The objective of this article is to provide an activity for couples–both those thinking of marriage, and those who already are married who want to enhance their relationship to do so in the arena of improving the emotional climate around the safety of expression.
By: Susan Adams, M. Ed.
Summary: Marriage is intended to be for a life time. That is the intent around the vows we generally take as we begin our marital journey. In order for this to be possible, partners need to be able to tell each other about each other and to negotiate differences. In the absence of this exchange, hidden resentments build and that which should be talked about, gets acted out, often in unhealthy ways. This article provides an exercise for improving the safety of exchange.
A willingness to trust each other should lead to a climate of “safety of expression.” It should free both partners to drop the “masks” of perfection that generally begins a relationship. With this kind of safety you should no longer have to prove yourselves worthy at all times. As you become safer and more secure with each other, you become freer to express yourselves.
The above requires that you keep the emotional levels non-reactive. It is also good to keep in mind that for many men, part of their masculinity training, more than for women , is to demonstrate perfection and to be all things to the nearest woman (l). If a woman uses anger with a man (a difference between feeling it and acting it out), he is likely to think she is unsafe to get close to and it becomes even harder to encourage his vulnerability.
Now, the exercise: Spend a few minutes in silence to consider how your relationship can be improved. Try to think of three specific improvements you feel would benefit your relationship with your partner.
When you are ready to express your suggestions, sit directly facing one another. Take turns sharing your thoughts. Start your statements by first expressing something about your partner that you like and value. For example, “I love how you are always thinking about me and the things I might like. However, I am worried about money right now and would like it if you could stay within our budget of $200.00 a month for any extras.”
State your comments without interruption while the other one listens and then switch roles.
Do not get involved in defending the suggestions that you make. Do not offer rebuttals to your partner’s suggestions. Regard the exercise as an opportunity to understand your partner’s point of view while testing the degree for freedom of expression in your relationship. If you are dating and headed toward marriage and cannot do this exercise, strongly consider a premarital therapist to help you. This is a serious stumbling block.
After you have both spoken, spend some time discussing the exercise. Were you each able to allow the freedom of expression without interrupting? If not, why not? How do you feel about the suggestions that our partner made? Describe these feelings to each other. Take these questions one at a time and discuss them. Then examine the following discussion for the significance of the exercise.
If the exercise was not productive or caused an argument, you were probably not ready to her what our partner had to say. Accept this as an area that needs work. There is always room for growth in a relationship. Constructive suggestions (not heard as criticism but as requests for something better) coupled with your recognition of the importance of these issues–whatever they are, to your partner-is a great way of improving the relationship.
If you get bogged down in the exercise, go and do something else and come back to this.
If you had no trouble, and could accept each other’s comments and consider their merit, chances are that your safety of expression with each other is in good shape.
A commitment to improving your ability to hear and share personal information without getting your feelings hurt, building a sense of trust in this way, and creating an atmosphere for doing so will provide the foundation for a satisfying and meaningful relationship. If you are not satisfied with how you and/or your partner handled this exercise, you may want to redo it–and keep redoing it. If the execution of it does not improve, again, seek help. The stumbling block here is the ability to hear requests rather than criticism.