“It’s like I’m talking to a wall!” Perhaps you’ve said this after a conversation you’ve had with someone you love. Perhaps it’s something others have said about you. It’s one of the most common communication complaints, and the wall may continue to grow if we aren’t proactively assessing what’s going on.
When you think about “bringing down walls,” you may envision a demolition site— a scene with a giant wrecking ball ready to destroy everything in its path. In reality, bringing down emotional walls is more like working at an archaeological site— a quieter, more organized scene with the goal of preserving what has been hidden. You’ll need a plan, the right tools, and most importantly a gentle approach. You’ll need to proceed with caution, carefully distinguishing trash from the important artifacts which can shed light on important past events.
The Walls: Mine, Yours, and Ours
Mine. We started building our walls a long time ago to protect ourselves from the things that hurt the most. At the time, our walls protected us from pain, but now they may also be barriers to intimacy. If you are interested in bringing down your walls, you can start now!
- Figure out what it looks like when your walls go up. [Do I shut down? Get angry? Walk away and avoid talking about it?]
- Figure out your triggers. [Being yelled at? Being ignored? Feeling out of control?]
- Consider when you learned to build the walls. [Is there trauma in my past? Do I have a history of abuse? Did someone teach me that being vulnerable is a weakness?]
Individual counseling can be a wonderful place to explore these patterns and past experiences. Learning about your triggers can open you to learning new ways to respond in wisdom. Once we know more about ourselves, we can determine which relationships are safe enough to practice bringing down these walls.
Yours. We can neither force others to bring down their walls nor control whether they choose to respond in healthier ways. However, there are things we can do to foster safety and vulnerability which may encourage our significant others to bring down their walls. It is not helpful to use triggers to manipulate or control a situation, but knowing motives and past patterns can be empowering. Once your spouse has shared his/her triggers and willingness to try to respond differently, be sensitive. These kinds of changes do not happen overnight. If you are with a woman who is triggered by feeling ignored, consider planning to have serious conversations in a room without a television or other distractions. If you are with a man who is triggered by feeling patronized, consider choosing respectful language and using reflective listening techniques. We are each responsible for our own reactions to triggers, but it sure is helpful to have grace and support in the process! James 1:19 reminds us that, “everyone should be quick to listen, slow to speak, and slow to become angry,” and I think these things are particularly important when another person is practicing genuine vulnerability. Remember to be like an archaeologist, not a wrecking ball.
Ours. Ultimately, bringing down the walls in a relationship depends on truth, safety, vulnerability, grace, and unity. When we feel safe in our relationships, we can be unified in truth and grace. Reflective listening is a wonderful way to listen, share, and connect. Couples counseling can be a safe place for both of you to share your discoveries, be heard, and establish new patterns!
In my past discussion on forgiveness, I shared that strict boundaries can be necessary at times (especially to protect from abuse, addiction, etc.). Although this blog post is intended to encourage people to bring down some of their walls, I encourage you to speak with your counselor about what is best for your situation.