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.
The couple entered my office looking stiff, their icy stares a preface to what erupted moments later.
“How are you two?” I asked Jeffrey and Maggie, a young couple who sat frozen in their chairs. She stared out my window while he watched her. They had shared in a brief phone conversation that this was their last attempt to save their short marriage.
“Just great,” Maggie said sarcastically. “I can’t trust him, and I don’t think he really wants to save this marriage.”
“Oh come on, .This is not going to be about ‘fixing Jeffrey’ is it?” he asked pointedly. “I am not going to do this. It’s not only ‘fix Jeffrey.’ You cannot tell him I am the only problem here.”
“Never said you were,” she replied hotly.
“But you are only focusing on my anger,” he protested.
“That’s because you have an anger problem and won’t admit it,” she retorted.
“Folks,” I interrupted. “Is this how it goes with you, pointing fingers at the other, defending yourself, and round and round it goes?"
“This? This is just a mild version of our lives,” Jeffrey said, letting out a huge sigh. Maggie rolled her eyes in disgust.
I began with a lecture I give every couple coming to see me at either my private office or The Marriage Recovery Center. It’s a speech everyone, including myself, needs to hear. It’s a message of hope, but more important, it’s a message of cooperation.
“Jeffrey and Maggie. You’ve come to see me because your marriage is in trouble. However, you seem to be pointing the finger of blame at the other. While that is completely natural, and in some ways can be expected, solving problems only comes from working together. Do you really want to work on solving problems?”
Both nodded their heads, appearing relieved that there was hope of ending their battles, learning to seek solutions cooperatively. As we worked together over the following weeks, we emphasized the following points that have helped countless couples collaborate in seeking reconciliation.
First, problems are created together, and thus solutions must be found together. While we may initially want to believe that one person is the culprit, “the bad guy/ girl,” this is rarely the case. Both have behaviors that must change to bring healing to their relationship.
Second, by working together, co-laboring, we can work things out. I’ve said to hundreds of couples “the process is the problem, and therefore the process is the solution.” It doesn’t matter what we are arguing about, the fact that we are arguing, pointing fingers, shifting responsibility and playing the victim, renders us helpless to solve problems. Working together creates a synergy where problems are solved much more easily.
Third, collaboration releases creative emotional and spiritual empowerment to solve problems. Solving problems is nearly impossible when we’re stuck in our small, narrow self-centered perspective. However, when we lock arms, submitting to God and seeking God’s wisdom, we cooperate and more easily find new ways of agreeing on problems and solutions.
Fourth, collaboration invites and embraces wisdom from each other. When released from our narrow, self-centered, wounded perspective, we truly listen to our mate. We empathize with their pain and connect to them in new ways. We want the best for them and are more willing to look at “our stuff.” Freed from condemnation, we stop hiding and dodging responsibility.
Finally, as we work together to figure things out, we discover a new level of connection. We fall in love with our mate all over again. With humility, we don’t think of ourselves more highly than we ought to think (Romans 12: 3) and rediscover the beauty and value of our mate.
If you are locked in a power struggle with your mate, step back, take a breath, and consider solving the problem together. Let go of your anger and realize that “a house divided against itself cannot stand.” (Matthew 12: 25) Relax, remembering the good traits of your mate, and work together in solving your marital problems.
I would like to hear from you. What do you think about the concept of collaboration?
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