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Dr David Christian Marriage Advice

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Large and In Charge

Large and In Charge

It wasn’t so much about what was happening in this moment that was causing problems, but what had happened in the fourteen years of their marriage that created a lingering impact.

Both professionals and highly educated, Scott and Jessica had excelled in every area of their lives, yet sat with us at The Marriage Recovery Center feeling desperate to form a healthy connection. Years of conflict had torn at the fabric of their Christian love and admiration for each other.

“What is happening in your marriage?” we asked, sensing the detachment each felt with the other. Both appeared sullen and wounded, guarded and cautious in their approach to each other.

“I’m afraid of him,” Jessica said tearfully. “I never know how he is going to react to something I tell him.”

“Afraid of me?” Scott said incredulously. “Afraid of me. I’ve never hit you. I’ve never raised a hand to you. I love you and our kids and would never do anything to hurt you.”

Jessica looked at him silently, much as she had thousands of times before. She had lost her voice years ago and now stuffed her feelings again. What could she do differently in the face of such power?

“See,” she said emphatically. “It just happened again. I say something and if it’s not what you want to hear, I’m going to get a lecture.”

“So, you beat me down,” he said sharply. “Blame me, attack me. You hurt me too.”

“Scott,” I said. “Do you want to hear your wife’s heart? You’re going to have to create a soft place for her to talk to you.”

“What about my feelings?” he said angrily.

“Both of you cannot talk about your feelings at the same time,” I observed. That’s called a fight. So, you’ll have to decide who’s going to talk first. What is critical, however, is that you both feel heard by the other.”

An imbalance of power, or influence, in marriage is a common problem, yet one you won’t hear much about. We don’t talk about imbalances of power. We seem to assume that both partners have equal amounts of power, or the ability to influence each other. We seem to assume that it is common to “defer to one another in love” as the Apostle Paul counsels.

The Apostle Paul is certainly not the only one espousing mutual respect. We know and commonly understand that this is a cornerstone of healthy relating. Sara Lawrence-Lightfoot, a Harvard Professor and author of the book, Respect: An Exploration, notes that respect creates symmetry and empathy in relationships, and notes six qualities that makes a person respect-worthy: empowerment, healing, dialogue, curiosity, self-respect and attention. I want to emphasize two of these—empowerment and dialogue, though all are critical.

Jessica did not believe she could ‘hold her own’ with her husband. I don’t say this in the sense that she should power over her husband, but that she could feel confident of being heard, understood and respected in what she believed. She did not have a sense that she could honestly dialogue with him.

We additionally offered the following counsel:

First, we must create a soft place to share our feelings. It is incumbent on both mates to create a safe place to share our thoughts and feelings. For as much as we may not want to hear critical feedback, we must hear it and must create a safe place to share it.

Second, we must be influenced by our mate. Not only must we create a safe place for our mate to share their feelings, but must then be influenced by that information. We all want to be heard and then to have the sense that our mate is willing to incorporate that feedback into their lives.

Third, we must repair imbalances of influence. Your mate must not only have the sense that they are heard, that they are safe in sharing their feelings, but that you care about what they think and feel and are willing to make adjustments accordingly. Because relationships are dynamic, growing relationships, adjustments must always be made. Just as your children grow and change, and you relate to them differently in each phase of their life, your marriage requires these adjustments as well.  

Fourth, we must reassure our mate that we hear them and will continue to make changes moving forward. It is natural to doubt promises made. Our mate must see and experience our repentant heart, and notice the dedication to change. This ‘matter of the heart’ will be experienced and enjoyed by your mate.

Finally, we must incorporate these adjustments and changes into our lives. Your marriage must change and grow and you must make these changes together. You must offer your mate the assurance that they have been heard and they can trust you will continue to change and grow. They, in turn, will make changes as well and this will naturally lead to greater intimacy.

mrcWhich is better, connection or separation? The choice is easy. Do you long for caring connection? We are here to help. Please go to our website, and discover more information about this as well as the free downloadable eBook, A Love Life of Your Dreams, including other free videos and articles. Please send responses to me at and also read more about The Marriage Recovery Center on our website. You’ll find videos and podcasts on sexual addiction, emotionally destructive marriages, codependency and affair-proofing your marriage.

Publication date: December 16, 2013