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.
"There is nothing worse than having my words turned around on me," a young woman told me during a recent individual counseling session. Kate had been coming for couples counseling for three months, and was quite frustrated with the lack of progress.
"He's coming for counseling," she continued, "but I don't believe he really thinks any of the problem is his. He acts nice during the counseling session, but he reverts back to his old self after we get home."
"What do you mean?" I asked.
"You see the best side of him," Kate said emphatically. "He really can be a nice guy. That's why I married him. But, he complains about the cost of counseling, feels like we're ganging up on him and thinks I'm making too big a deal out of it. He wants the problems to just go away. He accuses me of making the problems bigger, and I think he is dismissing me. It's driving me crazy."
"I've actually noticed some of that in our couples work," I said reassuringly. "Doug seems uncomfortable with your feelings, and does seem to want the problem to just go away."
"But it's more than that," Kate protested, gesturing to make her point. "He blames me for making the problem worse. He accuses me of being the ‘troublemaker.' He loses his temper and then blames me for making him angry. I'm sick of this marriage and don't know what to do. When I threaten to leave, he accuses me of not being dedicated to the marriage. He doesn't see that his actions create this reaction in me!"
I watched Kate sink further into her chair. Tired and worn, she looked ten years older than her thirty years. Her complaints were an echo of a growing number of emails and phone calls, where many women, and some men, are tiring of their marriage.
"I call that being ‘CrazyMaker crazed' and it's no fun," I said. "Working on your marriage takes something out of you because you feel a lack of ownership with your husband. Is that right?"
"Yes!" Kate said with exasperation.
"These are character issues and must be carefully rooted out of the relationship. It also suggests denial on Doug's part. He isn't accepting responsibility for his part in this CrazyMaking dance."
"How do we get him to see it if he's in denial?" Kate asked. "I don't know that I have the motivation to keep trying. He exhausts me."
"Unfortunately, Kate," I explained. "This is slow, hard work. Denial is a way of viewing the world we create so as to not feel bad about ourselves. Doug needs this denial to be able to avoid not look closely at his character issues. It will take slow, hard work for him to gain insight into these patterns, and own them and change them."
Talking to Kate reminded me of another woman with similar complaints.
Dear Dr. David. I'm tired of my marriage. I didn't know marriage was going to turn out this way, and had I known my husband was going to be like this, I might not have gotten married.
I've been married for thirty years, and I now realize I've played a part in enabling a very dysfunctional relationship. I tiptoe around my husband because I'm afraid of his moods and anger. I turned off my feelings a long time ago, and now I'm depressed. I've been in counseling and realize that if I turn my feelings back on, I'm probably going to feel even more angry and resentful. Besides that, I'm not sure at all that my husband wants to change. In fact, he blames me for all of our problems, and sees himself as a wonderful husband.
I feel confused and lost. How do I begin to work my way out of this depression? What if my husband has no interest at all in seeing his part of our problems? I'm drowning. Please help.
Both Kate and the woman writing this email feel exasperated. At times they feel even worse—discouraged and doubtful anything will really change. Unless they see hope, they are vulnerable to slipping into depression.
What hope can be offered to the "CrazyMaker Crazed?" Sadly, there are no quick fixes or easy remedies. Everything I propose requires depth counseling and serious, invasive treatment. Many are not willing to take such a serious review of their relationship, but that is what's needed. Consider these steps of action:
First, take responsibility for your life. There is a saying that goes, "Things don't change, we do." That is certainly true. This is your life and your marriage, and waiting for change to occur is futile. Change must occur if you really want your circumstances to be different, and that change must begin with you.
Second, learn about dysfunctional, crazymaking relationships. While it is true that every relationship has some degree of dysfunctionality to it, some are pathologically unhealthy. In my book Dealing with the CrazyMakers in Your Life, I help you understand what makes a relationship healthy and unhealthy. Knowing the difference can be a lifesaver for you.
Third, understanding crazymaking, you must learn to identify it, label it, and set boundaries on it. The Scriptures tell us to be wise and discerning, and certainly this is one area of your life where you must become very insightful. Become well-acquainted with crazymaking tactics so you are no longer "crazed," but equipped to identify and create a plan of action for them.
Fourth, insist on change. The worst mistake you can make is to remain "crazed" and in DENIAL—which means Don't Even Notice I Am Lying. Insist that your mate join you in depth couples counseling to root out these debilitating patterns. Learn together to recognize the "thinking errors" that form the basis of crazymaking relationships.
Fifth, expect resistance. Believing your mate will dive into this invasive counseling process will leave you disillusioned. Expect resistance. Watch for excuses, arguments, displaced anger and more thinking errors. Still, insist on change. Insist specifically on staying engaged in the change process.
Finally, stay the course. These problems, often rooted in childhood patterns of dysfunctionality, can be changed, but won't be eradicated easily. You must rely on your own determination and God's supernatural humbling of character. You must prepare yourselves for invasive emotional surgery and trust that "He who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion." (Philippians 1: 6)
I'd love to hear what has helped you stay the course in a challenging change process.
Dr. Hawkins is the director of the Marriage Recover Center where he counsels couples in distress. He is the author of over 30 books, including When Pleasing Others Is Hurting You, Love Lost: Living Beyond a Broken Marriage, and Saying It So He'll Listen. His newest books are titled The Relationship Doctor's Prescription for Healing a Hurting Relationship and The Relationship Doctor's Prescription for Living Beyond Guilt. 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.
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