“You don’t care how I feel,” Laura said angrily to Stephen. He winced at her words.
“That’s ridiculous,” Stephen blurted, her words, however, striking a chord with him. She had made that accusation before, and each time her words cut a little deeper. He wondered if some part of her words might be true.
“Why ridiculous?” she demanded. “If you really cared about me, you’d listen to me. You’d make me number one in your life. You’d spend more time with me. But you don’t.”
“Those are very strong accusations,” I said. “You seem to be in a lot of pain.”
“I am,” she said, beginning to cry.
Stephen turned away from her. Their connection had been broken earlier, and now, out of their own pain, they continued hurting each other.
“If I didn’t care, I wouldn’t be sitting here in counseling,” he shared. His words had no impact on her. She felt insignificant to her husband, and that’s what was central in her mind. His defenses only seemed to fuel the fire.
Laura began to make her argument again, however this time I stopped her.
“Laura,” I said slowly. “Can you see that you are making accusations against Stephen, and each time you do he counters with a defense? Stephen, can you see that when she makes an accusation, defending yourself only continues the struggle?”
“What should we do?” Laura asked plaintively.
“Great question,” I said. “So many couples become wounded by their mate and then, acting out of their wounds, continue the battle. Unbeknownst to them, their ongoing words only serve to deepen the wounds. We want to heal the wounds, not deepen them.”
Albert Einstein said, “You cannot solve a problem with the same mind that created it.” Scripture tells us that we must “renew our minds,” and then we will be able to face relationship problems more effectively (Romans 12: 2). Laura and Stephen were locked in a battle — each person was wounded and approached their mate from those wounds. They would have to “change their minds” if they hoped to solve their problems.
Let’s consider some guidelines for how to change your mind when you feel wounded by your mate.
First, calm yourself down. This is easier said than done. When you’ve been wronged, or felt wronged, your first instinct is to attack. Out of your Protective Self you are likely to say hurtful things, perhaps even do hurtful things. Don’t do it. Calm yourself down. Go for a walk. Pray. Take a few deep breaths. Taking time for a fresh perspective is often helpful.
Second, slow things down. You can’t think straight when you are flooded with emotion. You can’t work on five problems at the same time. Ask your mate to slow things down so you can think. Thinking — slow, deliberate thinking -- by the way, is an under-used skill, helpful in these kinds of situations.
Third, agree on the topic. While it is tempting to “paperclip” issues, most of us feel overwhelmed when trying to tackle more than one issue at a time. Agree on one issue, focusing solely on that issue. Avoid the temptation to bring up past grudges. These deserve a time and place of their own if they’re still brewing inside you.
Fourth, really listen to your mate. There is no shortcut to being fully present to your mate. Offering your attention and concentration is one of the highest gifts you can give your mate. Reflect that you are listening. Care enough about your mate’s wounds that you are willing to let yours go — temporarily!
Fifth, empathize with your mate, asking them what they need different from you. Reflecting that you understand how you’ve wounded them, make appropriate apologies and ask what they need different from you in the future. If they sense you really care, they will usually tell you what is bothering them.
Finally, agree on solutions. Making sacred agreements is powerful in relationships. Being committed to a new course of action will offer great reassurance to your mate, and do much to heal their wounds. Be specific in regards to future courses of actions. Make a plan to be accountable to each other for change.
Wounds happen, but they can be healed. They cannot be healed in a hostile environment. Don’t believe there are any relationships where wounds won’t happen. But, you can agree together on how you will handle wounds. The healthy relationship commits to decreasing the times of wounding one another, and establishing ways you help each other heal from the wounds.
Share your feedback or send a confidential note to me at TheRelationshipDoctor@Gmail.com and read more about The Marriage Recovery Center on my website www.MarriageRecoveryCenter.com and YourRelationshipDoctor.com.You’ll find videos and podcasts on saving a troubled marriage, codependency and affair-proofing your marriage.
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 Dealing With the CrazyMakers in Your Life, 90 Days to a Fantastic Marriage, 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.
Publication date: May 23, 2012
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