I listened very carefully as Gina, a thirty-year old woman, heavy set and with a broad smile, recounted her efforts to bring about change in her marriage. She and her husband, Thad, also a fairly large man, though more reserved, had come to The Marriage Recovery Center after efforts at local, weekly counseling had failed.
Gina looked at me, and with heightened emotion and piercing voice exclaimed, “I’ve already held him accountable and he keeps losing his temper. I’m not going to parent him. There’s nothing more I can do, so I just withdraw.”
Thad was obviously hurt by her words—that she felt ‘parental’ with him; that she hated his temper; that she withdrew rather than face his temper. Clearly this couple had all the markings of a relationship heading downhill, and at this pace, would disintegrate if something different didn’t happen.
“I want to get this straight,” I said, looking at both of them during one of our initial three-hour Intensives. “Gina, how again do you hold Thad accountable for change?”
“I don’t let him get away with it,” she said proudly. “If he loses his temper, or begins to talk loudly to me alone or in front of others, I walk away.”
“And then what happens?” I asked.
“What do you mean?” she responded, becoming a bit more agitated.
“I just mean what happens next?”
“I walk away, go and watch TV while he goes to his computer. We avoid each other for the next day or so and then life goes back to normal until it happens again.”
“Aha,” I said. “So you really don’t hold him accountable. You do both withdraw from each other, and you both do know that each other is upset, but that’s about it. You’ve both become desensitized to these events in your marriage and so it’s uncomfortable, but not that big a deal.”
Gina was visibly troubled by my words. I attempted to reassure her.
“Please don’t think I’m making fun of you or being sarcastic,” I said. “It just seems to me that you have accommodated to each other, and that your temper outbursts, Thad, have become so familiar that you’ve found ways to adjust. But, adjusting and accommodating are ways to cope, not to really change anything.”
Both were silent, looking intently at each other. Gina began taking notes while Thad watched.
“I guess I’m still not getting it,” Gina said. “You talk about accountability, but I can’t make him change.”
“No, of course not,” I replied. “But you can agree that there will be certain consequences and more important, certain reparations that must be made in order to restore the relationship. You can insist that Thad take responsibility for this issue and seek depth help.”
These concepts seemed foreign to Thad and Gina, and are to most couples coming to The Marriage Recovery Center. Let me outline them here, encouraging you to incorporate them into your marriage.
First, complaining is not confronting. Complaining about another’s behavior is not the same as confrontation, and certainly is not the same as holding someone accountable. Complaining is just that—complaining. Unfortunately, if your mate is familiar with your complaining, it will have little to no real impact.
Second, complaining is irritating and corrosive. If complaining has any effect, it’s effect is one of negatively corroding the bond between you and your mate. Complaining, and idle threats, do not change behavior.
Third, for real change to occur you must accurately and honestly talk about the problem. For many couples like Gina and Thad, they talk about issues in ‘spikes.’ They fight, withdraw and then slip back into normalcy, onto to repeat the pattern again and again. This is not honest, severe confrontation.
Fourth, when you reach the point of having a ‘severe confrontation,’ this will naturally lead to conviction and then consequences. A ‘severe confrontation’ indicates that at least one partner refuses to continue enabling a destructive process. At least one partner refuses to stop colluding (winking) at a destructive process.
Scripture encourages us to ‘change our minds.’ “Do not conform any longer to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is—his good, pleasing and perfect will” (Romans 12:2).
Finally, accountability means you will act differently in the face of violated promises. You will not slip back into ‘normalcy,’ which reinforces the troubling behavior, but will insist on depth change. You will expect, as Scripture supports, restitution and restoration for violations to your personhood. You expect change. You expect honorable, mature behavior that is pleasing to God. Firm boundaries and expectations will encourage growth—and that is healing and life-giving to any relationship.
Interestingly, Thad welcomed this change after initial resistance. He could see the value of being held accountable, and wanted the same interaction with Gina. He didn’t want her to enable his immature temper tantrums. This change brought about much healing in their relationship.
Share your feedback or send a confidential note to me at firstname.lastname@example.org and read more about The Marriage Recovery Center on my website www.MarriageRecoveryCenter.com and YourRelationshipDoctor.com. You’ll find videos and podcasts on saving a sexual addiction, emotionally destructive marriages, codependency and affair-proofing your marriage. Please feel free to request a free, twenty-minute consultation.
Publication date: February 11, 2013
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