When you treat your spouse with compassion, it creates a safe environment to share your deepest thoughts and feelings.
Understanding your spouse’s incredible value is the beginning of safety, but to create a marriage that feels like the safest place on earth, you must be able to express honor through action and behavior. “Let us not love with mere words or tongue but with actions and in truth” (1 John 3:18). Honor in action means that you learn how to handle your spouse’s heart — her deepest feelings, thoughts and desires — with the utmost care. You need to visualize his heart tattooed with the words “Handle with care.”
Remember, “emotional safety” is feeling free to open up and reveal who you really are and trust that the other person will still love, value and accept you. As you can see, the last part of the definition communicates a powerful message: “You are incredibly valuable, so don’t be afraid of letting me see your heart. You can share your deepest feelings, thoughts, opinions, hopes, dreams, fears, hurts and memories, and I will still love and accept you.”
Let me make practical the idea of safety in action. Jackson and Krista, a married couple attending a marriage-training seminar, were just about to discuss a big fight they were having around the remodeling of their home.
In this moment, Jackson didn’t care what Krista knew or what was going on with her. His heart was closed; he didn’t feel safe. But instead of trying to get Jackson to care about her pain and frustration, Krista made it her goal to care about Jackson’s heart.
“I so greatly appreciate your sense of responsibility, and the fact that when you say you’re going to do something, it will always happen,” Krista started. “You are such a man of integrity. I think this is why I’ve been confused about the lack of follow-through around this remodel. Would you be willing to help me understand what is going on for you?”
When you choose to care for your spouse, it can instantly create a safe environment to share your deepest thoughts and feelings.
“You’re right,” Jackson cautiously responded. “I’m usually great at follow-through. But this project has made me realize just how inadequate I am around home repair. My dad is so great at it. As a builder, John (a family friend) is amazing. I think I realized that I couldn’t do anything without their help. That made me feel like a failure. Since this is our first house, I want to feel competent. I want you to trust that if something breaks, I can fix it without having to call my dad or some repairman.”
Krista instantly held Jackson’s hand tight in her own and, with tears in her eyes, smiled at her husband. “That makes so much sense,” she said gently. “I had no idea that you felt this way. I am so sorry that you have been feeling like a failure.”
This is the power of safety in action. Caring has the power to soften a closed heart. The key to put caring into action is compassion. This is exactly what Krista did for Jackson. King Solomon said it best: “Words from a wise man’s mouth are gracious” (Ecclesiastes 10:12). Another word for “gracious” as it’s used here is “compassionate.” The verse could also read, “Words from a wise man’s mouth are compassionate.”
Certainly, compassion is an important first step to move from unhealthy conflict into intimacy. Just ask Jackson. Allow your spouse’s pain that was caused by your argument drive you to a place of compassion. Make your first goal to alleviate their hurt and emotional pain. When we come together to talk about conflict, we can use compassion to help your spouse feel cared for. This instantly creates safety. A heart will open when it feels safe.
Compassion communicates that your spouse’s heart matters to you. How do you express that you value your spouse’s heart? The best way to communicate compassion is to follow Krista’s lead — through a kind look, a gentle word, a soft touch or caring actions. Care and compassion break down the opposition and create two open hearts. And when you create the right atmosphere through emotional safety, you have unlocked the door of healthy conflict.
Adapted from Fight Your Way to a Better Marriage, published by Howard Books. Copyright © 2012 by Greg Smalley. All rights reserved. Used by permission.