak.” Women generally see it as something to be desired. Totally sought after. Pursued and captured. Exactly!
Moving from seeing vulnerability (or risking) as “weak” to a strength is a journey. One that is so worth it for your marriage to truly become amazing. And, isn’t your marriage worth the effort to go from emotionally disconnected to a feeling of comfort as the emotional clothing peels off? I absolutely believe it is!
Michael Boman, LCSW has years of experience helping couples to reach their full potential in marriage. You can reach him by email at Info@wasatchfamilytherapy.com.
Emotional Intelligence (EI) is the ability to recognize emotion and to use it to improve your life and your relationships. It is truly one of the most important skills you can develop as a human being, and yet it’s not something we seem to talk about very often. Here are some ways to work to achieve Emotional Intelligence in your marriage.
Acknowledge Your Emotions
All people have emotions. Some may be more expressive or communicative about them, but everyone has feelings. It sounds simple, but it’s important to recognize that both you and your spouse have inner experiences that influence you both.
Sort and Label Emotions
To be able to utilize and express your emotions, you first need to be able to identify them. The six basic emotions are happy, mad, sad, scared, surprised, and disgust. The ability to articulate in your mind, “this is what I’m feeling,” will help you communicate better with your partner. Being able to name those emotions makes the intensity go down so you’re better able to keep calm even in a tense situation.
Manage Emotions In Health Ways
Couples often have problems in that they don’t know how to cope with their own feelings, so they have emotional outbursts with their partner. Sometimes it’s as simple as taking a deep breath before you choose to engage or say something. Just take a pause and give yourself some time.
Express Emotions in Ways That Bring Connection
When you understand your emotions, you can ask for what you need in a way that brings you closer. If you’re sad, you can ask for comfort or encouragement. Also, look for signs that the other person has some emotions that need to be acknowledged. You might say something like, “gosh, you’ve seemed upset this week. Anything you want to talk about?” Acknowledging, labeling, and managing our feelings allows us to connect more with our partner and make sure both people’s needs are met.
Click here for a free printable Feelings Word List to help you better understand your emotional experiences.
One of the biggest problems in marriage is poor communication. There’s so much emotional history and baggage, and both people have thoughts, feelings, and need that can cloud the situation, so it’s easy to miss each other. It’s important to understand three distinct communication styles and how they can hinder or help our ability to connect with each other.
The name says it all: an individual with a doormat style of communication often gets trampled on or simply allow others to lead. They typically favor peace over any type of conflict, so they’ll often be passive or give the silent treatment when things get difficult. This can lead to problems, as those assuming the doormat style have their relationship needs chronically neglected and do not take a stand for themselves.
The sword is the opposite: those with this style are often very aggressive, defensive, and on edge. They may verbally lash out or blame others. For them, self-preservation is achieved through emotional manipulation or violence, but the relationship suffers the damage.
The lantern is the type of communication that we should all strive for. It’s illuminating and invites all into the light to see different perspectives and experiences. It is firm and secure, yet not overbearing. The lantern is a more mature style of communication, as it is rises above the tendency to be either a sword or a doormat.
If you are interested in learning more about communication styles and how to strengthen your relationships with also maintaining your own unique voice, check out my book “The Assertiveness Guide for Women.”
I recently sat down with Nate and Angilyn Bagley to discuss issues relating to unrighteous dominion in marriages. This phrase comes from the scripture in Doctrine & Covenants 121:9 that reads, “[w]e have learned by sad experience that it is the nature and disposition of almost all men, as soon as they get a little authority…they will begin to recognize unrighteous dominion.”
Influence By Fear or By Love
As a therapist who has worked with Mormon clients for over twenty years, I’ve seen unrighteous dominion manifested in a variety of ways: making major decisions (such as financial or employment) or in any other way being controlling and manipulative. Unrighteous dominion can extend to children as well; when a mother or a father using shame or intimidation with their children, this is another example. And any type of abuse certainly falls under the category of unrighteous dominion.
I recently had the opportunity to sit down with my friends at “Good Things Utah” and answer some viewer questions that dealt with balancing a woman’s marriage with her motherhood responsibilities. Here are some questions (and my responses to them):
What does a blender have to do with communication you ask? Well, pull a chair up to the dining table, and I will tell you:
First, I want you to consider a scenario where someone prepared you a nice meal that you enjoyed. Envision that plate of food. What made it so enjoyable or delicious to you? How did it smell and taste? Were those sensations distinct from one another? How was it organized on the plate? Did your friend take your taste into consideration when making the dish? How much time went into preparing it?
Now, I want you to envision something entirely different. Imagine rather, that person took those same ingredients, piled them into a blender, sent them for a whirl, and poured you a nice thick glass full. As you take a big swig, can you distinguish clearly between all the ingredients? Does it slide down the throat nicely, or are your reflexes pushing it out? Are you feeling nauseous just thinking about it? What’s wrong? It’s the same ingredients, same food. Why not eat it this way?
It doesn’t take a world class chef to tell you why that wouldn’t be the same and why this concoction definitely would not be appetizing. Now, consider how communication is the exact same way as this meal. If we really want someone to digest what we are saying, we need to thoughtfully take our time, take their tastes into consideration, and plate it nicely for them. If we want someone to take in what we are feeding them, it needs to be palatable to them. Sometimes in communication, we take the haphazard route of throwing it all in the blender and serving a cup full of sludge. Then, without any consideration for the other, we can’t understand why they didn’t take in our cup of sludge.
So, does this mean for effective communication we should just serve up cake every meal? No! We all know that would lead to a sick or even dying body (or relationship). Like it or not, sometimes we need to eat things that aren’t our favorite in order to be healthy. Are you willing to take the time to find the preparation of that ingredient that tastes the most palatable for your partner, child, etc.? Some people like broccoli cooked and some like it raw. Some like it covered in butter with salt and pepper.
In my experience as a therapist, I’ve watched countless hours of couples serving one another “meals.” As they progress in the therapy process, they learn to put the blender away and begins plating beautiful meals for one another, after which no one has a problem listening or digesting.
For help putting your blenders away and plating some really nice dishes, consider making an appointment today.
In the fallout of the news that former White House Staff Secretary Rob Porter was physically violent to both his ex-wives, some have begun to question the wisdom of LDS Bishops counseling women in abusive relationships (reports indicate both women were encouraged to stay with their husbands). Working with women in private practice, I’ve heard of this kind of thing happening. It’s embarrassing, it’s infuriating, and it’s my hope that this cultural moment of awareness and the #MeToo movement can spark social change. I shared some of my thoughts on this subject with KUER news.
Recently, I was interviewed by “Good Things Utah” as to what is the secret to a happier, healthier marriage. And really, who doesn’t want this kind of marriage? One in which both partners feel connected, valued, and loved. From my 20+ years of experience as a clinical counselor, I’ve found that fostering the skill of empathy can really make all the difference for couples.
What is empathy exactly? Feeling bad for someone who’s struggling? Relating to someone else because you’ve gone through something similar? I like the research of Theresa Wiseman, who helps us understand empathy by breaking it down into these 4 parts:
Marriage is one of the most important relationships, but it can also be one of the most confusing! There are so many false beliefs perpetuating about what a good marriage really looks like. And while we may know in our minds that other couples have struggles as well, it’s not always something we talk about. Here are 4 common marriage myths: