“Our relationship just keeps rocking and reeling,” Samantha complained during a recent Marriage Intensive. “It seems like we can’t get beyond one crisis before we’re into another.”
Samantha and Brian had only been married for five years, yet they had struggled from the start.
She looked at me with piercing eyes, annoyed that she had to be fighting for peace in their relationship.
“It shouldn’t be like this,” she complained. “We go from one issue to another.”
Brian sat looking at his wife, then back at me, seeming to be somewhat detached.
“I don’t get this,” he said. “I don’t know why everything has to be a big deal. I’m good to not talk about issues, but she has to dig into everything.”
“I’m not going to just sweep things under the rug, Brian,” she said with disdain. “I’m going to talk about things even if you refuse to until one day I’ll quit talking completely. Then we’ll see how you like that.”
“That sounds like a threat,” Brian replied angrily. “See what she does?”
“Hold it folks,” I intervened. “There’s a way to get both of your needs met here. Brian, you seem to value peace while Samantha values talking things through. The pattern you’re using now, however, creates ongoing instability in your marriage. Nothing ever gets settled. There’s a way to create stability in your marriage that will hold you two together, deal with issues, and yet not create instability.”
With that I shared some tools that are valuable in creating stability in your relationship.
First, agree that you have issues that must be addressed. There is no benefit to living in denial about issues. Issues don’t go away. Sweeping them under the rug is of no benefit, as they will always surface again later. In fact, sweeping them under the rug usually only creates more intensity when they do re-surface.
The exception to this guideline is if the offense is small enough that you can overlook it without holding onto any bitterness. Scripture tells us “A man’s wisdom gives him patience; it is to his glory to overlook an offense” (Proverbs 19:11). Generally, issues need to be confronted.
Second, agree to contain the conflict. After agreeing that you have issues, agree to sort them out together. Rather than dealing with them all at once, agree to sort through them, much like pulling paper clips out of a box. If you have trouble doing this alone, meet with your pastor or skilled counselor who will help untangle issues.
Third, agree to deal with only one issue at a time. Agree that there will be a ‘speaker’ and a ‘listener.’ Of course it can never work if two people are speaking at the same time, or if two people are talking about multiple issues at the same time. You must talk about issues in an orderly manner.
Fourth, agree to put some issues on hold. There are times when issues become so hot, or so overwhelming, that you must put them in a container. You must wait until you are in an emotional space where you can talk to your mate with respect and kind attention (Problems are never solved when we are angry, irritable or contentious).
Finally, agree to collaborate until you arrive at agreements. When you share from a caring place, you reach agreements. When you truly care about your mate’s needs as much as your own you want to find solutions to problems. When you are concerned with your mate’s well-being you listen intently and reach agreement to even the thorniest of problems. Doing so creates confidence that you will be able to navigate your next issue, which is sure to come.
Share your feedback or send a confidential note to me at TheRelationshipDoctor@Gmail.com 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 troubled marriage, codependency and affair-proofing your marriage. Please feel free to call for a free, twenty-minute consultation.
Publication date: December 4, 2012
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