This is, by request, a follow-up to yesterday’s Crisis and drama and arguments, OH MY!, but it applies to many situations beyond what I discussed yesterday. In general, this is about helping your bride open up about her thoughts and feelings, and/or opening up to changing.
A huge part of this is giving her a safe place to think, to feel, and eventually to share. When I say safe I don’t (just) mean physical safety – I am talking about emotional safety. If she did not feel safe growing up, she could not have felt safe when you first married, no matter how much she wanted or hoped she would. In such a situation it would have taken very little for her to decide you were not completely safe.
Making her feel safe is neither an easy nor a quick process. If she does not feel safe, she is hypersensitive, and will see danger you don’t see, and maybe even danger that is not there. She will project things from her past onto you or what you are doing, thus seeing things not really there. Arguing such things with her will make her feel even less safe, so it’s a very tricky situation.
What does it mean to provide a safe place? It means you don’t jump on her. You don’t bring up every minor issue, choosing instead to live with or deal with some of the minor stuff, and only discussing with her major problems areas. If you must confront her (you cannot stay quiet about sin, or if she is treating someone very badly), do it gently, lovingly, and without accusation. Stick to what you can clearly articulate from what has been done, without adding from your feelings or theorising why she did what she did. Assume she sees dangers you don’t see, and fears things she probably does not need to fear, and understand those are valid to her even if they are not real. Try to put yourself in her shoes, and see why certain “simple” things are so difficult for her.
It will help her a great deal if you can be there to pick up what she leaves undone because she is stressed by trying to deal with her issues. There is a delicate balance to this; doing everything for her before she is unable could make her feel deeply guilty, or it could result in her letting everything fall on you. Don’t step in and do everything, but when she is clearly overwhelmed be ready to make dinner, or do the dishes, or whatever. Be especially ready to take care of the kids. They can be a big source of stress, and leaving them without physical and emotional care is harmful to them.
The most important thing is to love her, and to keep telling and showing her you love her. When she says she is a failure, tell her you know she is working on it, and you know it will get better. Don’t argue with her when she says things like “you would be better off without me”, but do tell her that’s not how it looks to you. Keep telling her you are glad she’s your wife, and you hope she will someday see why you feel that way.
My bride has often commented I gave her a “safe place to fall apart”, and has said it was a very important part of her healing. I was far from perfect at this, which shows you can make mistakes and still give her a safe enough place to deal with her stuff. We were fortunate we did this before we had a baby, and we intentionally pulled back from the ministry we were doing at the time so she could focus on her stuff. If your wife has a lot to deal with she will need to pull back from things, because what she needs to do is emotionally draining.
If I had it to do again, I’d be much more about dealing with my stuff as she dealt with hers. It may be accurate to say she was more messed up than I was, but we both had a lot of junk to deal with. I let the relative depth of our issues fool me into thinking I didn’t need to do much, which was bad for both of us.
There is certainly a place for trained third-party help in this, but she may resist that at first. Let her know you will support her if she wants help, and you will go with her or not as she feels is best. Be sure the individual she goes to agrees with your thoughts on faith and marriage.
If all this sounds like it will cost you, you are right. It’s not easy, and at times it’s not fun. However, it’s the right thing to do. What’s more, the potential rewards are well worth it. When she feels safe with you, amazing things happen. When she feels she can say anything and not be hated or ridiculed, she will share with you what you need to know.