Surviving Emotional Shutdown
In a typical law enforcement marriage, emotional shutdown is one of the big contributing factors to wedded disharmony. Due to the nature of what an officer experiences on any given shift, there is often a shutdown of sorts when he or she returns home.
With remote, phone or game controller in hand, the officer sits mindlessly flipping, scrolling or blipping through hours of low to almost non-existent activity though they can snap out of it at the ring of a phone call from the station.
I sometimes will look at my husband and say, "A penny for your thoughts," to which his reply is always, "I don't have any." Sigh. Perhaps he really doesn't. Maybe he has turned off his thinking capacity and entered idle mode as a way of surviving the stress. Do I blame him? No. Do I always like it? No.
So how do we survive these times of emotional shutdown? Let me give you six important tips to weathering the silence.
1. It's not your spouse's job to fulfill your happiness. Ouch! Okay, let me explain. We often marry with the skewed thought that this person is now going to make me happy! That is too much of a burden to put on anyone. Your spouse cannot create that euphoric atmosphere. He or she has needs just as you do. There is no earthly way that he or she can meet every need you have (even the hidden ones), and at the same time meet his or her own. Impossible. But, there is good news! God IS big enough. He's the one we should be turning to in order to find purpose and fulfillment. Only then can we release our spouse from the bondage of need meeting and allow him or her to just be themselves. If you do this, I think you will begin to see a big difference in your relationship, and especially in you.
2. Agree to talk. At some point the two of you are going to have to come together and discuss what's right or wrong in the marriage. Agree to a certain time to sit down and calmly discuss your frustrations and concerns, then mutually take measures in resolving those issues. Don't nag or lecture your spouse. Do affirm him or her in the things that he or she is doing right.
3. Re-evaluate the relationship, then take steps to meet the unmet needs. Sometimes we all need to step back and re-evaluate. When we are so emotionally charged over a situation or circumstance, it is often hard to see the underlying cause. Perhaps your mate has shutdown because of something at work or even some unmet need at home. Has he or she asked you to do something and you have not followed through? Have you been neglecting his or her needs physically, emotionally, etc.? Is your spouse perhaps feeling put down, left out or disrespected? If you can say "yes" to any of these things then it's time to move towards meeting those unmet needs.
4. Take ownership of your own stuff. It's so easy for us to focus in on our spouse's shortcomings and neglect our own failures. Personally, I have a really bad habit of focusing in on the negatives. I can often tell when my husband has had enough of my complaining. It's at those times, that I need to own my poor behavior and change course.
This is a good time for us to take a deep look at ourselves and ask hard questions like "Am I doing something that is driving him/her away?" Quite possibly you're not doing anything. Perhaps it's his or her own selfishness or stress coping mechanism, but we still need to periodically do a mental checklist of bad habits or tendencies that may exacerbate the situation.
5. Seek God's Guidance. Times such as these often (or should) drive us to our knees. Emotional abandonment from a spouse can be so painful, but God promises to be our refuge and strength in times of trouble such as this. Go to Him. Set a regular time to just sit before the Father and ask Him to guide you and remove your emptiness. Seek His help in knowing how to approach your spouse and interact. Not only will he give you the help you desire, but will also deepen your faith in the process.
6. Show kindness and unconditional love. If you saw the movie, Fireproof, then you understand the concept of the 40 day challenge. For 40 days, find ways to show unconditional love and kindness towards your spouse. You cannot change or control he or she's actions towards you, but you can change yours. Go out of your way to do something nice daily. After the 40 days, re-evaluate the situation. If you've been consistent in your loving actions, I believe you will harvest a great reward.
Resolving marital conflicts is never easy, but the steps you take to improve yourself and your relationship will almost always receive a positive response in time. Stay at it. Work hard. Never quit. You can survive emotional shutdown and find joy in the process. Believe me, I know.
P.S. Congratulations to "Matty" for winning last week's copy of PARTLY CLOUDY WITH SCATTERED WORRIES by Kathy Collard Miller!