Normalizing the Challenges of Marriage: Elephant Talk Podcast Interview
Assertiveness is a topic that I’ve extensively studied and pondered; it led me to write my book “The Assertiveness Guide For Women: How To Communicate Your Needs, Set Healthy Boundaries, and Transform Your Relationships.” My definition of assertiveness goes beyond simply speaking your mind: it means to have an understanding of your past attachment history, a clear awareness of your current emotional state, and then being able to share your feelings, thoughts, needs, and wants in a way that is strong but still respects someone else’s differences.In working with clients in psychotherapy for over twenty years, I’ve seen first hand the personal empowerment that can come from thinking, acting, and speaking assertively, whether it’s with our children, family members, friends, or colleagues. But what about in our marriages? Shouldn’t our spouse, the person who (arguably) knows us best, be able to discern our needs without us having to share? The truth is that marriage is one area where assertiveness is needed the most. Sure, you share a home, a bank account, and the responsibility of your kids, but you are still two separate people from different backgrounds who have unique needs and perspectives.
I recently sat down with Andy Horning of Elephant Talk Radio to discuss the topics of marriage, love, sex, and of course, assertiveness. Here are some highlights from our conversation:
Let’s Normalize The Challenges of Marital Life
Whether or not we admit it, everyone has problems in their marriages. Everyone. So many times, it seems that we think we’re the only ones struggling in our relationship with our spouse, and this can cause intense feelings of shame and inadequacy. I love the work of Dr. David Schnarch, a licensed clinical psychologist who specializes in relationship issues; he gives us permission to normalizes the challenges found in marital living. Of course we’re going to have communication breakdowns, differences in sexual expectations, disagreements over finances, and different ideas about parenting. Remember that one of the core purposes of a relationship is to grow, to learn. Yes, it’s about finding joy in one another’s company, but the reality is that you will not be blissfully happy or satisfied all the time, and that’s okay! It’s healthy to acknowledge when you’re struggling; it’s only by doing so that you can actually become closer to your spouse and grow in your relationship.
Getting To The Root(s) of The Problem
It’s common to hear trite phrases like “marriage is hard” or “marriage is work,” but it seems like rarely do people describe why it’s hard or what exactly the work entails. When it comes to maintaining a strong and thriving marriage even in the presence of difficulties, I’m a big fan of Emotionally Focused Couples Therapy; instead of simply focusing on strategies or tips to try to communicate better, EFT really gets to the root of the problem and examines what sort of patterns are driving the disconnection. Problems in marriages almost always stem from unmet needs and underlying vulnerable emotions, such as fear, inadequacy, or shame. Additionally, this technique focuses on attachment styles (a core theme I focus on in my book), or how we form deep, emotional bonds with other human beings. Differences in attachment can be a real source of conflict within a marriage, but by digging deeper into why two people have different attachment styles can help us overcome challenges. For example, it’s common in a marital fight for the man to withdraw and go into his own space without wanting to talk any further. To a woman, this can feel like abandonment, but often, it’s really that the man is trying to hide his inadequacies or weaknesses. In other words, on the surface what might look like a rupturing of a relationship is actually an attempt at preserving it. Exploring our emotional undercurrents can help us understand what is actually happening, thus allowing us to be assertive about our vulnerable feelings.
How Can I Be Myself AND Be Close With Others?
One area in which women in particular seem to struggle is how they can be true to themselves while also being close and connected to others. Women are socialized to be caregivers, and while it’s wonderful to attend to the needs of others, chronically neglecting your own needs can eventually lead to burnout and resentment. On the other hand, being ruggedly independent and concerned only with yourself means that you may miss out on what close relationships have to offer. A key theme I touch on in my book is that of differentiation, which basically means that you can be simultaneously together with someone else while still maintaining your own identity. A high level of differentiation means you’re able to comfortably tolerate differences; you don’t have to sacrifice your own views, nor do you let the differences be an obstacle in your relationship. Differentiation of self is a process and is not necessarily an easy state to get to; becoming aware of your own inner, emotional world, respecting yourself enough to make your views known when appropriate, and accepting differences with others is a great place to start.
Dynamic self & relationship expert Dr. Julie de Azevedo Hanks, LCSW loves to make a difference for women. She owns Wasatch Family Therapy and regularly contributes to KSL TV's Studio 5, and her advice has been featured nationally including Wall Street Journal, Parenting, Fox News, and others. Connect on Facebook & Twitter. Her books The Burnout Cure and The Assertiveness Guide are now available.