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Christian Counseling: Saving Your Marriage from Unnecessary Wear and Tear

I am a strong proponent of open communication in any good, trusting relationship, especially marriage and also in those that are troubled. Yet, there are necessary boundaries for when and what should be said to your partner.

When to talk about problems is the easier part, even though I find in talking with clients it is still a fairly common point of conflict, whether in or out of a couple’s awareness. More often than not a person launches into talking about a problem without any or enough consideration of their partner’s readiness. All discussions of individual and marital relational problems should begin with an invitation to talk, thus giving the partner a choice, like the speaker had before saying a word. Your partner has a right to choose to engage or to postpone communicating. He or she may not be open to discussing problems due to not feeling well, a poor night’s sleep, not being emotionally up to it, etc. Ask before you launch.

Here are a couple of guidelines about when not to initiate problem-oriented communications. Do not begin talking: in the hour plus before going off to work or attending other important events; immediately upon one’s partner coming home from work; and not for an hour plus before bedtime.

Revealing one’s individual and marital relational problems to a partner is generally helpful for both. They can grow together from the mutual giving and receiving of support, develop more trust, pray with knowledge and provide some wisdom for relief or resolution. If only open communication was a black and white issue—reveal all or only positive things, for example—, then relationships would run much more smoothly. But, like most decisions in life, discernment is required.

Regarding what to say and not to your partner is not a simple matter. One guideline comes from words Jesus spoke to His disciples, “‘I have many more things to say to you, but you cannot bear them now’” (John 16:12). Overwhelming someone to relieve ourselves of a negative feeling should, more often than not, be avoided. It is incumbent on the speaker to think about whether or not another person can hear what he or she has in mind or heart to say. For example, some writers and therapists believe an adulterer should always confess to his or her spouse, no matter what. And though I believe the majority of the time this is the right thing to do for the confessor and for the couple, there are exceptions. If the hearer of the bad news is a person who has serious trust issues, is obsessive-compulsive and ruminates or tends to be unforgiving and/or vengeful, among other reasons, then to what advantage is it for the couple to enter hell and/or to find the relationship extinguished?

Some believe couples they should have the freedom to reveal every thought and feeling. But they can get old and become too familiar, thus lowering the impact on the listener and the depth of listening. Imagine how you might feel if you and your partner said, “I love you!”, 15 times a day, every day. For most it would become near meaningless and/or even irritating. Further, always revealing everything will sooner or later get a person in hot water because we are all full of inconsistencies and we have a sin nature whose thoughts and appetites can threaten any stable relationship. There are numerous other reasons to think before revealing. By way of example, revealing negative feelings may pull one’s partner into the role of fixer, but can lead the fixer to experience great frustration or feelings of failure if he or she is rarely able to remedy the problem. This kind of communication can be wearisome, even to a healthy relationship.

If you give it some thought, I have no doubt you can find other open communication limitations to which one should heed. Yet, be aware of your own fears and defenses that may close the door to difficult, but necessary communication and even proper confession.

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