4 Questions To Ask When Facing Tough Marital Issues
Author, speaker and blogger Alicia Michelle shares the 4 questions she asks herself when faced with tough marital issues.
When we enter marriage, we promise to be fully honest and upfront with each other. We say "I do" to being faithful and to sharing everything.
And yet, after almost 16 years of marriage, I'm convinced more than ever of this: We should not share everything with our spouse.
Yes, you read that right. Some things do not need to be shared. At all.
That may be a surprising truth. It certainly was to me, especially as a young bride. But what I've discovered is this: God only wants me to share those thoughts, concerns and emotions with my husband that have the goal of building up our marriage.
"Wait!" you're saying. "So I'm only supposed to speak glee-filled, Pollyanna-ish sentiments to my spouse? What if I'm hurting and he needs to know about it? What if I see red flags in our marriage that we need to deal with? How can a marriage that doesn't share everything be an open and honest marriage?"
Yep, I understand your response. Let me clarify: I'm not saying that we shouldn't share about troubling issues.
Instead, I'm encouraging us to consider if we should share, why we should share, when we should share and how we should share.
Let me explain with a simple analogy. Do you have a honest relationship with your closest friends? How about with your young children? Most of us would answer that as "yes." And yet, do we share every single emotion or thought that we have with them? It depends on each individual situation of course, but in most cases we have a filter in place that ensures we share in a respectful, appropriate way that honors the relationship.
And yet, for some reason, we've been told that the marriage relationship should be different. We're told that it should be completely transparent. But really, is this wise?
RELATED: 6 tips for a healthy marriage
My question for you today is simple: "Do you have the same common-sense, wisdom-filled filter in place for what you share with your spouse in marriage?" That's what I want to help you develop in this post.
I certainly didn't have this filter in the early years of our marriage. And my careless words (spoken simply because I felt my husband needed to know everything on my mind) damaged our relationship instead of causing the closeness I was hoping for.
In many cases, these "too honest" conversations didn't solve the marital issues but instead added unnecessary pain that had to be dealt with later.
I'm not saying that we shouldn't feel free to speak our minds in marriage. And please hear that I'm not saying we should ever hide huge issues in our heart, especially if they are emotional seeds that could bloom into huge weeds that could potentially cause division or even divorce.
Instead, I'm just encouraging all of us to share cautiously, prayerfully and with God's wisdom guiding us as to what to say and when to say it.
This is a very tricky area and each situation must be taken on a case-by-case basis. Therefore, when I'm faced with a tough issue in my marriage, I let these four key questions guide my response.
4 Questions To Ask When Facing Marital Issues
1. The "If" Question: "Have I prayed about this? If so, is God telling me it's time to share?"
I am a fiery, passionate person who can go from tears of joy to tears of anger in a matter of a few minutes. That's why I had to learn early on in my marriage not to blindly trust my emotions. Instead, in the heat of the moment, I take a few minutes to pour my heart out to God and then I listen to what He wants me to do next.
At first, it was really hard to know (and to trust) God's response. It's taken time (and trial and error), but I've learned to hear His voice over the roar of my emotions.
However, during those times when I'm not sure what God is saying, I err on the side of waiting to share with my husband.
Honestly, waiting is always more frustrating because we want our spouse to know what we're feeling right now, regardless! But I've quickly learned the immense power of letting God help me work through the heart of the feelings so that the emotions are tempered, controlled and channeled into productive helpful words. Conversations with my spouse always, always go better when I've taken this simple step.
Waiting has also helped me determine the root of the issue (which leads us into the second question).
2. The "Why" Question: "Why would I share this with my husband? What's my purpose in sharing?"
This is a critical question! After praying through my emotions, there are many times I discover that what I'm feeling really is my issue (and needs to be worked out between God and me).
Keep in mind that even if you realize it's a issue you need to work out on your own, you can still speak to your spouse about it. However, that issue would be shared in a different way: It would be from a "I'm-dealing-with-this-and-I'd-love-your-encouragement" way instead of "This-is-your-fault-and-you-need-to-fix-it" mentality.
The first option invites your spouse to support you, while the second option points fingers and casts blame.
For example, my husband is extremely introverted and cautious with his emotions, and I used to get angry at him (quite often) that he wouldn't share or talk more. My husband has definitely opened up and become much more social in the 16 years we've been married, but there are times where I still have to tell myself, "Stop expecting (a specific behavior) from him because that's not who God naturally made him to be." I can't tell you how many times my unrealistic expectations about my husband have stolen my joy.
Of course I've shared about this issue with him, but do I share with him every single time it bothers me? No. Instead, I bring those emotions to God and ask for His help in sorting them out. I remind myself that my way of responding to a specific situation isn't necessarily better. Can God change my husband and make him more social? Of course. However, since that's out of my control, I ask God to help me love and accept my husband just as he is right now. Read more about this ongoing struggle for me here.
The next question also helps determine the best timing on sharing about tough issues.
3. The "When" Question: "When is the best time to share this information?"
Honestly, sometimes it's just not productive to share. We all have ongoing issues with our spouse where little is solved by talking about it over and over.
That's why sometimes the best solution is to pray fervently behind the scenes for change (for both of us) and then wait for God to work.
I don't say this from a hopeless, "the situation-will-never-change-so-why-bring-it-up" mentality, but instead as an acceptance that, at this point, this is the reality of the situation and talking about it probably won't change much. I share more here about how to handle the incredibly intense feelings of anger, disappointment, and frustration we feel with ongoing marriage issues.
But again, should we never bring up these ongoing issues? Are we doomed to just suffer in silence and allow bitterness to take root?
No. I do believe God wants us to heartily work through our ongoing issues. However, we need to first sort out the root cause, and the "when to share" needs to be guided by God's direction.
How can you do your part to effectively share with your spouse about tough issues? The last question can help determine a plan.
4. The "How" Question: "How can I share my concerns in a way that is helpful and uplifting to my spouse?”
No one likes to be confronted on tough issues. But there are ways to share that can establish a healthy open dialogue for both sides.
First and foremost, as they say in boxing, "Keep it clean." Remember these 10 ground rules for fighting fair in marriage.
This isn't the time for re-hashing old issues that have been settled, or for all fingers to point at the other person as the sole person responsible for the problem. Instead, approach the issue as "Here's what I'm seeing and here's my part in it. I want you to know that I am feeling hurt, and I wonder how you feel about it too."
Second, sometimes you need help in knowing how to start the conversation. (P.S. You can download a list of 17 marriage conversation starters here).
The next time you're facing a big issue in your marriage, I pray you'll take the time to walk through these four simple questions so that you too can deal with the problem in an effective, Christ-honoring way that promotes healing and martial closeness. I'm praying for you!
Alicia Michelle, author, speaker and blogger at YourVibrantFamily.com, is passionate about helping women discover their beautifully imperfect journey through parenting, marriage, homeschooling, faith and homemaking. She's also happily married homeschool mom of four curious and amazing kids who keep her on her toes!
Alicia is the author of the books Plan to Be Flexible and the Back to School Survival Manual. She also teaches the online video courses "7 Days to a Less Angry Mom," and "bloom: A Journey to Joy (and Sanity) for Homeschool Moms".