I checked my rearview mirror twice, and both side mirrors. Everything looked clear. I edged over to the next lane and was startled by the blaring horn from the car I was cutting off. Instantly I swerved back as the other car roared past, the driver giving me a bitter glare.

Even though I had been intentional about safety, I simply hadn’t seen the other car. It was in my blind spot — that area tucked in between the perspective of all my mirrors. Of course, if I had known the car was there, I would have stayed in my lane. But I didn’t know.

Acknowledge that we all have personal blind spots

Similarly, we all have blind spots — aspects of our personalities that we don’t know exist. They affect our performance, our success and our relationships. Because we’re unaware, we can’t do anything about them. Blind spots become the source of habits and patterns that leave us stuck. We can’t move forward or mature because something unknown is holding us back.

If you want to have a good marriage, you try to improve in every area possible. But if you don’t see your blind spots, they can hold you back from building a great relationship. After all, how can you fix something you don’t know about? However, if you see it, you can do something about it.

There are two ways to discover your blind spots:

  1. Wait until somebody honks at you.
  2. Look for blind spots intentionally.

The first option is more common. It’s also less effective. “Honking” often happens when your spouse has become frustrated and lets you know something you don’t see.

The second option of deliberately adjusting your personality mirrors is powerful, because it’s the foundation for personal relationship growth and change.

Seek the truth about your personal blind spots

So how do you figure out areas in which you need to grow if you can’t see them? Proverbs expresses the conundrum this way: “But who can know their own mistakes?” (Psalm 19:12, NIRV). The only way you’ll find your blind spots is if someone tells you about them.

Seeking feedback from your spouse might sound simple, but it can feel risky — for both of you:

  • You might be hesitant to ask because you don’t want to hear anything negative.
  • Your spouse might be afraid of hurting your feelings (if the feedback is negative), so he or she doesn’t share any observations.
  • When he or she has tried in the past, you’ve become defensive or made excuses.
  • It doesn’t feel safe if trust is low.
  • You haven’t taken action on things he or she has shared before.

These risks are especially present in marriage because the stakes are higher. If feedback isn’t well-received, the sharing spouse has to live with the discord that results. Sometimes it’s easier to just keep quiet.

The only way to get honest feedback is if you make it safe for your spouse to share. Here are some ideas to build an environment where honest dialogue can happen:

Recognise your personal weakness

It’s tough to recognise personal flaws. When you don’t see or admit to having them, you increase your chances of messing up. Accurately assessing your strengths and weaknesses is the best preventative for cutting into someone else’s relationship lane.

Trying to improve your relationship without examination (especially on your part) becomes a barrier to personal growth. It’s like a doctor writing a prescription without first doing a thorough exam.

Be intentional about seeking feedback

If you’re casual about asking for input, you’ll probably get a casual response. To get a well-thought-out response, plan your approach:

Pick a good time to ask your spouse about your personal blind spots
Don’t drop it into a heated discussion and don’t choose a time when either of you is distracted, hungry or tired.

Give your spouse advance notice of your intent
Say something like, “I’ve been thinking about something I’m doing where I feel stuck. Could we find some time to talk in the next couple of days?” If your spouse asks what it is, it’s OK to share the topic — but save the actual discussion for later: “Here’s what I’m thinking, but I want you to think about it for a while before we talk. I’ll do the same, so we can get together with our ideas. When would be a good time to connect?”

Be specific and singular
Don’t say, “So, am I doing OK?” Instead say, “When we get together with friends, I feel like people don’t listen to me. I want to know if there’s something I’m doing that I’m not aware of that might be shutting people down. I’d love to hear your perspective — can you think about that?” Make it a single issue, not an overall critique.

Listen without defensiveness
Don’t make excuses or give reasons for your actions, or your spouse won’t share anything else. Listen carefully without interrupting, explaining or minimising his or her words. Turn off the television and leave your phone in another room as a signal that you’re completely focused. Only ask questions to clarify what your spouse has said, since your goal is to understand. Maintain good eye contact. You might even take notes: “What you’re saying is really important to me, so I want to capture it so I can think more about it later.” You don’t have to agree with everything your spouse says, but this isn’t the time to disagree. It’s a time to understand.

Schedule your response
This conversation will be a lot stronger if you can listen without sharing your immediate responses. Thank your spouse for what he or she has shared and agree to come back together after you’ve had a chance to process. “This is so interesting, because you’re telling me things I hadn’t recognised. Let me sit on this for a couple of days to think through it and I’ll share my thoughts then, OK?” If you can do that, you’ve set the stage for future input because you’ve made it safe — and shown that you value your spouse’s perspective on your personal blind spots.

Take action
After you’ve explored your personal blind spot, decide on one simple step you could take to change. If you take action, your spouse will keep sharing.

Adjust your personal “mirrors” to improve your marriage

Scripture says, “Faithful are the wounds of a friend” (Proverbs 27:6). Your spouse can be a mirror, showing you something you don’t know. It’s not his or her job to fix you — it’s yours. Your spouse’s job is simply to reflect as accurately as possible what he or she sees.

Explore this process with your spouse; then try it out. You’ll create a place of safety for growing together and make it something you look forward to. No one else knows you the way your spouse does, so communicating with each other to discover personal blind spots and work on them can change your relationship.

© 2019 Mike Bechtle. All rights reserved. Used with permission. Originally published at focusonthefamily.com.

Mike Bechtle

Dr. Mike Bechtle is a sought-after speaker and the author of "People Can’t Drive You Crazy If You Don’t Give Them the Keys," "I Wish He Had Come With Instructions" and "Dealing With the Elephant in the Room: Moving from tough conversations to healthy communication."

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