It was yet another tearful farewell to a couple leaving The Marriage Recovery Center. While it was a joyful parting, their entry into work at the Center was not nearly as gentle and compassionate.
Lily and Jerry had come to the Center days earlier, “hours away from divorce.” Their detached, hostile attitude toward each other reflected the truth of that statement. Barely speaking, I could sense I had my work cut out for me.
Married for only five years, both were in their early fifties, having each been married previously. Lily had, to her embarrassment, actually been married twice before, “but the first one doesn’t count since it was only for a few years.”
After preliminary greetings, I asked each to tell their story and why they were coming to the Center.
“We have hardly talked to each other,” Lily said, brushing her soft brown hair from her eyes. She seemed cool and detached.
“How long have things been like this?” I asked.
“Years,” she said firmly.
I wasn’t sure I had heard her correctly, and decided to ask my question again.
“No,” I said. “How long have you two hardly been talking?”
“She’s right,” Jerry said sharply. “It’s been like this for years.”
While I have worked with hundreds of couples, most have spent much time fighting, bickering and failing to resolve problems. To not talk to each other for years was unusual.
“Do you really mean you don’t talk to each other at all?” I asked.
“We talk to each other about business,” Lily said, her hurt and resentment dripping from her words. “But we don’t talk about anything personal. That stopped a long time ago.”
I’d seen something like this many times before, though not to this extreme. Hurting people hurt people. Resentment grows, clouding people’s way to each other. Barriers replace bridges. Stone walls replace stepping stones.
We began our work, sharing wounds, nudging taking responsibility from stony hearts. Two steps forward, one back. Two steps back, one forward. I began to wonder how this was going to work out.
Their work hit a major wall the morning of the second day when Lily said something that offended Jerry, and he let out a tirade of epithets. Though espousing Christian beliefs, his language was abusive and harsh.
“Jerry,” I said firmly. “You cannot talk to Lily that way. You cannot act this way and remain working with me at the Center. You must share your thoughts and feelings in a respectful way or take a time out.”
He left the room abruptly.
Lily began crying, understandably shaken.
“I can’t live like this anymore,” she said.
“Of course not,” I affirmed. “That was abusive and cannot be tolerated.” Jerry remained gone for half an hour while Lily and I planned how we would respond.
When Jerry came back he had changed. He was softer, embarrassed and ashamed of his actions.
“I’m terribly sorry for my actions,” he said tearfully. “I have no excuse and am ashamed of my actions.”
I have found that it is critical to hold people responsible for their actions. This is not to rub their nose in their offenses, but to see it squarely for what it is and an expectation of remorse that leads to change. Scripture says, “Godly sorrow brings repentance that leads to salvation” (II Corinthians 7:10).
Jerry seemed to be sorry. A dam had burst and with it had come hurtful venom. As we held him firmly responsible, however, he realized that Lily would not tolerate such behavior. He realized that to move forward he must take responsibility for this eruption and the resentment he had been harboring. To his credit, he did just that.
I spent the next hour talking to Jerry alone. I listened to his aching pain from an abusive childhood. I listened as he shared of his rejection in his first marriage and current unbearable loneliness in his marriage. He cried and let loose a mountain of pain.
He was now ready to really work with Lily. Here are some insights from his work that may help you as well.
First, silence solves nothing. In fact, silence tends to make matters worse. This is not to say that brief ‘time outs’ are not helpful, because they can be used effectively to take the heat out of a situation. But prolonged silence only worsens a matter. Stony silences are usually fueled by pride—this will not serve you or your relationship.
Second, prolonged silence tends to lead to brooding resentment. If we are not using the time constructively to work on our issues, we tend to rehearse perceived slights. We ‘play the victim,’ thinking the worst about our mate. This brooding leads to bad moods, something I call ‘temporary insanity.’ Rather than being marked by insight and healthy reflection, brooding resentment leads to further distortion and distance.
Third, we must communicate. Healthy couples talk—they share their hearts, not their attitudes. They listen and acknowledge truths spoken by their mates. Not only do they talk, but they talk effectively, caringly and compassionately. They share their feelings in a healthy format, listening to their mate and solving problems. They don’t regurgitate old matters, but rather collaborate to bring resolution to a situation.
Fourth, both must bring a healthy dose of humility. There is no place for self-righteous rants. Parental positioning is out. Being ‘right’ is being ‘wrong,’ because there are no winners in a ‘Courtroom Relationship.’ Narrow points of view give way to grander perspectives. As Lily said on our last day, “We have to take less and give more.” How true!
Finally, always seek to understand your mate. Someone has said that if we truly understand another there will be no fighting. Understanding takes giving up stony silence in favor of caring connection, building bridges of connection instead of walls of distance and detachment. We let go of narrow self-righteous indignation in favor of a broader view, allowing us to see and touch our mate.
Which is better, connection or separation? The choice is easy. Are you experiencing stony silence? Do you long for caring connection? We are here to help. Please go to our website, www.marriagerecoverycenter.com and discover more information about this as well as the free downloadable eBook, A Love Life of Your Dreams, including other free videos and articles. Please send responses to me at email@example.com and also read more about The Marriage Recovery Center on our website. You’ll find videos and podcasts on sexual addiction, emotionally destructive marriages, codependency and affair-proofing your marriage.
Publication date: November 19, 2013
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