I was recently given a coloring page from my nephew. This picture did not follow the rules; it was full of coloring outside of the lines and a blue horse. It was wild and he was proud of his work. He worked up the courage to hand his magical creation to me and I missed the moment. I was too enthralled in the project I was working on to stop and see the vulnerability. He had a desire to connect with his uncle. My nephew was disappointed but our relationship quickly recovered because we have plenty of positive experiences together. My nephew’s blue horse was part of him, something he cared about and wanted to share with me. Through my time working with couples I often see a recurrent pattern of missing our vulnerability or blue horses, and it quickly escalates to criticism, defensiveness, contempt and stonewalling.
Benefits of Increasing Vulnerability
The benefits of increasing vulnerability in your marriage open the door to the potential of being entirely accepted and loved. When vulnerability is in the driver’s seat of the relationship, it can improve emotional and physical intimacy. If both partners strive for vulnerability as a priority, it can help you see your spouse’s heart and intention jump-starting long-desired better communication.
No one has a perfect batting average when it comes to acknowledging every moment of vulnerability with our spouse. The increase of criticism, defensiveness, contempt and stonewalling occur when we disproportionately do not acknowledge these moments from our spouse over time. This can lead to couples not feeling emotionally safe around one another and pulling away emotionally increasing isolation within the marriage.
Here are some ideas to begin to address the potential for increased emotional safety and acknowledgment of our spouses vulnerability or blue horses striving for connectedness.
It is important to begin addressing conflict in the relationship by talking about the situation, not your perceived character flaws of your partner. This means changing your language to increase emotional safety to allow for vulnerability. Move your approach away from “you always”,” You never”, “Why can’t you just”, “You are doing that thing again,” and of course the deep cut, “you sound like your mom.” Focus on the situation and strive for compromise. An example of changing language to increase compromise is, “I feel (blank) because I would like (blank).
Reflective listening is another helpful way to assist with increasing emotional safety and vulnerability. Reflective listening is when you listen to your spouse and repeat what they say back to them. This often means listening to things you don’t agree with but are beginning to model to your partner that you care and want to understand their point of view.
Take a Break
Take a break from the argument. This is easier said than done. Sometimes continuing to engage in an argument can escalate and cause more damage than improvement. Take a break, calm down and come back to the topic. It is important to not avoid but come back after an agreed upon time. Depending on how big the topic is this may take a couple times.
It is my hope that you find these couples therapy concepts helpful while navigating dynamics in your relationship.