Editor's Note: Do you need sound, Biblically-based advice on an issue in your marriage or family? Dr. David Hawkins, director of the Marriage Recovery Center, will address questions from Crosswalk readers in his weekly column. Submit your question to TheRelationshipDoctor@gmail.com.
Your husband comes in the door after work and automatically flings his coat on the back of the chair. He offers a quick “hello” and plops down in his easy chair. You have a few seconds to react—or act!
Do you say something about his jacket, reminding him for the umpteenth time that you don’t want to have to pick up after him, that you’re not his mother, and that you find his actions to be discourteous and irritating?
Do you hold your tongue, choosing instead to grouse around the entire evening, letting him know indirectly that you’re furious?
Or, do you take a breath, take a moment to collect your thoughts, and choose instead to go over to him, plopping down next to him, asking him about his day?
If you’re like most people, you’ll choose options one or two. If you do, however, you’ll be reacting instead of acting. You’ll likely set a negative tone for the entire evening, and certainly won’t advance your cause. He’ll likely bite back and the war will be on.
“But, I have a right to be angry,” you protest. “It wasn’t me that started the fight. He did when he threw his coat over the chair, expecting me to pick it up.”
Partly true. He did act irresponsibly by throwing his coat on the chair. You would be enabling his irresponsibility if you ignored this behavior indefinitely or continued picking up after him.
But, is this the right time, place and way to confront him? Might it be better to set a positive tone for the evening, discussing his coat with him later?
Daniel Goleman, in his book Emotional Intelligence, makes a very interesting observation, saying emotions are contagious. In other words, each of us has the power to set a tone for our home. If we react harshly, in all likelihood our mate will respond harshly. Conversely, if we act positively and respectfully to our mate, chances are very good they will respond respectfully back to us.
Too many couples get caught up in acting the same way, day in and day out. At The Marriage Recovery Center we teach couples how to interrupt destructive patterns, choosing instead to act in creatively positive ways.
Let’s look closely at this letter I received recently.
Dear Dr. David: My husband and I tend to argue over the smallest things. We overreact to the tone of our mate’s voice, the tiniest things they say and even the way we look at each other. We are overly sensitive and know it, but aren’t sure what to do about it. We fight all the time, and after the fight is over, we scratch our heads at how stupid the things are that we fight about.
My husband and I love each other and want to be less sensitive, but we’re not sure where to begin. I keep waiting for him to change, and I know he’s waiting for me to change. I’m sure you’re going to say that change begins with each of us. Do you have any other suggestions? -Over Reacting
Dear Over Reacting,
You’re on the right track. You’re aware you and your husband are fighting over ridiculous things. You notice that small things become large, and you’ve lost the ability to keep things in perspective. Let me offer a few more tools.
Take time to choose what you argue about. If you’ll stop, look and listen before engaging in an argument, chances are you’ll choose not to have the argument. Little is worth arguing over.
Change your mind. You both need a change of mindset. Instead of noticing what your mate isn’t doing for you, start noticing what they are doing. In other words, catch each other doing things right.
Choose when, where and how you will have conflict. Don’t drift into conflict. Make a time to have any kind of heated discussion. Create rules for engaging in conflict, and then stick to them.
Expect your mate to be positive with you, just as you are positive with him. Make an agreement to infuse your marriage with positivity. Create a Mutual Admiration Society, where you appreciate all that he is doing for you, and expect that he will notice all you’re doing for him.
Remember why your husband fell in love with you and amplify those traits. Yes, you read right. Remember why he fell in love with you and set out to amplify those traits within yourself. If he fell in love with those traits once, he’ll do it again.
We have the power, with God’s grace, to transform our marriages. However, it takes a change of mind. The Scriptures tell us to “Be transformed by the renewing of your mind,” (Romans 12:2) and that is what is needed in our marriages today.
I’d love to hear from you about these strategies for bringing out the best in your mate. Share your opinion or send a confidential note to me at TheRelationshipDoctor@Gmail.com and read more about The Marriage Recovery Center on my website.
Dr. David Hawkins is the director of the Marriage Recovery Center where he counsels couples in distress. He is the author of over 30 books, including Dealing With the CrazyMakers in Your Life, 90 Days to a Fantastic Marriage, and When Pleasing Others is Hurting You. Dr. Hawkins grew up in the beautiful Pacific Northwest and lives with his wife on the South Puget Sound where he enjoys sailing, biking, and skiing. He has active practices in two Washington cities. You can also find Dr. Hawkins on Facebook and Twitter.
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