In my last post, I discussed 5 habits for building rock-solid communication in your marriage. What I wrote was based on personal experience and scripture, but they’re all proactive measures for communicating more effectively. What do we do when we’re already IN a frustrating moment/season and we don’t know how to break loose? How can we break the ice and let our guard down when everything inside of us wants to hold onto frustration?
Selena and I have experienced PLENTY of “communication cold snaps” in our marriage. A “cold snap” is defined as a “a sudden, brief spell of cold weather.” Things get icy in marriage when bitterness builds up from being hurt, mistreated, or misunderstood over a long period of time. “Cold snaps” happen when we don’t nip communication issues in the bud.
Just being honest…here goes.
One transparent example is when I feel neglected sexually. It starts with me feeling the vibe, like we’re overdue for some sexy time. Though it seems painfully obvious to me, she may be completely oblivious to it. I take that as malicious intent (it’s not), and I start to pout. Then, I determine to not show any sort of desire and I resolve to leave it up to her to initiate intimacy. (Not my finest hours as a husband, mind you.)
This results in me getting more and more bitter about my perceived neglect. Then I rehearse over and over what I’ll say when it finally surfaces: “I do this and that, and all I want in return is a little appreciation, etc…“, or “You know my love language is physical touch, how can you hurt me like this!!“.
After a while, I start to act out of frustration and eventually Selena asks what’s wrong. Then I’ll passively say something that I know will cut her deep… and that’s when the fireworks begin (not the good kind), and I can pull out all of my well-rehearsed argument fodder. (More horrible argument advice is here if you’re looking for a laugh.)
Blah blah blah. Sigh…
Again, I’m not describing my proudest moments as a husband, but I’m trying to illustrate a point: sometimes chilly weather in marriage is the result of poor communication and little else.
Since we’re both sinners, we find ourselves in situations like this often enough. But there’s good news! We’ve ALSO discovered a few healthier ways to break the ice.
Breaking the Ice
Whenever Selena and I are in a cold snap, we need something abrupt to break us out of it. Instead of our abrupt solution being something harmful (fighting, using hurtful words, etc), we’ve learned some ways to jar us loose that are fun and engaging. We’ve found that once we warm things up a bit, we can discuss the underlying issues much more constructively, with our guards down and with an attitude of reconciliation.
Here are a few things to try the next time things are frigid in your marriage:
1: Get out and do something fun
Just by getting out of the house and/or our daily routines, we’re forced to engage with one another. This could be going for longer drive to your favorite state park, trying a new restaurant, or even going to a movie. It may sound disengaging, but we’ve found that even a movie can take our minds off our frustrations and remind us of our friendship.
When I see Selena for who she is–my friend, my wife, a wonderful mother, God’s daughter–I realize how foolish my harbored bitterness really is. Nothing disarms your defenses like seeing your spouse for who they are in Christ, and remembering the blessing they are in your life; it transforms your tone from retaliation to reconciliation faster than any thing else.
2: Laugh at yourself
As much as it hurts, sometimes the best way forward is to just lighten up. I don’t mean you just bottle up your feelings and “fake it ’til you make it”. I do mean this: whenever I’ve worked myself into a place of bitterness and resentment, it’s usually because I’ve let my imagination run wild. To use the example above, Selena never means to withhold sex, never. She just has a whole different mindset most of the time. She has a thousand things she’s concerned with; that’s it. She’s not trying to hurt me.
It honestly helps a ton if I just try to put myself in her shoes. What is on her mind? How can I get out of my funk and help her? How can I communicate my frustrations in a way that takes her feelings into account, not just my own? It’s these types of questions that trigger laughter because I realize how unproductive my attitude and thoughts have become.
3: Hug it out…married people style
Sexual tension is real. I’m not saying that sex is always the key to marital problems, but sometimes it is. There have been countless times in our marriage where sex did solve things, or at least it broke the ice. This, of course, only works if you’re on the same page.
It’s funny, there have been many times where Selena and I are taking little verbal jabs back and forth; our tones, words, and body language are all just begging for a fight. Then, as if we’re in each others’ heads, we make eye contact and just say, “are you thinking what I’m thinking?” We realize it’s probably time to “hug it out” (and yes, that’s actually the phrase we use). It really clears the air!
Find what works for you
These examples have worked for us, in situations like the one I’ve described. There are definitely times when legitimate hurt needs to be dealt with; and those aren’t necessarily what I’m trying to address. In those cases, you may need to get outside help to deal with pain or broken trust. Don’t make the mistake of leaving deeper issues unattended. Get help from a godly mentor, pastor, or counsellor.
In the times, however, when communication cold snaps are caused by molehills turned mountainous, maybe one of these suggestions will help you. I know they’ve helped us break the ice on multiple occasions.