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.
Sandy and Jake arrived at The Marriage Recovery Center at dusk after flying halfway across country and then driving another two hours through unfamiliar territory. Jake greeted me with a firm handshake that shook my body.
“Great to see you,” Jake said as he turned from unloading his suitcase out of the car. “Looks like a great place.”
“Glad to see you found it okay,” I responded. “Any problems getting here?” I asked.
“Nah,” he said enthusiastically. “Piece of cake.”
I turned to greet Sandy who was much more reserved.
“How are you, Sandy?” I asked.
“Fine,” she said, though her eyes suggested something different. “A little tired.”
“Well, let me show you to your cottage and then you can come up to the house when you’ve settled in.”
Jake chatted breezily while Sandy walked quietly behind. I slowed to include her in our conversation.
“I’ll see you upstairs after you get settled,” I said again.
Going upstairs to where we would be meeting I remembered the phone conversations I had with them over the past month leading up to this Intensive. Jake had been adamant about coming to counseling. He wanted change, and if things didn’t change he was ready to end their marriage. Sandy, although quieter and more withdrawn was reluctant about anything being able to save their marriage. She was ready to end things and in fact had secretly contacted an attorney to explore what would happen if she separated.
While Jake felt discouraged with their endless squabbling, he believed if Sandy could learn to be more assertive their problems would be over. He had outlined the character traits he wanted changed in her and came with the belief that we would focus primarily on her and get her to be more honest and forthcoming with him.
Though different in personality style, both Sandy and Jake saw their marriage being in serious trouble. In our opening session I asked how they felt about coming to this Marriage Intensive.
“We had to do it,” Jake jumped in. “I’m not going to live with this stuff anymore,” he said, looking over at Sandy.
“What stuff?” I asked.
“Well,” he said, pausing again. “I don’t know if we want to dive into things tonight or wait until tomorrow.”
“Why don’t you give me just a hint of how you are coming to this Intensive. What do you want to get out of this weekend?”
“I have got to have honesty,” he said emphatically. “I’ve got to have better communication. I can’t have her fighting me on everything. If I could get those things I’d be really happy.”
“Okay,” I said. “What about you, Sandy?”
“I’m pretty discouraged,” Sandy admitted. “I feel bowled over by Jake, and I’m really not sure how much can be done. We’ve been to three other counselors and ...”
“Not really,” Jake interrupted. “You wouldn’t keep going to Dr. Tipper,” he said.
“Because you kept pointing the finger of blame at me,” she said.
“Because you wouldn’t tell him the truth,” Jake snapped.
“Hold it folks,” I said. “Jake, you interrupted her. Does that happen very often?”
“Interrupted? ” he said. “Oh, I don’t think so, but you’ll have to ask her.”
“It happens all the time,” she said softly. “That’s what makes me feel like I’m going crazy. I don’t know what I think anymore, and I sure don’t know what to think about our marriage.”
Our evening session was short as they had flown a long ways to get here and were clearly tired. Still, this opening session showed me some of the dynamics that had caused both to be weary of their relationship—the way they interacted, to be exact. Both were ready to give up.
What happened the next day, however, was incredible, and something I see happen with couples all the time. While Jake came ready to prove Sandy was the entire problem, she gradually learned to speak up and share how she felt. She was able to reveal to Jake that she had contacted an attorney out of sheer frustration, and rather than act out of anger—which was typical for him—he allowed himself to feel sad and hurt. They made real contact for the first time in a long time.
We agreed together on several guiding principles that revolutionized their interactions and set them on a positive course in their marriage.
First, commit to being in this together and to working it out, no matter what it takes. While Sandy and Jake had tried stints at marriage counseling, and were understandably discouraged, they had never committed to depth counseling where their troubled interactions could be analyzed. Superficial interventions always lead to superficial results.
Second, be humble, open and willing. Jake came with a very resistive heart, though surprisingly his attitude changed dramatically the first day. A strong, committed Christian, he knew that he had to be willing to look at his own heart and motives, and proved courageous in doing so. Seeing this, Sandy’s heart softened toward him.
Third, speak from your most vulnerable self. Sandy and Jake had become accustomed to speaking to each other from their angry, hurt selves. They were protective and secretive, angry and accusatory. Learning to speak from their ‘wounded Self’ allowed them to make real contact with each other.
Fourth, be compassionate and reconciling with each other. Being committed to solving problems and seeing the other as wounded and hurt, they were able to generate compassion for each other. We read the Scripture, “Finally, all of you, live in harmony with one another; be sympathetic, love as brothers, be compassionate and humble” (I Peter 3: 8).
Fifth, sometimes a small change can make a radical difference. Just when couples think there is no hope, practicing some fairly simple tools can cut the tension, increase the connection and bring monumental hope. Such was the case for Jake and Sandy and occurs for most couples I work with.
Finally, seek to fully understand your mate. As Jake put down his self-righteous attitude, apologizing for his arrogance, Sandy began to feel safe in drawing close to him again. They both sought to understand each other, with Sandy learning to speak clearly and assertively. Both learned how to work together to solve problems and create intimacy.
As the weekend progressed, both Sandy and Jake were tired from the work, but pleasantly surprised. By the end of the weekend it was hard to believe that just days earlier they both had considered ending their marriage and now were feeling closer than ever. “We almost gave up too soon,” they said. Over three days, they let go of their hostility and learned to risk being vulnerable with each other. Being open to learning about healthy boundaries, compassionate understanding and developing effective problem-solving had changed their relationship dramatically.
Have you been ready to give up on your marriage? Getting along is easier than you think. Please read more about these issues in my book, When Pleasing Others is Hurting You and explore more about my Marriage Intensives and Wildfire Marriage Interventions at www.MarriageRecoveryCenter.com.
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