Often, people in my office tell me about how their spouse said or did something that hurt or offended them. But, when I ask if they said anything to their spouse about it, they typically say, “No.”
And as a result of not saying anything, their hurt and resentment gradually build. The rift between them and their spouse gets bigger. And their hurt begins to leak out into other areas of their marriage.
Why don’t we speak up when we’ve been hurt? What is it that leads us to keep things to ourselves when we’ve been offended?
REASONS WE DON’T SPEAK UP
There can be many reasons we don’t speak up when we’ve been hurt, offended, or angered by our spouse.
We lack self-confidence.
When you lack self-confidence or have low self-esteem, it’s hard to find the ego strength to stand up for yourself. You may doubt your thoughts, feelings, or intentions. Or maybe you don’t speak up for yourself, because you assume you’re wrong or your concerns don’t really matter.
We judge by prior history.
If you’ve tried to speak up for yourself in past relationships but were consistently ignored, told you were wrong, or put on the receiving end of that person’s anger, then you will be hesitant to speak up for yourself now. You just assume history will repeat itself.
We fear our response.
If you have a history of blowing up or saying things you shouldn’t, then you may be afraid of speaking up, because you don’t want to hurt your spouse.
We fear their response.
If you have a history of being on the receiving end of your spouse’s anger when you’ve tried to speak up, then you may find yourself thinking, “I can’t speak up, because it will just make them mad and I don’t want to deal with that.”
REASONS TO SPEAK UP
But despite the reasons we don’t speak up, there are some really good reasons to go ahead and speak up…especially if your spouse has hurt or offended you.
It promotes honesty.
When you speak up, you’re being honest. No marriage can survive, let alone thrive, without honesty. Even difficult honesty helps to breed trust and respect. Honesty is also an important part of setting boundaries in a relationship. It may feel like it’s making things worse at times, but you can’t get to a better place without honesty.
It keeps things from festering.
Speaking up keeps things from building up emotionally. The less you speak up, the more things stack up inside. And this colors your thoughts, emotions, and perceptions in the marriage. Not speaking up is like continuing to walk with a rock in your shoe. If you don’t learn to speak up, the limp will just get worse.
It creates an environment for solutions.
You can’t fix something in a marriage if you can’t talk about it. There has to be mutual honesty and understanding before you can find a solution that will work for both spouses. Not speaking up ensures that the problem will continue…and possibly get worse.
HOW TO SPEAK UP
So we’ve talked about some reasons why we don’t speak up, and we’ve talked about some reasons why we need to speak up. But how can you best speak up; especially if you know it could be difficult?
Here are some steps you can take to best speak up when you’ve been hurt or offended:
- Speak when you can control your words. If you’re the type of person who has trouble controlling your words and emotions when you speak up, then don’t speak until you know you can control yourself. And if while you’re speaking you find yourself getting out of control, then table the conversation and come back to it when you’re more in control.
- Speak kindly but truthfully. There’s a passage of Scripture (Ephesians 4:15) that tells us to speak the truth in love. You need to do both. Speak lovingly so they can hear you, but speak truthfully so you can address things.
- Speak earlier rather than later. The longer you sit on something that’s bothering you, the more you stew on it and the worse it gets. Then when you do bring it up, your emotions are already high. Address things at the moment they occur and the emotional volatility will be low and manageable.
- Speak when you can best be heard. Try not to speak up to your spouse when they’re already tired, frustrated, upset, or angry. Chances are neither of you will get anywhere. Instead, pick a time when they’re more calm and open. But, don’t put it off too long, or the issue will go cold in your spouse’s mind.
- Speak to your contributions as well as theirs. If you’ve contributed to the issue you want to address, lead the conversation with your contributions to the problem. You may even want to ask your spouse to forgive you for those things. This will set a much better tone and help them be more open to what you have to say.
- Speak consistently. What I mean by this is consistently take this approach; even when it seems to be getting you nowhere. Don’t try it for a while and then give up. That just teaches your spouse that if they wait long enough, you’ll eventually drop it and they won’t have to deal with it. Continue to speak up until the two of you can come to some sort of consensus and agreement.
A FINAL WORD…
Or more like a final disclaimer…
Doing these things doesn’t mean the conversations won’t be difficult or that things will go according to your desire. It takes a lot of practice to break old habits. But keep at it. Following these suggestions will give you the best long-term probability of improving things and being heard. So, learn to SPEAK UP!