Fortunately, I’ve not been ignoring my marriage like I have been this blog. In terms of my marriage, things have been good. But it seems like we’re surrounded by those whose relationships are in dire trouble.
It’s tough being around / counseling (term used loosely) / advising couples that are facing deep issues. I’m not a trained therapist, I just know what has worked in my marriage of almost 32 years, so people seem to seek my wife and I out when they are in trouble. My guess is they are coming too late. By the time they talk with us, they have already tried and abandoned counseling and have dug their heels in so hard that its hard to hear an outside opinion. What I find most troubling is that I can often still see that these couples are still in love (at some level). But they’ve built up walls so high and so thick that they can no longer see their partner for who they are. All they seem to see are the problems and issues that they have painted them with. “You’re no longer the man I love, you are the man that lied to me.” Or, “you are the woman that insists on controlling me.”
Here’s the thing. It’s not that either side is “wrong”, but the priority that is placed on the problem becomes absolute. In many cases (certainly not in all), it just seems like the couple needs a “time-out” so they can calm down and begin to recollect what it was that caused them to fall in love in the first place. I think many separate for this alleged reason, but that seldom seems to work. Even if they have begun to rekindle in their minds that attraction that once was, they have a hair trigger that when pushed by their partner sends them right back into a state of animosity.
My wife and I have certainly fought over the course of our marriage. Some arguments have been much more severe than others. Just like the couples I was describing before, we begin to paint each other with a “veneer of fault and badness”. And while in the midst of the conflict that veneer becomes more and more visible. Before long, it seems to be all we can see.
But here’s the difference. Early in our marriage we made an agreement that divorce would never be an option (though my wife points out that infidelity is a loophole that she will use in a heartbeat if I ever cheat on her). It’s a rule we’ve held onto fiercely. The beauty is that even when we are in the worst of frays, deep down we know we will work through it and in time all will work out. Sometimes it takes moments, and sometimes it takes days. But we know that with the appropriate amount of time (and prayer), we will begin to see the situation in the bigger context of what we truly have. The veneer begins to chip away and we begin to see each other as the actual person that we have loved for a really long time. When that happens, anger transforms into gratitude as we realize what a blessing our spouse truly is.
If you’ve not done so already, talk with your spouse about this (at a time of peace, not conflict). Make a commitment that each of you is in your marriage for the long run. Acknowledge that you will face inevitable stress, but assure each other that you will take the long-term perspective and not let the individual arguments start to build and destroy. Trust me. That will go a long way the next time you find yourself in a dispute.
Amen! After 18 years of marriage, we are still a work in progress. I just finished reading a great new book that, among other things, addresses conflict, respect and honoring our spouse and being responsible for our own actions, as wives, but that translates to husbands, too. It focuses on effectively influencing our marriages in a positive way by changing what we can – ourselves – our attitudes, actions, decision, priorities and words. It’s called “The Wholehearted Wife: 10 Keys to a More Loving Relationship,” by Erin, Greg and Gary Smalley. Biblical, inspirational, affirming. One of my favorite quotes is, “If you want to have a more loving relationship with your husband, remember that he’s a gift from God, a treasured possession – just as you are. As a Wholehearted wife, seek to honor him each day by cherishing him and affirming his value. Treat him like a Stradivarius!” I highly recommend it!