"What Are You Thinking?" - Have Empathy for Your Spouse

Some of you may remember me talking about LDS General Conference about a month ago. My favorite talk during conference and my favorite talk to study since has been Elder Zwick's, What Are Thinking? Typed up, it's only three pages long and one of the shorter talks from conference, but each time I read it I learn something new. This talk has taught me so much about having empathy in my marriage and that being bold and speaking my feelings will get me a lot further than holding them in. 

Have you ever wondered what your spouse was thinking when they said or did something? Have you ever stopped to think about what they actually might have been thinking? Have more empathy in your marriage!

Elder Zwick started out his talk with a powerful story. Years ago, he took his wife and infant son with him on a journey in his semi-truck. While they were on a steep section of highway, the cab of the truck suddenly filled with smoke, making it difficult to see and breathe. Elder Zwick, knowing that the problem was an electrical failure, quickly tried to make his way to the side of the road and come to a stop. His wife, thinking that the truck was going to blow up and wanting to save her son, jumped from the cab before the truck had stopped moving.

After checking to see that the two were ok, Elder Zwick said to his wife, "What in the world were you thinking? Do you know how dangerous that was? You could have been killed!" Sister Zwick, who was I'm sure still shaken from the whole experience, replied, "I was just trying to save our son." Elder Zwick's attitude changed and he realized that his wife hadn't done something crazy, she had been courageous.

I love what he said next! "This situation could have been as emotionally hazardous as our literal engine failure. Gratefully, after enduring the silent treatment for a reasonable amount of time, each of us believing the other person was at fault, we finally expressed the emotions that were churning beneath our heated outbursts. Shared feelings of love and fear for the other's safety kept the hazardous incident from proving fatal to our cherished marriage."

Read: When Life Happens, Support Each Other

In Ephesians, Paul warns, "Let no corrupt communication proceed out of your mouth". But what exactly is corrupt communication? Elder Zwick says, "We all regularly experience highly charged feelings of anger--our own and others. We have seen unchecked anger erupt in public places. We have experienced it as a sort of emotional "electrical short" at sporting events, in the political arena, and even in our own homes." I see "corrupt communication" all over, especially in social media where people are so free to communicate their own personal opinions to the world. In most cases, this causes contention and arguing. When I see Facebook status' with these types of interactions in the comments, I feel anxious.

How sad is it that "spouses, who have shared some of life's richest and most tender experiences, lose vision and patience with each other and raise their voices"? I know that I am guilty of this more often than I'd like to admit. Joe and I give each other grief about almost everything we talk about, it's part of the dynamic of our relationship and we really enjoy it. Sometimes our interactions turn into real anger and because we are both stubborn and feel like the other person is wrong, it's not a pretty sight. Instead of looking at the other side of things, we try to convince each other that our side is the right one.

Read: Are Your Spouse's Endeavors a Priority for You Too?

It is impossible to know everything that is going through our spouse's mind and the feelings of their heart in any given situation. And it might not always be about who is right and who is wrong. Having empathy for each other changes everything. Elder Zwick pointed out that when the cab of the truck filled up with smoke, his wife acted bravely and did what she could do to protect their son. He acted as a protector as well when he questioned that choice she'd made to jump out of the moving truck.

"Shockingly, it did not matter who was more right. What mattered was listening to each other and understanding the other's perspective."

Going back to the social media example that I mentioned above; It is refreshing to me to see people who post their own beliefs on a topic while also acknowledging the opposing party and why they might feel offended by that. One situation sticks out in my mind whenever I think about this and I admired a friend who unwaveringly stood by her personal belief, but stated it in such a way that everyone who read her status was inspired, even those who might have taken offense to her position. It opened the door to great conversation and discussion and that thread when compared side by side with one of the contentious ones was uplifting. She said what everyone else was saying but with empathy and understanding for those who didn't share her same opinion. And although they knew that the opinion would never change, her friends felt loved instead of offended.

"A soft answer consists of a reasoned response--disciplined words from a humble heart. It does not mean we never speak directly or that we compromise truth. Words that may be firm in information can be soft in spirit."

Read: Having Companion Inventory in Your Marriage

After reading this talk a few times over, I have decided to try to be more empathetic in my marriage. Letting my husband know that I understand where he's coming from and asking questions to help me understand his side of things better will make a huge difference in our communication. I also want to be better about communicating my feelings rather than assuming he knows the meaning behind my words all the time. Because as blunt as I feel that I am with him, there may be times when more explanation is necessary and that explanation could turn the situation around.

"It may not change or solve the problem, but the more important possibility may be whether ministering grace could change us."