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Can A Marriage Survive Without Trust?

Tuning in can help you build trust.

When the trust was broken in my marriage, I wondered if we could survive without it.

Trust is a cornerstone of marriage. When we trust our partner, we feel emotionally safe with them. This safety allows for deeper connection and drives us to endure tough times when they arise. Trust is not only important for the health of our relationship but also for our physical health. 

For more than 40 years, Dr. John Gottman has been studying what makes a marriage work. He found that the number one issue for couples was trust and betrayal. During his study, social psychologists asked people in relationships, “What is the most desirable quality you’re looking for in a partner when you’re dating?” The number one response was trustworthiness.

Dr. Gottman found what many of us would agree with: Trust is essential to healthy relationships. 

So, how do we build trust? Trust is created in the small moments. Dr. Gottman calls these sliding door moments. “In any interaction, there is a possibility of connecting with your partner or turning away from your partner.” One moment may not be that important when you think of it by itself, but if you continually turn toward your spouse in the small moments, you’re building trust. If you continually turn away from your spouse, you’re eroding trust.

But what happens when there’s betrayal?

Betrayal can come in many forms. It can be loud and big or subtle and discrete. You experience betrayal when you discover that your spouse is hiding information from you. Or when they withhold support when you need it. You feel betrayed when you cannot entirely rely on your partner. 

When we feel betrayed, it’s common to ask the question, “How can I ever trust them again?” But, here’s the good news: It is possible to rebuild trust. Remember those sliding door moments? Rebuilding trust takes lots of those. It requires choosing to move toward your spouse in the small moments. Trust is a two-way street, and to rebuild trust, you both have to move toward each other. In my marriage, we realized we could rebuild trust, but it would take time and intentionality. 

Dan Yoshimoto, a graduate student of Dr. Gottman, found in the study that the basis of building trust is attunement. He broke down the idea of attunement with an acronym:

Awareness of your partner’s emotion

Turning toward the emotion

Tolerance of two different viewpoints

Understanding your partner

Non-defensive responses to your partner

Responding with Empathy

When we are attuned to our spouse, we are better able to build trust.

In the book What Makes Love Last? Gottman and Silver lay out the following four methods for communicating with your partner that fosters trust through attunement.

1. Put your feelings into words.

It can be challenging to articulate what you feel. There’s no shame in that. Just communicate that to your partner. 

2. Ask open-ended questions.

Avoid close-ended questions that elicit one-word responses. Open-ended questions ask for a story and show genuine curiosity on your part. 

3. Follow up with statements that deepen the connection.

When your partner responds to one of your open-ended questions, reflect back on what you heard. In your own words, paraphrase what they said. Don’t make assumptions, defend yourself, or bring the focus to you. 

4. Express compassion and empathy.

Don’t tell your partner how they should be feeling. Don’t react defensively. Instead, hold space for their feelings, all of them, even if they feel uncomfortable to you. This creates a deeper connection and a sense of emotional safety. Your partner now knows they can talk to you about the hard stuff.

Trust is the bedrock of a healthy marriage. When it’s broken, it takes time to heal. Rebuilding trust between my wife and I wasn’t easy, but it was worth it. Marriage can survive without trust, but it’s not as healthy. To have a healthy, life-giving marriage, choose to rebuild trust.

Related Blogs:

7 Ways to Increase Trust In Marriage

What Does Trust Look Like In A Healthy Marriage?

How To Rebuild Trust In Marriage

Sources:

John Gottman on Trust and Betrayal

The Deeper Meaning of Trust

The #1 Thing That Can Secretly Ruin Your Marriage

And why saying "Baby, we need to talk..." won't actually help.

My husband and I* find ourselves in the same type of argument, over and over again. Rinse and repeat. It goes a little like this:

>> I bring up something that’s bothering me. (It doesn’t matter how gently or carefully I say it.)

>> He immediately gets defensive.

>> I get frustrated that he’s being defensive.

>> He gets stubborn.

>> I get resentful that he’s being stubborn and start to criticize him.

>> He shuts down and starts stonewalling me.

>> I get extremely hurt and feel like he doesn’t care about me.

Round and round we go until someone waves the white flag. However, this never happens without a whole lotta tears and words that we wish we could take back. 

I’ve always considered myself an excellent communicator. I’ve read the books, I’ve listened to the experts, I’ve honed my skills with active listening techniques, avoiding the four horsemen of the apocalypse, and using all of the “I” statements. I want to talk about the issue so we can find a solution and feel connected again. But he doesn’t want to talk. He feels attacked and condemned. Did I say the wrong thing? Was it the wrong time to talk? Does he just not care about me? Is this never-ending cycle ruining our marriage?

I had to find an actual solution.

Then I came across this quote:

“Couples are not disconnected because they have poor communication. They have poor communication because they are disconnected.”

Dr. Pat Love

In their book, How to Improve Marriage Without Talking About It, Dr. Pat Love and Dr. Steven Stosny describe the root cause of why a perfectly good marriage can fail without either person doing anything wrong. No matter how hard you try to fix the issue by talking through it, this one thing is making it worse, not better. It’s called the Fear/Shame Spiral. And it can ruin your marriage – but it doesn’t have to!

Please note: the studies done by Love and Stosny looked at the relationship between men and women as group averages, not individual differences. Keep in mind that the rest of this blog speaks to men in general and women in general. Although their studies apply to the majority, they do not tell us anything about individual men and women. That being said…

Fear and Shame

The most common female core vulnerability is the fear of abandonment: isolation, neglect, rejection, and feeling alone.

Most women thrive on closeness and connection. So naturally, if there is any type of issue, she needs to talk through it to feel connected again. Women generally actually view a complaint as an invitation to move closer. We’ve had a bad day, we want to talk about it. We had a frustrating experience at the store, so we called up our best friend to vent. However…

The most common male core vulnerability is feeling shame: embarrassment, weakness, failure, and inadequacy.

A man tends to pride himself on being able to please their partner. But if there is any type of issue, men may feel like they’ve let their spouse down. This intense feeling of shame activates their fight or flight response, making them shut down, stonewall, get angry, or defensive. 

Then We Spiral Down

When a woman feels like her spouse isn’t showing up for her in the way she needs (whether that’s something like forgetting to switch the laundry or not speaking her love language), it activates her core vulnerability of feeling fear and anxiety. Her complaint, request, or comment, however unassuming it may seem, sounds like criticism to her husband, which triggers his core vulnerability — feeling shame. He’s let her down, he’s not provided or protected her, and all he has done for her has been overlooked.

In other words, he feels like a complete failure. Flooded with the stress hormone cortisol, his body immediately goes into fight or flight, and he feels the need to defend and withdraw. This, of course, feels like abandonment and triggers her fear and anxiety even more, which triggers his shame more. And round and round they go. No matter who started it, the Fear/Shame spiral is a vicious cycle that just breeds more and more disconnection and hurt.

YOU CAN BE HAPPILY MARRIED.

And no, that’s not just a fairytale. Sometimes we settle, we coexist, we go along to get along, or we just try to keep the damage to a minimum. There are no perfect marriages. There are also no unicorns. So what? You can always Maximize Your Marriage. You know what’s NOT a mythical creature? Your marriage being BETTER than you could ever imagine.

To help you write the next chapter of your marriage story, each module features…

  • A simple, easy-to-understand video lead by marriage experts,
  • A download to help you personalize the key concepts for your marriage, and
  • Action items to transform your marriage as you go through the course.

You’ll have access to two marriage experts every step of the way to answer any questions or just give you a little encouragement. (THIS is what makes Maximize Your Marriage customized & personalized!)

So What’s The Solution?

When I discovered the Fear/Shame Spiral, everything started making sense. But… How in the world can I stop the spiral from happening? Just never bring up another complaint? Yeah right. 

According to Dr. Pat Love, there are a few things you can stop doing right now to help:

If you don’t want your husband to feel shame, don’t…

  • Expect him to act and respond as you would
  • Criticize him or belittle him (especially in front of others)
  • Compare him to others
  • Expect him to make you happy

If you don’t want your wife to feel fear and anxiety, don’t…

Now Let’s Cut to the Chase

The only way out of the Fear/Shame Spiral is by recognizing you’re in it and empathizing with your spouse’s core vulnerability. It’ll take a lot of intentionality because it’s difficult to relate to your spouse’s core vulnerability since it’s not the same as yours. Also, it means you’ll have to step up and be compassionate to your spouse when you least feel like it.

Understanding what your spouse is feeling and why they’re feeling it allows you to speak into their fear or shame and provide reassurance. This shifts the focus of the argument from the what to the why and enables you to have a more authentic and productive outcome. While you can’t avoid fear and shame altogether, you can transform them into an opportunity for connection. 

Do This For Your Wife:

  • Routinely connect with her at these four crucial times during the day:
    • When you wake up in the morning
    • Before you leave for the day
    • When you return for the day
    • Before you go to bed
  • Open your heart and mind to her, let her in. (Be vulnerable and share your feelings.)
  • Appreciate all she does for the home and family. While also doing your share of the household chores

Do This For Your Husband:

  • Have sex regularly. (This is how they feel most connected to you.)
  • Be physically affectionate every day. (A kiss, a hug, a hand massage, a butt slap…)
  • Catch him doing something right! Acknowledge and appreciate what he does for you. If you feel like complaining about something he’s NOT doing or doing “wrong,” remember: Behind every complaint, blame or criticism is a desire. Your husband really does want to please you. So cut to the chase and tell him your desire instead of your complaint:
    • “I love it when you…”
    • “Thank you for…”
    • “It makes me feel supported when you…”
    • “I really appreciate…”

Connection is the Cure

The good news: You won’t need to talk about your feelings if you already feel connected. The Fear/Shame spiral is a sign of disconnection. So if an issue arises when you’re already feeling connected, it’ll be less likely to trigger that fear or shame. The tension can be managed easier, with less hostility and more sensitivity to each other’s vulnerabilities. 

Life is messy, chaotic, and we are not perfect people… which means disconnection is inevitable. But when that fear and shame sneak back into our marriage, I’m confident that we will now recognize it and stop the spiral by reconnecting.

*This blog in its entirety is based on research done by Dr. Pat Love and Dr. Steven Stosny. Their studies are explained in depth in their book, How To Improve Marriage Without Talking About It.

What Introverts Married to Extroverts Need to Know

Knowing who you are individually and together can make you stronger.

We’re all wired differently, and the differences are never more evident than in marriage. While navigating differences in relationships can present challenges, you’ll go deeper as your relationship grows and you become a student of your spouse. Couples often encounter differences when one spouse is introverted and the other is extroverted. This can be a pretty noticeable difference based on the individual’s personality, but these types are often misunderstood. Let’s dive a little deeper into understanding them.

What’s the difference between introversion and extroversion?

The common perception of the difference between these two is that one is shy and the other is outgoing. While that can be true, it isn’t the rule. Psychologist Carl Jung (the father of this whole conversation) classified the two groups based on where they find their energy. Extroverts are energized by the external world. Introverts are energized by alone time. 

So, are they polar opposites?

Jung discovered that people aren’t necessarily one or the other. Instead, look at it as a spectrum. There can be varying degrees of introversion and extroversion. My wife and I fall on different points of this spectrum. And it can fluctuate.

What does an introvert married to an extrovert need to know? 

There are differences in how these two are wired. So, for the introverts out there, here are some things you need to know and some tips to help you navigate your differences:

Navigating social settings.

As we discovered earlier, extroverts are energized by the external world. They are often the life of the party, and they love it. They live to meet new people and experience new places. “Stranger” is a foreign word to them. 

For the introverted spouse who likes to be alone, this can be a struggle. If they do go out in the crowd, they often want to be out of the spotlight. But if you know that your spouse is energized by being around others, you should talk about this. It’s not fair to prevent them from being in social settings, but it’s also unfair to always send them alone. It’s possible to find a balance that meets your needs and your spouse’s needs while strengthening your relationship.

Talking about their problems.

Extroverts usually find it easy to talk out their problems with others. They’re often more than willing to express their feelings, thoughts, and issues. 

On the other hand, introverts tend to internalize and think through things. They dislike conflict and will withhold their thoughts to avoid confrontation. For the health of your marriage, it’s essential to talk through issues and manage conflict together. Introverts may need to step out of their comfort zone and discuss issues with their spouse. They don’t have to talk to all their friends about it, but need to express it to their significant other. Remember, if you don’t discuss problems with your extroverted spouse, they will find someone to discuss them with. And the best place for marriage work to be done is in the marriage. (Read https://firstthings.org/should-you-tell-your-friends-and-family-about-your-marital-problems/.)

Taking risks.

Extroverts aren’t afraid of risk. They may be more apt to engage in risky behavior than an introvert. Some studies have shown that they are wired this way. Their brain rewards them when risks go well. One study found that risk-takers are rewarded with dopamine, a “feel good” chemical associated with pleasure and reward. So for extroverts, risk-taking brings about a rewarding sensation. The greater the risk, the greater the reward.

Introverts are more inclined to weigh the pros and cons of any risk. Whether diving into the stock market or diving out of an airplane, they think it through and process it. Their extroverted spouse just jumps. The introverted spouse needs to express their desire to process to their spouse. You can’t hold them back from taking the risk, but you can be their cheerleader, so look for opportunities to support healthy risk-taking. Remember, they are wired to have a natural desire to take risks.

These are just a few ways that introverts and extroverts differ. Remember, this is a spectrum, and you both may find yourselves at varying degrees on that spectrum. But most importantly, you need to recognize who you are, who they are, and who you are together. Marriage is about learning from each other and growing together. Be who you are and encourage your spouse in who they are. 

Sources: 

Neurobiology of the Structure of Personality: Dopamine, Facilitation of Incentive Motivation, and Extraversion

How Does Dopamine Effect the Body?

Extroverts, Introverts, and Everything in Between

Are You An Extrovert? Here’s How to Tell.

Tips for Extroverts Married to Introverts

These tricks can help you understand and appreciate each other!

I’m sure you want to understand and appreciate your spouse, and it can be hard sometimes. But I’m here to tell you: When extroverts are married to introverts, it can be a good thing — a great thing, even! You just have to figure a few things out and appreciate your differences.

My spouse and I are the epitome of the saying “opposites attract.” I’m an extrovert. He’s an introvert. Throughout our 27 years of marriage, I’ve become more extroverted. In contrast, he’s become more introverted. We’ve worked through and understood these differences by now, but it wasn’t easy at the beginning of our relationship. (Read What To Do When You And Your Spouse Are Really Opposites.)

We had conflicts and disagreements as a result. As an extrovert, I tended to be more talkative and demanding, which caused him to retreat. That led to frustration because I wanted him to be like me. But he’s not, and that’s ok!

Once I realized there was nothing wrong with him being who he is (an introvert), we could have productive conversations. In turn, he shared some things he wanted me to know about him, so I’ve got some tips to share. Navigating through our differences to reach the point of understanding was a good thing for us. 

How did we get there? 

We finally realized that the difference between introverts and extroverts is how each gains and uses emotional energy. We also recognized that being introverted or extroverted is not cut-and-dried. Instead, it’s on a continuum from extroversion to introversion. There are extreme extroverts, extreme introverts, introverted extroverts, extroverted introverts, and other combinations. 

If you are an extrovert married to an introvert, here are some things they probably wish you knew.

Being an introvert doesn’t mean they don’t like people.

As an introvert, your spouse does like people, but being around them requires them to use a lot of emotional energy. To restore themselves, they need time alone. Recognizing that they have limits on the amount of time they spend with others and the number of people they want to be around can help you understand them better.

Have a set game plan.

Whether you’re planning a dinner party for friends or want to attend the retirement party for your supervisor, talk about it with your spouse. Consider things like date, time, location, and the number of people. Once plans have been set, try not to change them at the last minute. Once you’ve shared the game plan, have an honest conversation about what you both expect. This will help you both mentally prepare for the interaction.

Accept, and don’t judge them.

If you’re at a social gathering, your introverted spouse may want to be near you. They may need your presence as support. While you want to “work the room,” realize that may be uncomfortable for them. Give them understanding, not judgment. Telling them they are anti-social or standoffish is not helpful.  

They need alone time.

After spending time with people, your spouse will need time to recharge. While you may be over the moon about spending time with people (and energized afterward), being around people can cause stress in your spouse. Solitude gives them the time and space to regain their equilibrium. They’re not trying to reject you or distance themselves from you. You can help your spouse out by creating an atmosphere that provides the solitude they enjoy. For example, try drawing a bath, placing candles around the tub, or making their favorite drink and leaving it near their favorite chair. This can demonstrate that you see, respect, and appreciate what it took for them to go with you to the outing. 

No matter what you prefer, it’s vital to know and understand how your spouse feels and responds to social events. Find ways to assist and support them. Things like standing near them, holding hands, or checking in from time to time to make sure they’re ok. Be aware of the signs that they have reached their limit. There’s a delicate tightrope between your comfort level and your spouse’s, but it leads to a great place. Remember, the more you understand your spouse, the more you can love, serve and give them what they need.

Sources:

https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/the-introverts-corner/201509/5-essential-tips-introvert-extrovert-couples

https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/basics/introversion

https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/basics/extroversion

My Spouse is Jealous of Me and It’s Ruining My Marriage

Find out what you can and can't do about the green-eyed monster called jealousy.

You may look at your life and say: Money’s decent. Job is stable — good social life. I get along with lots of people. I’m winning. But somehow, you still feel like you’re losing. Why? Because if your spouse is jealous of you, it can feel like it’s ruining your marriage. That’s a tough place to be.

Jealousy is a strong emotion that can cause serious control issues. Let’s be frank: jealousy can lead to abusive, violent, or destructive behavior. If it’s at that point, calling the National Domestic Violence Hotline may be your next step. The root causes of jealousy may be deep or go back several years. Seeking professional help sooner rather than later may be the best answer. If your spouse is open to it, finding a counselor who will fight FOR your marriage could be a game-changer.

In the meantime, how can you deal with jealousy in your marriage?

Jealousy is often rooted in insecurity, with fear as a close relative. It may be sparked by a relationship you have, career accomplishments, community recognition, or simply because you’re happy. None of this is necessarily wrong.

What Can You Do?

Self-Reflect

Are you giving your spouse a reason to be jealous? I’m assuming you are not. But it’s an excellent place to start. 

Ask yourself if you are…

Spending too much time with someone else?

Sharing parts of yourself with someone that should be reserved for your spouse? 

Getting a disproportionate amount of your fulfillment from your work or community involvement? 

Often prioritizing being there for others and leaving your spouse on their own when they have problems? 

Your spouse can become jealous when something else has the place in your life that they believe they should fill. 

Ask questions to understand the jealousy. 

There may not be a single thing you need to change. However, you can talk to your spouse to understand their insecurities or fears. Make sure you’re setting aside uninterrupted time so they know they’re a priority. 

Without bringing up the jealousy first, you might ask, “What is your biggest fear?” 

Or you can more directly relate it to the relationship: “Is there anything in this relationship that scares or concerns you?” 

If you believe your spouse is jealous because of your accomplishments or success, try, “When something good happens to me, how does it make you feel? Is there something in my life that you believe has a place in my heart that you should have?” 

Side Effect: Giving your spouse a safe space to be open and vulnerable is an antidote to jealousy. Demonstrating your care and concern may increase security, thereby decreasing jealousy. (Read about How to Be An Emotionally Safe Spouse here.)

Communicate your frustrations. 

You love your spouse. But the jealousy makes it difficult. Get your thoughts together. Lovingly, tell your spouse what it makes you think and feel when their jealousy shows itself.

Set healthy boundaries.

There’s a difference between healthy boundaries and being controlling. Boundaries aren’t set to feed jealousy or insecurity. If your spouse wants to know your every move, you may feel like they are controlling you. Communicating daily about plans for the day and telling each other about changes may be a healthy boundary. The goal is for you to be able to be yourself without any surprises. This happens through honest, considerate communication and respecting boundaries.

Talk with a trusted married couple.

Find a couple you both respect and discuss your struggles with them. Since jealousy is something many couples have experienced, the wisdom of another couple may give you insights that can change the course of your marriage for good. 

What You Can’t Do 

You can’t change your spouse; don’t try. 

You can assure them. You can listen, talk, and be understanding. And hopefully, your mate can see the jealousy. You can’t force them to be different.

You can’t always prevent jealousy, but you don’t have to feed it. 

Being who you are may cause jealousy. Achieving success, being liked by others, or having meaningful relationships with others may just be who you are, but changing who you are isn’t the answer.

You can’t ignore it; otherwise, the jealousy may escalate. 

It may take trying several different approaches to break down the jealousy in your marriage. The person you know and love is hiding somewhere behind that jealousy. Fighting through jealousy together is a good thing for your marriage, and the rewards from moving forward can last a lifetime.

Other helpful resources: 

How To Improve Bad Communication In Marriage

How to Stop Being So Jealous of Your Spouse

10 Ways To Know If Your Marriage Is Toxic (And What To Do About It)

MARRIAGE COURSE | Maximize Your Marriage

How to Stop Being So Jealous of Your Spouse

Don't let jealousy drive a wedge between you.

Jealousy is a word that gets thrown around a lot, and we often treat jealousy like it’s something to be proud of. For instance, if you think you have something that others want to have, you might say things like:

My sister is jealous of me because I’m our Mom’s favorite.

My friend is jealous because I went on a fabulous vacation.

In reality, jealousy is an insidious feeling that can take over how you feel about, see and interact with those around you. At its core, jealousy is created from someone’s fear and insecurity. Fear tells them that someone can take away the most important people or things in their life. Insecurity means someone thinks that you aren’t good enough. And when you combine those two feelings, it’s a recipe for disaster. 

It may be easier to handle when you’re the object of someone’s jealousy, but…

What happens when the shoe is on the other foot?

How do you handle it when you are the jealous one? 

How hard is it to control jealousy when you’re jealous of that person you promised to love, honor and cherish — your spouse?

Yep, believe it or not, there are times, even in marriage, when jealousy rears its ugly head. And it can become unhealthy pretty fast if you let it. 

Maybe your spouse is getting out more than you are and you’re jealous of the time they’re spending at work, with friends, or enjoying their hobbies. You want what they have.

Perhaps you feel like you need some time alone, you feel like you’ve got too much on your plate and your mate just seems to have it easier than you do. You want to be able to relax, too.

Or maybe you really want to be at home with your family but you have to be gone a lot, and it’s hard to feel like you’re missing out on the things you enjoy. You want to be there, too.

It could be a ton of other things you wish you had that you don’t or that you wish you didn’t have that you do. And it can be SO hard to live with that day in and day out, especially if you’re trying to hold it all in. The struggle is all too real.

If you are struggling with jealousy and want to stop being so jealous of your spouse, take a look at these tips. I hope they can help you out.

Look at what scares you.

Fear feeds jealousy, so it’s essential to explore what scares you. Are you afraid that your spouse will be negatively influenced by his or her sizable social network? Are you afraid that your kids like your spouse better because they are the fun parent? When you get to the core of what makes you afraid, you can start to get a better handle on your jealousy.

Discover and deal with your insecurities.

Everyone has areas in their life where they feel less than confident or uncertain about their capabilities. They’re the places deep within where insecurities reside. It’s vital to know what those areas are so you can find ways to minimize your insecurities. Talking to friends or a professional can help you build up your personal confidence. True confidence is a remedy for jealousy.

Understand the impact of jealousy on your marriage.

Jealousy can harm your relationship in big and small ways. It causes your perspective on your spouse to change so that you no longer see them through the eyes of love. Instead, your view is clouded by anger and disappointment. In your mind, they go from a loving spouse to someone who only cares about themselves. It can cause mistrust, misunderstandings, and disconnection. 

Talk to your spouse about what you are feeling.

This is an opportunity to share with your spouse about your jealousy. Tell them about your fears and insecurities. Say to them, “I’m jealous of this, and I own it.” Ask them for what you need so they can support you as you work toward a solution together.

In so many relationships, being jealous is bound to happen at one time or another. Some people even view jealousy as a way to prove how deep their love is for someone. Instead, focus on creating an atmosphere of love, trust, and understanding in your relationship. That way, you can both be your best selves and keep jealousy from driving a wedge between you and your spouse.

Other helpful blogs:

How to Overcome Built-Up Resentment in Marriage

So, Your Spouse Is Lazy… Here’s What to Do

Why Spending Time Alone Is Good for Your Marriage

4 Things to Know About Emotional Safety

Should You Apologize to Your Spouse for Something You Didn’t Do?

There may be more to apology than just saying the words.

I’m sorry. 

Let’s face it — these two little words are packed with meaning, depending on the situation. 

I’m sorry I screwed up. 

I’m sorry you feel that way.

I am sorry, but it wasn’t my fault.

I’m sorry you’re a jerk. 

Apologies matter in marriage. But we know all apologies aren’t equal. It’s not always whether we use the words, but how we use them that makes a difference. 

Stuff happens in marriage.

Words get said. Feelings get hurt. Expectations aren’t met. Misunderstandings occur. Responsibilities fall by the wayside. Someone forgets an anniversary. 

All the same, these things cause your marital connection to run off the rails. Even with minor instances, you want to get back on track with your spouse. But how do you do that? Well, research tells us apology is one of the most essential tools for reconciliation in the eyes of both the offender and the offended.

Last night, my wife and I were going to sleep, and she decided to have a little fun. She put her hand up close to my face, thinking I was unaware of it in the dark. Unfortunately, she miscalculated my ninja-like sensibilities. I felt it, reacted on reflex, and accidentally poked her in the eye. 

Was it my fault? No, not really. Was it on purpose? Absolutely not. It was a reaction. Did I apologize? Profusely! I would never intentionally harm my wife, and, taken the wrong way, she might think I wasn’t concerned for her well-being. My sincere apology smoothed out the situation. (Her eyesight is fully restored, by the way.

Of course, there’s more to an apology than the words. Most of us were taught the formula: Say the words = everything is okay now. 

Did you bite your teacher’s ankle again, Mikey? You need to go and apologize…

And for many of us, that formula got passed down to our marriage. Apology as words-only, at the least, is ineffective. And at the most, it does more damage. 

Consider these times when you shouldn’t simply say I’m sorry to your spouse: 

  • To simply end the argument because it’s uncomfortable
  • When you don’t know what you’re apologizing for, but you know you’re being blamed for something again
  • To get something from your spouse, like an admittance of wrongdoing or a “return-apology” 
  • To manipulate someone into forgiving behavior you fully intend to keep doing

So then, why apologize? Say it with me:

I apologize when I recognize my contributions to our disconnect

Apologizing isn’t always a matter of something that was “right” or “wrong.” Many times it’s simply a matter of contributing to an issue. There’s a difference. 

Think of it like this: 

I apologize…

  • When I do something flat-out wrong. (Duh. That’s obvious.) 
  • Even when it was unintentional. 
  • When I didn’t do something morally wrong, but still, I didn’t consider your feelings.
  • For miscommunication on my part. 

Studies tell us that a genuine apology expresses ownership and remorse for something, seeks to empathize with how it affected the other person, and tries to compensate in some way for the offense. 2,3 In short, apology is about restoring the relationship rather than erasing the wrong. 

So should you apologize to your spouse for something you didn’t do?

The bigger question is, What were your contributions to the disconnect? And how did that affect your spouse? And what can you do to restore the marital connection? 

Talk about it together. Empathize. Consider your contribution. Take ownership of that. See it from your spouse’s point of view. And then ask, Do I need to apologize?

The result? You move further ahead in your relationship than where you were before the disconnect. There is a deeper right than being right.

I’m not going to share what happened with my spouse after the eye-poke incident. (That’s personal – but let’s just say we weren’t sleepy after that.) But I will tell you that what followed would not have happened without a wholehearted apology. Connection restored.  

When conflicts are managed well and effective apologies are made, your marriage can come out even better on the other side.4 And that’s nothing to feel sorry about! 

Sources:

1Fehr, R., Gelfand, M. J., & Nag, M. (2010). The Road to Forgiveness: A Meta-Analytic 

Synthesis of Its Situational and Dispositional Correlates. Psychological Bulletin, 136(5), 894–914. https://doi.org/10.1037/a0019993

2Anderson, J. C., Linden, W., & Habra, M. E. (2006). Influence of Apologies and Trait Hostility on 

Recovery from Anger. Journal of Behavioral Medicine, 29(4), 347–358. https://link.springer.com/article/10.1007/s10865-006-9062-7

3Kirchhoff, J., Wagner, U., & Strack, M. (2012). Apologies: Words of Magic? The Role of Verbal 

Components, Anger Reduction, and Offence Severity. Peace and Conflict, 18(2), 109–130. https://doi.org/10.1037/a0028092

4Gottman, J. M., & Krokoff, L. J. (1989). Marital Interaction and Satisfaction: A Longitudinal 

View. Journal of Consulting and Clinical Psychology, 57(1), 47–52. https://doi.org/10.1037/0022-006X.57.1.47

How to Deal with Manipulation in Your Marriage

Use these tips to move toward the relationship you want.

You want a marriage where you both work together and are free to be yourselves. However, if your freedom to think and make decisions that reflect your ideas and desires is a little, well, stifled, you may be feeling manipulated. Nobody wants to feel that way. If that’s the case, you’re probably wondering how to deal with manipulation in your marriage. Let me tell you: it may be challenging, and it may take some time, but you’ve got to deal with it. Especially if you want your relationship to thrive.

Being manipulated can really mess with a person. It affects your mental health, self-esteem, and confidence. Manipulation in your marriage can be subtle or direct, relatively mild or emotionally abusive. Regardless, it’s not a good thing. Here’s why: It attempts to control your spouse in an underhanded and unhealthy way. 

Subtle and mild manipulation probably happens more than you realize in marriage (which doesn’t make it right). 

Take, for instance, the line of questioning from one spouse to another, “Do you have anything to do Friday night?” And when the response is “No,” the spouse says, “Good, we can have your in-laws over to the house for dinner and a game night.” 

Though this situation probably isn’t to the level of calling a counselor, it’s manipulative. It takes the spouse’s choice away regarding how they’ll spend their evening. You or your spouse may not even notice the manipulation. But when one spouse makes the other feel like their desires or thoughts don’t matter, and the spouse uses that to get what they want, that’s manipulation. And it’s painful.

Manipulation can also be more direct. 

Let’s use the same situation, but this time, one spouse says, “If you love me, you’ll invite your in-laws over for game night this weekend.” Nothing subtle there. Just a direct guilt trip if you don’t respond “correctly.” Not fun.

When you feel manipulated, you may feel:

  • Guilt, though you’ve done nothing wrong.
  • Gaslighted, or made to feel like you’re crazy.
  • Isolated, if your spouse punishes you with the silent treatment.
  • Powerless, because your choice seems to be taken away.
  • Inferior, if your thoughts, opinions, and wants are dismissed or ignored in favor of the manipulator’s.
  • Blamed, as though any negative results are your fault.

How can you respond?

Well, you’re in a tough spot, for sure. Here are some things that might help.

  • Self-reflect and know what your own desires and thoughts are. Try taking a step back from the conversation before committing to anything.
  • Be specific. The point is to understand what each person wants without the added expectation that you must oblige. Ask specific questions to separate their wants from what they’re doing to control you. 
  • Call it out. Your spouse should know it’s not ok to use underhanded or overt tactics to get their way. Explain the manipulation and how it makes you feel.
  • Set boundaries. Not blindly allowing yourself to be manipulated is key. Boundaries can help you make sure that you both respect different ideas without taking them personally just because they are not the same. Create boundaries to help each person hear and understand the other’s thoughts, feelings, and wants. You should agree that you won’t judge each other. 

I know this all sounds easier said than done, and it is. Here’s why: Your spouse may be used to getting their way by manipulating, whether they know it or not. If they don’t get what they want, they may react negatively. Fear is a powerful thing. And the fear of not getting what we want may cause us to be even more manipulative, deceitful, or even forceful. 

If your spouse is being mildly manipulative, it might be good to start the conversation with, “What’s the worst thing that can happen if you don’t get your way right now?”

For many situations, though, involving a counselor is gonna be your best bet. A manipulator who suddenly isn’t getting their way may react violently. They may become emotionally or physically abusive, or destructive. It can take some time and therapy to get to a place where they accept not getting their way. (If you’re the victim of abusive behavior, don’t hesitate to call the National Domestic Violence Hotline at 1-800-799-7233 or visit thehotline.org.)

Knowing yourself and finding security in who you are can help you fight the tendency to be manipulated in your marriage. It will also help you find healthy ways to move toward that mutually respectful relationship you want. In a healthy relationship, manipulation isn’t a weapon, and differing opinions are welcome.

Other helpful resources:

My Spouse Is Putting Me Down. (How Do I Get Them to Stop?)

How to Find a Counselor Who Will Fight for Your Marriage

What to Do When You Don’t Feel Emotionally Safe in Your Marriage

How to Overcome Built-Up Resentment in Marriage