Enriching Relationships for a Lifetime   with Dr. Gary Oliver

Question

My mate’s heart is closed towards me, what can I do to open it?

Answer

Although we do not have control over the state of someone’s heart—whether it’s opened or closed; however, we can do several things to help foster the most ideal environment so that their heart is more likely to be open towards us.

When our mate has been hurt by us it usually results in what we call a “closed spirit.” The essence of what this means is that God created every person with three interrelated parts as well: spirit, soul and body. The body is our physical makeup, while the soul includes our mind, will, and emotions. Furthermore, the spirit is the innermost being, like the conscience; it's at this level that we have fellowship with one another.

Ideally, a couple will relate to each other on all three levels. Every one's body language is communicating openness; and they are free speak, think and feel—all of which communicates to the person's spirit. And with many positive exchanges, relationships grow deeper in those three areas. However, spouses can also offend each other’s spirit, resulting in a close spirit or heart.

After witnessing firsthand the devastation that hurt can produce in a marriage, we’ve realized that there four crucial attitudes that can help a person to open their closed heart.

1. Become soft and tender with the person. The first step is to become soft in your mind and spirit. Lower your voice and relax your facial expressions. This reflects honor and humility; and as Proverbs 15:1 suggests, “A gentle answer turns away anger...”

2. Understand, as much as possible, what your mate has endured. It's important to genuinely understand the pain your wife feels and how she has interpreted your offensive behavior. Ask for her interpretation of what occurred. The goal is to listen and understand what your mate is feeling—listen to and care about their heart. Resist defending yourself, lecturing, or questioning why she did or didn't do something.

3. Admit your wife has been wounded and admit any wrong in provoking that hurt. The third step is to take ownership of your offensive behavior. A wife feels valuable when she hears you admit your mistake, and sees that you understand how she feels. Sometimes this is all it takes to open a closed spirit.

4. Seek forgiveness—and wait for a response. The final step is to give your wife the opportunity to respond to your confession. Ask if she could find it in her heart to forgive you. You’ll know true restoration has occurred when forgiveness is granted and she allows you to touch her.

Anger and hurt restricts and binds us, tying us in internal knots. Forgiveness, on the other hand, sets us free from those bonds, untying the knots that hold us captive. The Lord Jesus gives us a powerful word picture of forgiveness in Luke 6:37, when He says, “Forgive, and you will be forgiven.” The word He uses for forgive in the original language literally means “to release fully, to unbind or to let go.” It is the only time in all the New Testament that this word is translated “forgive.” In every other instance, it means “release” or “free,” as when Lazarus exited the tomb, bound hand and foot in grave clothes, and Jesus said, “Unbind him, and let him go.”

But what if your mate refuses to forgive? If you have followed these four steps and your mate refuses to forgive you, there are several possible reasons. Perhaps the offense was deeper than you realized or she wants to see your behavior change first. Whatever the reason, the best thing is to be patient. No matter how he or she responds, never drop the issue altogether simply because he or she isn't ready to forgive you. Let the situation cool off for awhile, then come back and repeat the four steps.


Erin Smalley holds a license as a Labor and Delivery nurse and also has earned a Master’s degree in counseling psychology. Greg Smalley, Psy.D. is director of Marriage Ministries for the Center for Relationship Enrichment on the campus of John Brown University in Siloam Springs, Arkansas. Greg is the author or co-author of eight books concerning marriages and families. Visit Greg at www.liferelationships.com.

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How do I love my husband?

How do I love my wife?

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