We’ve all done it.
We’ve kept our mouths shut (sometimes only by clenching our jaw) when everything inside of us is screaming to let our spouse know EXACTLY what we’re feeling and/or thinking.
But there are times when you just don’t want to open that can of worms by saying — “I think you’re an idiot!” Or, “You’ve hurt me so much ... (Again!) ... that I know I’d be better off without you.”
Really, what good would come from saying that stuff?
But here’s the thing — communicating openly and honestly is essential to a thriving marriage. And NOT telling your spouse how you really think and feel GUARANTEES your relationship will be an unhappy one (if it isn’t already).
Now, I’m not advocating that you tell your spouse every raw, unfiltered, fleeting thought, emotion and opinion that goes through your mind.
What I am suggesting is that if you had been truthful the first time you didn’t understand why your mate did something, you might realize they’re not really an idiot for doing it again now. Or, if you had told your spouse how much they hurt you the first time they said or did xyz, you might feel less stored up resentment and be more willing to fix things now.
In my first marriage, I chose to keep my mouth shut.
My ex didn’t seem to hear what I was saying when I tried to tell him how unhappy I was. I felt like I was talking to a deaf man who was only concerned about himself.
I tried reaching out to family and friends for help, but what I got back wasn’t helpful either. Or, maybe I was the one unable to hear what they were telling me.
Either way, I kept things bottled up, ignoring my true thoughts and feelings for years.
Finally, my mind wasn’t able to do the work on its own anymore and my body decided to lend a hand. It started with me grinding my teeth at night. I would wake up with an aching jaw, so I went to see an orthodontist who was also an oral surgeon. After careful examination, he told me I had TMJ and that all I needed was a bite guard.
I believed him. So I got a “indestructible” bite guard, which I promptly chewed through in only a few weeks. My jaw ached so much that the rest of my face started hurting, too.
I chewed through two more “indestructible” bite guards. At this point, I was in so much pain I couldn’t speak, I could only eat liquids, and I could hardly open my eyes.
Finally, I realized I needed more help.
I started working with a chiropractor to stop the immediate pain. And I started seeing a therapist to find ways to stop the deeper ongoing pain.
Guess what the therapist wanted me to do? — TALK about what was going on.
At first I didn’t know what to say. I’d practiced not talking for so long that I didn’t really know how to anymore. (I guess I also didn’t believe talking about it would help, because it hadn’t in the past.)
But for the next couple of years I talked (a lot) with my therapist.
I started to realize that what I thought and felt was important simply because I thought and felt it — not because it mattered to anyone else.
And through all of this talking, I realized that my husband and I needed to talk, too. But we weren’t able to do so effectively on our own. So, we (finally) entered couple’s therapy. But, by that time, it was too late. I’d remained quiet for too long and he’d become used to it.
We decided to divorce.
That was more than a decade ago. And I’ve remarried since then.
But, every now and again, I look back with the knowledge and experience I have now and I wonder how things might have been different if I had been brave enough to open my mouth and insist on being heard.
Would we have made it? Would we have divorced earlier? I’ll never know.
What I do know is that openly talking about my and my partner’s persistent inner-most thoughts and feelings is making my current marriage work (so much better than my first). Does that mean that we share every uncensored feeling, thought or emotion? Of course not!
It does mean that we talk about what’s important to us and to our marriage as honestly AND respectfully as possible.
So, even if the message is “I think you’re an idiot,” my husband and I realize that’s just our judgment. We know the more pertinent issue we need to talk about might be “Help me understand why you did that” or even “I’m angry that you chose to do that.”
By choosing to speak up and communicate frequently and openly, we’re in a much better position to steer our marriage away from being unhappy.
Could the same work for you? I believe so. After all, they say the most important ingredient to a happy marriage is healthy communication.
And all that takes is a willingness to ... speak up.
Dr. Karen Finn
This article originally appeared at YourTango.