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.
“We’ve practiced communication skills,” Tawnya complained, “but we still fight like cats and dogs."
“We’ve been to three or four different marriage counselors,” Brad said forcefully, “and we’re having as many problems as we’ve ever had.”
“We’re pretty discouraged,” Tawnya continued. “We don’t have much faith that things can be different. We keep doing the same things, expecting different results.”
“What would you both like to change?” I asked this young couple, who had been referred to me by their pastor. Only married for five years, they had experienced a lot of conflict without much relief. Both looked at me anxiously, hoping for some answers to the issues that pushed them apart.
“We want to quit fighting,” Tawnya said quickly. “And when we do fight, we’d like to end it quickly and come back together in a loving way.”
“Not likely to happen,” Brad said sarcastically.
“Actually, it can happen,” I said firmly. “Couples can learn to stay connected, even in the midst of a fight. They can remind each other of their love for one another, and this can sustain them during difficult times.”
“Sounds great,” Brad said. “So, how do we do it?”
“There are some challenging lessons to be learned,” I said. “But, you can learn them. Here are a few things I want you to begin practicing.” With that, I laid out a plan for them,. You may find these steps useful too.
First, take note of every interaction that goes poorly. You must understand what you are doing that creates a disconnect. Be observant, paying close attention to where things go sideways. Notice theses rough spots, being willing to observe them much like watching a movie. Step back and make notes.
Second, notice the feelings you have when things go sideways. Make special note of what you were feeling when you bit back at your mate. What did you feel before you sniped at her? What did you feel before you walked out of the room? These feelings are points of disconnection, and must be rectified.
Third, see these points of disconnect as places of wounding. Perhaps you felt abandoned, or afraid. Maybe you felt hurt by your mate’s words, and instead of talking about them you lashed out. Be willing to ‘speak from your most vulnerable self.’
Fourth, see each other as vulnerable people, capable of being wounded. Don’t simply remember how you were hurt, but how your mate was hurt as well. See your mate as having vulnerabilities from past relationships, upbringing, and simply scars of life that can get triggered in the closeness of marriage. See yourself and your mate as needing attachment and reassurance.
Fifth, agree to share with each other when your feelings have been hurt. Also agree to make it safe to always share wounded feelings with each other, without blame. Never, never blame your mate for hurt feelings, but rather look to your mate to help you heal from hurt feelings.
Finally, agree to help each other heal from wounds and tendencies to disconnect from each other. Catch each other becoming hurt and pushing away or getting angry. Instead of pushing away of getting sarcastic or angry, share your wounds with each other, asking how you can best help your mate heal. If you can see your mate as accessible to you to help you heal from your wounds, you will create a connection that is powerful and strong.
So, can you see ways that you tend to disconnect from your mate? Do you tend to bicker with each other, rather than share your emotional wound? Do you tend to walk away in disgust rather than share how your mate’s words hurt your feelings? Agree together to catch yourselves in these destructive dances, exchanging that dance for a healthier one—one of vulnerability and connection. Reassure each other that what you want more than anything else in the world is to be close to them. Then, just do it!
I’d love to hear your reaction to this column on connection. What kinds of destructive dances do you get into? Have you been able to step back, analyze the steps, and replace them with healthier ones? Please send your responses to TheRelationshipDoctor@gmail.com and visit my website at www.TheMarriageRecoveryCenter.com.
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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