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How to Talk to Your Spouse About Marriage Problems

With Dr. Joe Beam and Kimberly Holmes

(0:00) Kimberly Holmes: So one person says, “What if I know that I was absolutely part of the problem, but he doesn’t want to talk about it. I want to tell him all of the things that I’m learning about myself, but he won’t talk to me about it.”

Dr. Joe Beam: Right. First of all, I would suggest that you don’t necessarily go and do that. There’s a way to do it, but not always directly. You say, “Why?”

There can be value, and I’ve actually encouraged people in the past, to write letters and say, “I take responsibility for the things that I’ve done wrong and I wanted to tell you that I’m sorry.”

But people often misunderstood that, so I stopped suggesting it because they wanted to list every single thing they’d ever done wrong- and they went into great detail. Even wrote it to the point where I began to be afraid that if their spouse goes ahead with a divorce, they’re going to show this “letter” to the attorney and their attorney’s will show it to the judge… and so, because of that letter, you just made yourself sound like the worst person on the planet.

Here’s How to Write the Letter Correctly

(1:01) If you’re going to take responsibility for your behavior, and I think you should… if you want to write your spouse a letter, make it very succinct- not too much detail.

Here’s how you should write your spouse a letter if you choose to do so:

  • Start with something like this: “You know, I know I didn’t listen to you as much as I should.”
  • Then, you can list three or four things like that, “I wish I’d spent more time with you,” etc.
  • Make it more generic so that he or she knows you’re actually taking responsibility for your behavior.
  • Don’t say, “I’m sorry” After any one of them- Put it at the end: “And I’m sorry I did that.”

How to Tell When Your Spouse is Ready to Talk & What to Say to Them

(1:37) Now, if you say, “Well, I don’t want to write the letter but I want to be able to talk to my spouse and tell him/her the same things you’re describing in that letter.” That’s fine, but you MUST wait until such a time as he or she is ready to hear it. Until that time it cannot, and it won’t work if you try.

So what do you do in the meantime? You need to become the safe place so that when your husband or wife has any communication with you, even if it’s about business or about the kids, you’re warm, you’re friendly, you’re safe.

If at any point, he or she ever starts opening up (and you can’t “make them” do this) you have to be patient. You have to be tolerant. And if or when he or she does open up, you’re the very safe place.

  • Don’t attack, criticize, or condemn.
  • Listen. And when you can, let them know you understand.
    • “Hmm. I can see how you felt that way.”

Now, after a conversation or two like that, the next time you’re having one that’s open, friendly, that’s when you can express yourself like this:

“Do you mind if I tell you some things about what I’ve learned about me? I’d appreciate the opportunity to do that. It may not make any difference to you and I’m not doing it because I think somehow it’s going to convince you to come back. I just want to tell you some things that I have learned from all of this and how I’ve changed from it. So while this has been a terrible ordeal for me, there’s some good that’s come from it for me. Can I just share that with you?”

If they think you’re trying to manipulate them, or trying to make them come back, they’re not going to listen.

But if you can put it in that kind of a frame, where it’s, “I just want to share some things I’ve learned about myself,” then it can actually be that they really truly hear you.

And when you have this conversation, do not beat yourself up. Don’t go on and on about how bad you are. Be more factual like the things I talked about earlier. “You know, I know that you wanted to make love to me more often and I didn’t participate in that like I should have. I can see that now.”

Not like, “Oh, if I had loved you like I should have.” You understand the difference in those two things? Don’t beat yourself up. Be honest. But don’t beat yourself up.