We’ve all done it. We’ve kept our mouths shut (sometimes only by clenching our jaws) when everything inside of us is screaming to let our spouse know what we’re feeling and/or thinking.
There are times when you just don’t want to open the can of worms that saying “I think you’re an idiot” or “You’ve hurt me so much – again – that I know I’d be better off without you” would blow the lid off of. Really, what good would saying this stuff do?
It probably isn’t obvious yet what good telling your inner-most thoughts to your spouse can do. BUT not telling them only does one thing – guarantees that your marriage becomes unhappy (if it isn’t already).
Now, I’m not advocating that you tell your spouse every fleeting thought and emotion that goes through your head. What I am suggesting is that if you had been truthful about the first time you didn’t understand why your mate did something, you might know they’re not really an idiot for doing it again now. Or if you had told them how much they hurt you when they said or did XYZ, you might be more willing to fix things now.
In my first marriage, I chose to keep my mouth shut. My ex didn’t seem to hear what I was telling him when I tried to tell him how unhappy I was. It seemed like I was talking to a deaf man who was only concerned about himself.
I tried reaching out to family and friends for help, but what I got back wasn’t helpful. Or maybe I just wasn’t able to hear what they were telling me.
And so I kept things bottled up and ignored my thoughts and feelings for years. Finally, my mind wasn’t able to do the work on its own anymore and my body decided to lend a hand.
It started out with grinding my teeth at night. I would wake up with an aching jaw, so I went to see an orthodontist who was also an oral surgeon. After careful examination, he told me I had TMJ and that all I needed was a bite guard.
I believed him. So I got an “indestructible” bite guard. I chewed through it in only a few weeks. My jaw ached so much that the rest of my face started hurting too.
I chewed through two more “indestructible” bite guards. At this point I was in so much pain I couldn’t speak, I could only eat liquids, and I could hardly open my eyes.
Finally, I realized I needed more help. I started working with a chiropractor to stop the immediate pain. And I started working with a therapist to see if we could stop the deeper ongoing pain.
Guess what the therapist wanted me to do?
Talk about what was going on. At first, I didn’t know what to say. I’d practiced not talking about what was true for me for so long that I didn’t really know how to anymore. (I guess I also didn’t believe talking about it would help because it hadn’t in the past.)
But for the next couple of years, I talked (a lot) with my therapist. I started to realize that what I thought and felt was important simply because I thought and felt it – not because it mattered to anyone else.
And through all of this talking, I realized that my husband and I needed to talk too. But we weren’t able to do it on our own. So, we (finally) entered couple’s therapy. But it was too late. I’d kept quiet for too long and he’d become used to it. We decided to divorce.
That was more than a decade ago. And I’ve remarried since then.
But, every now and again, I look back with the knowledge and experience I have now and I wonder how things might have been different if I had been brave enough to open my mouth and insist on being heard. Would we have made it? Would we have divorced earlier? I’ll never know.
What I do know is that talking about our persistent inner-most thoughts and feelings is making my current marriage work so much better than my first. Does that mean that we share every feeling thought or emotion? Of course not.
It does mean that we talk about what’s important to us and to our marriage. And that we do so as respectfully as possible.
So, even if the message is “I think you’re an idiot” we realize that’s our judgment. We know the more pertinent issue we need to talk about might be “Help me understand why you did that” or even “I’m angry that you chose to do that.”
By choosing to communicate frequently and openly, we’re in a much better position to steer our marriage away from being unhappy.
Could the same work for you? Maybe. After all, they say the most important ingredient to a happy marriage is communication. And all that takes is a willingness to speak up.
Dr. Karen Finn is a divorce coach and divorce survivor herself. She works with clients to help them cope with and survive their divorce. You can join her anonymous newsletter group for free advice or email her at [email protected] for a free consultation.