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Dr David Christian Marriage Advice

Cultivating Self-Awareness

Cultivating Self-Awareness

Becky came to the Marriage Recovery Center in the throes of marriage stress. Her husband of fifteen years was leaving her and she was anxious to make him stay. She had begged him to come with her for marriage counseling, but he insisted he was in no emotional place to work on their marriage. He wanted “time to think things over.” In spite of her efforts to have her husband, Cal, join her, she agreed to come alone. She agreed to come to reflect, pray and learn more about how she approached her husband and what she might do to save her marriage.

It has been said that we cannot be fully aware or appreciative of others unless we are first aware and appreciative of ourselves. As Christians, this can be a tall order, since we have been taught to deny ourselves.

Is it true? Must we have some awareness of ourselves in order to fully appreciate others? I think so. Becky struggled not only to understand her feelings, but giving herself permission to even spend time reflecting on them. Hence, she had little awareness of her part in her marriage problems.

It is unfortunate that we have such a limited view of self-awareness. Rather than self-awareness being a process where we are self-absorbed, self-awareness can be a process where we understand ourselves, our motives, our intentions. Through this process—similar to the process the Psalmist used when he proclaimed, “Search me, Oh God,”---we reflect to understand what makes us tick. From this place we can ask God to change our hearts, helping us to approach others from a humble position. We are easier to relate to.

“I’m not sure what good this is going to do, coming alone,” Becky said with obvious irritation. “He needs to be with me to work on our marriage. I know I have things to work on, but believe me, he has a lot of issues.”

“I don’t doubt that, Becky,” I said. “But he isn’t willing to come at this point, so that leaves you with limited options.”

“I want him to be there too,” she persisted. 

“That would be ideal,” I said to her over the phone. “We’d love to meet him. But, since he won’t come, you have an opportunity to review your role in the marriage problems. We can critically look at how you respond to him, and new, more effective approaches.”

Becky was uncertain about this approach, having convinced herself that Cal was “an angry, irritable man who has probably been cheating on me.” Her venom was palpable. She might be right about his character traits and attitude. Yet, we still suggested that she come out “to settle down, consider the situation and prayerfully reflect upon your feelings and choices.”

“Yes,” she said. “A place to reflect by the ocean. Sounds good. If I’m part of the problem, and I’m sure I am, I want to do my part to fix things.”

“We applaud your attitude, Becky,” I said, sharing the sentiments of the Marriage Recovery Center staff. “We’ve seen many individuals come here and leave much clearer about how they have been hooked into a destructive process. One person can change a marriage dance.”

“We’ll see,” she said with obvious disdain. “I’ll be there on Friday.”

Becky arrived as planned several days later. Though only thirty-five years old, she was heavy set and appeared tired. She forced a greeting that belied her anxiety and tension about her marriage.

My associate and I greeted her warmly and helped her become settled in the Marriage Recovery Center cottage. Over the next several days we helped Becky explore her part in her marriage. Stepping back from our problems, talking them out with a neutral professional can be a powerful way to gain perspective. Though quite discouraged, Becky rediscovered her vibrant faith and was able to see how she contributed to Cal wanting to leave the marriage.

Here are some practical tools she developed in exploring her part in their marriage problems:          

First, develop a prayerful attitude. Scripture tells us “But when you pray, go into your room, close the door and pray to your Father, who is unseen. Then your Father, who sees what is done in secret, will reward you” Matthew 6:6). Prayer time is invaluable time to commune with God and gain new perspectives on your life.

Second, ask for wisdom. Ask God to reveal to you your part in your relationship problems. Have you developed a bitter spirit? Are you passive-aggressive in how you respond to your mate? Do you harbor resentment?

Third, write out a Relationship Inventory. Journal about your marriage, from the start until now. What are you like to live with? What are your strengths and weaknesses? Ask your mate for feedback on what he/ she would like to see you change? How have your issues impacted your mate?

Fourth, develop a Change Plan. Without a specific plan we are not likely to change. Choose one or two primary issues and seek to change them. Maintaining a clear focus, “keep your side of the street clean.” Scripture says, “as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone” (Romans 12:18).

Fifth, encourage what you want to see changed in your mate. We know that encouragement is a greater reinforcer of change than criticism. Seek to eliminate criticism and comment positively on the little things you notice your mate doing that feel good to you. Be the change you seek from your mate. 

Finally, love confidently. One person can change the interactions in a relationship. Because emotions are contagious, a positive, confident spirit will bring positivity into your marriage. Taking responsibility for your issues will be contagious to your mate. Watch how you interact with your mate, making minor adjustments over time to suit the situation. Changing you will change your mate.

Share your feedback or send a confidential note to me at and read more about The Marriage Recovery Center on my website www.MarriageRecoveryCenter.comand’ll find videos and podcasts on saving a troubled marriage, codependency and affair-proofing your marriage. Dr. David also offers free 20 minute consultations!       

Publication Date: June 25, 2012