Ep. 43: Emotional Safety in Marriage w/ Dr. Matt Townsend

 

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Summary

Emotional safety is the security that I can share what is in my heart with my partner. Every relationship needs that, but perhaps none more than in the relationship of special needs parents. So much is asked of us, and there is often grief to work through. Being able to feel safe in sharing the deepest, darkest places of our hearts is critical.

In our conversation, Dr. Matt Townsend teaches us about emotional safety, and how to improve it if your partner is prone to shutting down and detaching when emotions are high. He explains the why of detachment and how we can respectfully help our spouse feel emotionally safe with us, and in return give us the emotional safety we long for.

This episode is full of advice for nurturing our relationships and mastering the art of communication.

My Thoughts

Statistics can be a powerful thing.

When we found out Kimball’s body had issues at our 20-week ultrasound, there was a lot to process. So many images and memories came rushing back of every special needs parent I had ever encountered. They suddenly seemed significant and foreshadowing to this end, as if my life had suddenly become an tragic novel. Along with the memories of people came a memory of a piece of information that, until that point, had seemed irrelevant to me: parents of special needs children are more likely to divorce.

I have no idea where I heard that, but it was something I took note of and logged away so I could focus on more pressing matters, like whether the risks of an amniocentesis would be outweighed by the benefits or not.

As time went on and we endured hellish times, I remembered that statistic. The one that says I not only have to worry about keeping my son alive, but my marriage too.

And it made sense to me.

As is the case for most parents, Juston and I were simultaneously grieving, but in different ways.

We were juggling the endless appointments and medical issues with being a family. Our daughter Wendy has struggled immensely with Kimball’s needs; life has had thrilling moments of joy and peace, but it has been far from easy.

It only made sense to me that couples could easily drift apart under that kind of pressure.

There were certainly times Juston and I were more distant or snappy with each other, but more often than not, we had each other’s backs. I opened up—and melted down—often about the weight of everything and the deep sadness that I felt for our children.

And Juston listened.

He listened and he held me and encouraged me. I knew we could get through anything with each other for allies.

I felt so heard. I felt so carried. I felt so safe.

It was interesting to me as I started interviewing other parents for The Rare Life and discovered that our marriage wasn’t the only one that had actually become closer and stronger because of our son’s extra needs (like in Episode 2: The Story of William). I was intrigued.

Fast forward to my preparation for this episode on marriage.

I knew it was a must-have in Season 3 because of the theme—the way our relationships are affected by our children. And I wanted an exceptional guest to teach us. And I truly lucked out in that department.

After attending a virtual parent conference for parents of children with deaf-blindness, where the Dr. Matt Townsend was the guest presenter. He had us laughing and learning, and despite it being held via Zoom because of COVID, it was a night to remember. We left inspired and uplifted.

Knowing it was a longshot, I decided to ask him to be that exceptional guest for the episode on marriage. And to my utter surprise and delight, he agreed.

As I formulated an outline for our conversation, I decided I wanted to focus on the statistic that had haunted me from day 1, and the influence they have on us.

So naturally, I set out to research the study that substantiated the statistic.

Only, there wasn’t any to be found.

According to article after article, the statistic was a rumor. Not only were there no studies indicating this—that 80% of parents with a special needs child divorce—but there was even a study disproving it, showing only a mere 2% increase.

I was totally floored.

What?

The statistic I had held onto for so long wasn’t even real? It’s not even accurate? Why didn’t I verify this earlier?

And I knew I can’t be the only one that held onto it as a perceived fact.

So, I switched gears. One of the 7 basic needs for healthy relationships outlined in Dr. Matt Townsend’s book Starved Stuff, is emotional safety. It’s the safety to share what’s in our hearts with our partner.

In my personal experience, that has been the key to thriving in a marriage full of challenges.

Because if we feel safe and secure in opening up with our partner and are well-received, then that relationship can be hugely strengthening and therefore be an invaluable resource.

In our conversation, Dr. Matt Townsend teaches us about emotional safety, and how to improve it if your partner is prone to shutting down and detaching when emotions are high. He explains the why of detachment and how we can respectfully help them feel emotionally safe with us, and in return give us the emotional safety we long for.

This episode is full of advice for nurturing our relationships and mastering our communication within them.

So that statistic? The false one that made me work harder to keep my marriage strong? Maybe it wasn’t so bad.

Maybe it was just what I needed.

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