Bringing tenderness to your marriage
Happy Advent! Can you believe we’re almost halfway through? I’ve been reading this amazing book called, “Behold: A Guided Advent Journal For Prayer and Meditation” by Sr. Mariam James Heidland, and it is full of so much wisdom. There was a line from today’s reflection that has stuck with me. Sr. Miriam writes,
“Tenderness interrupts the cycle of fear, self-hatred, and shame and gives way for healing and repair”.
She’s referencing the necessary tenderness of a father toward his child, and the impact that a father’s tenderness has on creating safety and an environment for restoration to occur. What keeps stirring in me is how this doesn’t stop at the father-child relationship, but also applies to the spousal relationship. If we believe that attachment is necessary from cradle to grave, then it makes sense that not only should we experience this tenderness as a child, but as an adult also. Because it’s in this tenderness that connection and healing occurs. Let’s look more specifically at how this relates to a husband and wife.
When couples get stuck in their cycles of disconnection, there’s not a lot of tenderness present. Oftentimes, any type of vulnerability is hidden underneath reactions of anger or withdrawal. When the cycle happens over and over again, not only does it erode connection, but it erodes safety. So even if you start to become more aware of those hidden vulnerabilities underneath, it certainly doesn’t feel safe to share them. It can be scary to think about putting yourself out there and risking being rejected, dismissed, or your vulnerability being used against you. Another consequence of the cycle is shame and self-hatred (i.e., “I’m never going to be good enough”, “I’m a failure “). The challenging thing is, this all becomes a negative feedback loop because the more your partner responds to you with anger or by shutting down, the more disconnected, unsafe, and ashamed you feel, and the less likely you are to be vulnerable and work on reconnection and healing. So where does tenderness come into play? Again, as Sr. Miriam reminds us, it “interrupts the cycle of fear, self-hatred, and shame”. Once you can both recognize the cycle you are stuck in, you can work on responding differently and being more tender with each other. Rather than pulling away, what if you tenderly stayed engaged, allowing your spouse to be seen and heard and allowing them to be tender to you? Rather than becoming critical, what if you tenderly reached for those hidden vulnerabilities and shared them?
When I think about what tenderness is, I feel a gentleness, quietness, softness. These all seem like perfect qualities to create safety and give space for healing. We need only look at the Holy Family as a witness to this tenderness. What ways can you be more tender to your spouse as we continue in Advent?