What IS the elephant in the room? What is that topic that, once broached, leaves the atmosphere feeling heavy and tense? What is it that became a pivotal moment or touchy subject in your marriage? If I were asking you and your spouse these questions in person, what thoughts would immediately cross your minds as you either glanced at each other, hoping the other person would bring it up or look the other way, hoping they wouldn’t?
Maybe you don’t have a huge elephant. Maybe it’s as simple as that repeated argument about the dishes or your method of making the bed. Maybe, though, it’s something much bigger. The affair. The secret. The miscarriage or child that died. The infertility. The difference in life goals. The devastating words spoken out of anger. The once-spoken threat of divorce. Some elephants are huge; especially when they’ve been allowed to grow through a lack of address. Baby elephants do grow, after all.
Sometimes, one person may see an elephant when the other thinks a matter has been settled. How do you know? Or, if you know there is an elephant, how do you bring it up?
3 Signs there Might be an Elephant
1. If there is significant defensiveness. Often, defensive attitudes mask hurt feelings or anxiety.
2. Avoidance. If there is a significant change in communication or even just spending increased time away from one another. (If avoidance is simply due to being busy/distracted, challenge yourselves to make time together a priority!)
3. Irritability/Anger. If the floors seem to be made of eggshells… something has probably not been resolved, whether it is personal or related to the relationship.
It is important to note that there may be other causes of the above “signs,” but if they are there, it is a good idea to address them.
The next question is how TO address them.
- ALWAYS begin with prayer. It helps put you in the right mindset and it’s always a good idea to ask for God’s peace, wisdom and guidance when facing something potentially difficult!
- “Hey, do you have a minute? I have something I want to talk to you about.” Avoid ambush. Find a time that is best for both of you.
- Start by sharing how YOU feel. Don’t attack (telling your spouse things like “You’re so grouchy! what’s wrong with you??” probably isn’t going to pave the way to good communication, but “I’ve been feeling pretty tense lately because I’ve noticed that you seem more on edge and I’m not sure what’s going on” may work a little better, for example).
- Don’t be afraid to seek the help of a professional counselor or minister. Having a neutral third party who is likely to be more objective can often prove very valuable!
- Asking your spouse to begin in prayer WITH you would also be ideal. Praying together for peace, wisdom, and guidance can help take down an elephant any time.
Remember the old question, “How do you eat an elephant?”
One bite at a time. The elephant didn’t grow over night, so don’t expect it to move out over night. The idea is to call it out so you can open communication and begin the healing process. Elephants like that don’t make good home decor.
Keri Kitchen is a devoted wife and mother, blogger, author of Love Isn’t Selfish, licensed mental health counselor, and founder of The Carys Rainn Foundation. To read more about what God is doing in her life, visit her blog at www.aftertherainn.com