When Hiding From Conflict Hurts Us
- Dr. David B. Hawkins The Marriage Recovery Center
- 2011 2 Aug
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 [email protected].
Most of us long for peace in our lives seeking escape from the frenzy of the workplace, the challenges of children, even the constant buzz of the television. These issues, however, are usually tolerable as long as we feel a sense of well-being in our marriage.
Being honest with ourselves about what is happening in our marriage is a perfect place to begin seeking that sense of well-being. Being honest about what is happening in our marriage, however, requires introspection and critical self-evaluation then being willing to say what needs to be said to our mate. Many are frightened of letting the unspoken be spoken, fearing that bringing conflict out in the open will bring even more conflict.
“I know everything is not okay between us,” Molly shared during a recent counseling session she attended alone. “If I bring things up, we get so heated with each other and nothing gets settled. I think it’s best to leave things alone.”
I watched as Molly fought hard to smile. She had already shared how her husband of four years, Jared, spent hours away from her after work hanging out with his guy friends. She had shared about the loneliness she felt in raising their two young children and the frustration she felt at having to tend their home alone.
Jared also is an avoider. Having met him during an earlier session, he feared Molly’s eruptions. “She’s so volatile,” he said. “I can’t talk to her without her going ballistic, so I guess I don’t. I know there’s lots of things I avoid talking to her about.”
Let’s consider the impact of not talking to each other,” I suggested to Molly. She agreed. We made the following list:Reluctance or refusal to share intimate feelings.
*Lessened attraction to each other.
*Decreased sexual and affectionate expressions.
*Growing bitterness and feelings of rejection.
*Loss of integrity and sense of wholeness.
*Increased fear about the strength of their marriage.
*Increased vulnerability to the attention of the opposite sex.
“Wow,” Molly said as we compiled the list. “I guess I haven’t wanted to face the full impact of the avoidance on our relationship.”
“Most don’t want to be honest about these issues,” I added. “It can be frightening to look at things the way they are.”
I paused for a moment and then shared a Scripture that has impacted me recently.
“For whatever is hidden is meant to be disclosed, and whatever is concealed is meant to be brought out into the open. If anyone has ears to hear, let him hear” (Mark 4:22-23).
“That’s pretty powerful,” Molly said.
“Yes it is,” I responded. “I remember a phrase I learned in graduate school: ‘Whatever you don’t feel, can’t be healed.’ I think that is true in your relationship to Jared. You’re going to have to feel your emotions, listen to them, and then have some critical conversations.”
“So where do I start,” Molly asked. “I’m kind of overwhelmed with the idea of us having critical conversations.”
“I can appreciate that,” I said. “but I have a few ideas to share with you.”
First, begin slowly. You don’t have to share everything all at once. Begin with an attitude that you’re going to bring things out in the open that you’ve been too frightened to say. You’re going to be honest with yourself about what is bugging you and ease into emotional honesty.
Second, journal about what you are feeling. Begin by telling yourself the truth, and then lead into having a critical conversation with your mate about something that has been troubling you. Own the topic, avoiding any hint of blame or projection. Make it about what you are feeling, not about what he/ she has done.
Third, reassure your mate of your positive intentions. Make it clear that you bring up these topics because you want restoration of your relationship, not to dump out troubling feelings. Your intent must never be to hurt your mate, but to bring you closer. You want connection, contact and intimacy, and suggest that might be something they want as well.
Fourth, talk about one issue at a time. Risk speaking the unspoken. Be honest with yourself about what you’ve harbored away; make a pact with your mate that you will no longer avoid difficult conversations. We’re in this together, and we can figure this out, can be your new motto.
Finally, make new agreements with each other. Find solutions that are the best of your thinking and their thinking. Nobody "wins" and nobody "loses." Instead, both of you win. You clear the air, paving the path toward a new level of intimacy — “into me see.” Now, understanding each other and respecting each other’s point of view, you make true contact. Fear evaporates, bitterness dissolves and you feel a renewed sense of connection to your mate.
I’d like to hear from you. Have you been avoiding certain topics or critical conversations? Have you been living in denial about the impact of this avoidance on your relationship? It’s time to get real, face the facts and get on with getting close and connected to your mate. 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.
Dr. David Hawkins is the director of the Marriage Recover Center where he counsels couples in distress. He is the author of over 30 books, including 90 Days to a Fantastic Marriage, Dealing With the CrazyMakers in Your Life, and Saying It So He'll Listen. 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.