“Mr. Gorbachev, tear down this wall!” Twenty-five years ago President Ronald Reagan made this statement as part of a speech while in the shadows of the Berlin Wall. This wall separated communist-controlled East Berlin from democratic West Berlin. His words were not a threat, but an invitation. “If you seek peace, if you seek prosperity,” was the prelude to his invitation. In other words, we’re not going to tear down your wall, we will respect your wall. However, if you tear it down you’ll enjoy something that you’ll never regret.
I am often asked, “My spouse has built up a wall, how do I tear it down?” My answer is always the same. You don’t! If you take a pickaxe to the wall your spouse will build it thicker and higher. My suggestion? Throw a picnic just outside of the wall!
Walls are always about safety. If you start ripping down the wall your spouse will feel less safe. You may tell me that you’re the biggest teddy bear in the world, but if your spouse doesn’t feel safe, you aren’t going to make much progress.
So what’s the picnic? It’s something fun, peaceful, enjoyable, and friendly, without a high level of commitment. When your spouse joins the picnic, keep it light. Part of your spouse really longs to sit and enjoy the time. However, when your spouse’s fear gets triggered (and it will), it’s a race back behind the wall. Everything within you will scream, “Stop! Don’t run away!” And you’ll be tempted to hold on. Don’t do it. If you do, your spouse will be convinced that they weren’t safe at all. Then, your spouse will double their effort to stay behind the wall.
The next time your spouse is enjoying the picnic, then suddenly gets that panicked look and runs behind the wall—let go. When the door slams shut with the expectation you’ll try to ram it down—stay put. Your spouse will peek through the peephole and see you at the picnic, playing some music and throwing the Frisbee to the dog. Next time, your spouse will come out sooner, and stay out longer.
When you see your spouse’s wall, I encourage you to have the same message as President Reagan. “I will respect your wall, however if you come out, you’ll be glad you did.”
You can do this!