Some people are naturally optimistic and some fall more toward the side of pessimism. It’s just the way they are wired. These perspectives seep into all aspects of life, and marriage is not exempt. Optimists see a bright future for the relationship with opportunities abounding. Pessimists on the other hand tend to focus on the many pitfalls they face as they encounter life over time. Neither type of person is necessarily more or less committed to their marriage, they just view the journey very differently.
One area where these perspectives really come into play is conflict. We see this a lot in couples that we coach. Conflict may be inevitable in a marriage, but it does not need to be frightening or destructive. Individuals that struggle with negativity tend to focus on the worst case scenario or on the most dire situation that has happened in their past.
Example of assuming the worst
Joe & Sue have been married for fifteen years. Joe struggled with pornography early in the marriage and it caused a lot of hurt and conflict in the relationship. Things finally came to a head when Sue threatened to leave if Joe didn’t give pornography completely. Through a lot of joint prayer and accountability, Joe was able to escape his addiction. It has been ten years since he visited a porn site. However, recently Joe was experiencing some struggles at work and that caused him to become emotionally distant while at home. This change in his demeanor reminded Sue of how he acted in the past when facing his earlier struggle. Rather than seeking to understand what was causing his mood change, she immediately assumed that he had lapsed back. She began creating a scenario in her head where she would confront him about his lustful problem, he would deny it and the deceit would inevitably cause them to separate or worse. The more she thought about it, the worse her perceived future became. By the time she actually spoke to Joe about the situation, she was resigned to marital failure.
From Joe’s perspective, these accusations were unfounded and coming out of the blue. He had a hard time defending himself since her mind was made up. He wanted to explain his situation at work and apologize for his emotional absence, but found it hard to get through her hysteria…
This may be an extreme example, but we see it played out to some degree in marriages quite frequently. One spouse or the other says or does something that triggers thoughts from the past in their partner. Rather than deal specifically with the issue at hand, old issues are brought up, accusations are made and the conflict escalates unnecessarily.
Next time you are faced with a situation like this, try not to assume the worst, attempt to give your partner the benefit of the doubt. Deal with the specific situation at hand, and try not to muddy the waters with past feelings or experiences. Shocking Marriages require grace, a lot of grace. Assuming the worst and jumping to conclusions is the exact opposite of grace. You may not be able to do this in your own strength, but you don’t have to. Pray and pray again. Ask God to give you wisdom and discernment as you work through the issue. Listen to your partner and truly understand their perspective. You may find that more often than not, the conflict is not nearly as bad as you had imagined it might be.
If you are struggling with this, you might consider marriage coaching. We have guided many couples successfully through this challenge. Reach out to us. We’d be happy to connect with you.