Tell your spouse what you don’t want to do to him or her.
I got this idea from a man who was telling a story about how he had said a really mean thing to his wife a couple days prior. It really hurt her. At some point after the incident, he had to leave to go to work or run and errand. The silence was awkward and hurtful. It isn’t that he wanted to continue to hurt her with silence, but shame had crept in and so he withdrew.
At some point during his drive, something changed in his heart and he knew what he needed – even wanted – to do. He called her up on his cell phone and said, “Wife, I don’t want to do that. That’s not want I want to do to you.”
I’m pretty certain that he drove home later to a woman who was willing to enter and engage with him because he had provided her with the safety of a repentant heart that had a real desire to do good to her and willing to admit when he hadn’t.
I have kept this story and this statement of his in my mind. I tell my wife often about the things I don’t want to do to her – sometimes after the fact but sometimes even before they happen, as a way to actually prevent them from happening when I am tempted to do so. This is one way to create a sense of safety in a relationship.