Help for Desperate Marriages: An Interview with Dr. Gary Chapman
- Monday, February 23, 2009
CW: Which is my next question – could you talk a little bit about “Reality Living” and how that helps marriages become what God intended them to be?
GC: That is really the theme of this book. I deal with 6 realities:
One [reality] is that I am responsible for my attitude. I can be in prison, and I happen to get a chance to go outside. I can look at the mud, or I can look at the stars. I am the one who decides which way to look. That is true for every one of us. We can look at the pain in our lives. We can look at the way we have been mistreated, and we can have an attitude of, I will never amount to anything. I have been wrong about people all my life. I am going to pay somebody back for this.
Or we can choose the attitude that says, I have been wronged. People have hurt me, but with the help of God, I am going to learn how to return good for evil, and I am going to make a difference in this world.
Secondly, my attitude affects my actions. So, if I have a negative attitude about it, then it is going to show up in the way I respond, but if I have a positive attitude, then I start looking for the things I can do that will make my life better and make the lives of people around me better.
The third reality is that I cannot change others, but I can influence others... we can’t change people, but we can and we do influence people, and we do it every single day.
I will give you a simple example. If I walk in the house, and I greet my wife, and I give her a hug, kiss her on the cheek, and I say to her, “Honey, how’d your day go,” and I listed to how her day went. If I say, “Is there anything I can do to help you,” and she tells me, “Honey, if you could peel the potatoes,” or whatever, I have influenced my wife in a very positive way.
On the other hand, if I walk in the house, I don’t even bother to find her, I just walk in the den and flip on the TV, get myself something to drink, sit down, start unwinding, I have influenced my wife in a very negative way. Every single day in a marriage, we influence each other. It is a matter of am I going to have a positive influence or a negative influence?
The fourth reality is that my emotions do not control my actions. By nature, most people are controlled by their emotions. They feel sad, so they look sad.
Now I am not minimizing emotions. Emotions are an important part of life. Emotions are our spontaneous response to life. We have these emotions, but if the emotion is a negative emotion, then I have a choice to say, “I am feeling sad tonight because this happened, but I am not going to let my sadness keep me from engaging my wife in conversation. So, I am going to go sit down and say, ‘Tell me about your day.’ I am going to engage her in conversation, even though I am very, very sad over something maybe she did or something that happened outside the marriage.”
This is a huge thing if you are going to have a positive impact on your spouse. You have to not only realize this, but you have to practice this.
The fifth reality is that when I admit my own imperfections, it doesn’t mean I am a bad person. In a difficult marriage, both of us have failed each other. Even though one may be the major problem, (and in this book I am acknowledging that one may be the major problem), you also have failed often in the way you have responded to them, the way you have treated them, in the way you have handled your hurt and your pain.
So, when I am willing to admit to my spouse,
“You know, I didn’t handle that very well last night. You came in drunk again, and I took the butcher knife, and that wasn’t very nice to threaten you like that. It wasn’t loving. It wasn’t kind. What I should have done in retrospect was to go and see my mother, spend the night with my mother, and I want you to know that I am sorry that I said what I said, and I am sorry I can see myself holding that knife, and I am sorry about that. That was wrong.”
Sometimes when the spouse is really the culprit, it is hard to admit what you consider your little failures, but if you are going to have a better relationship, you admitting your part in the dynamics is a step in the road to healing. Because if they see you modeling apology, for example, and they see you modeling love, they may well get the idea that maybe they need to apologize.
The last reality is that love is the most powerful weapon in the world for good. I really believe that. We all desperately need love. If a spouse in a difficult marriage will learn the love language of that spouse, and they will, with the help of God, consistently speak their love language no matter how they are treated, over the long haul, many of those people will begin to reciprocate, because you are meeting a basic need in their life, the need for love, and they know they don’t deserve love many times.
I can’t say that everybody is going to turn around, but it is a powerful weapon to touch their heart and move them, stimulate in them the possibility that they could reciprocate that love to you.
CW: One aspect that I really enjoyed about your book is how you set up these realities, and then you walked the readers through all these different scenarios and showed the reader how it played out in specific marriages. Could you pick one story that you could briefly share with our readers that touched you?
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