Workin' My Way Back to You, Babe
- 2009 10 Feb
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 t TheRelationshipDoctor@gmail.com.
So, you’ve responded to the “wake-up call.” You’ve been a detached, disengaged mate, and your spouse has said you must change or she’s leaving the marriage. You were so caught up in your own world, you honestly had no idea the immense impact you had on your mate.
Now, you recognize your behavior has damaged your marriage, and you’re hoping the damage is not irreparable. You’re hoping you can still save your marriage; that your efforts will be met with a positive response by your mate.
The problem is, how do you know where to start? What exactly do you have to do to save your marriage? The task is daunting, with no clear guidelines. You weren’t clear about what you did to ruin your marriage, and now you have even less of an idea about how to repair it.
It would be easier if your spouse would give you an Instruction Manual titled “How to Repair Your Damaged Marriage,” but of course, that isn’t going to happen. So, you’re left to pick up the hints he or she offers, and attempt to piece together the complaints into some kind of a plan. This feels ineffective at best, hopeless at worst.
A recent email from a man illustrates this problem.
Dear Dr. David:
Last week my wife came up to me out of the blue and said she was leaving. She said she had enough of me being an absent, neglectful husband. I sure didn’t see that coming. After asking what the problems were, I still didn’t see it coming. She went on a half-hour rant about my lack of attention to her and our children. She complained about my being addicted to television and playing with the X Box, and only being available when she yelled.
The bottom line is this. She is ready to leave unless I completely change. Where do I start? I have put away the X Box, but that seems like a drop in the bucket for what she wants. I’m afraid I’m going to lose her if I don’t come up with something fast. Help! ~ X Box Addict
Dear X Box Addict:
Even though you didn’t see this issue coming, it sounds like you have an opportunity to save your marriage. That’s better than a lot of folks who don’t realize a problem until it’s too late. You have time to make repairs. Let’s brainstorm some possibilities.
It’s time to sit down with your mate and really listen. With an open mind, setting aside defenses, make note of all her complaints. Offer no rebuttal or excuses. This is her time and place to voice her unhappiness, and you must listen and take her comments to heart. Doing this alone will begin a very positive change process.
Having made note of her complaints, put together a plan of action for change. This may very well require professional help. We don’t tend to see ourselves very clearly, especially when it comes to someone criticizing our actions.
It is critical that you prioritize the issues. Working on one issue at a time will help you feel like you’re making progress, and will help your wife see you are taking her seriously.
Remember the positive reinforcement plans you may have used with your children. Ask your mate to help reinforce your positive behavior by noticing your efforts. Ask her to gently remind you when you miss the mark—which you will undoubtedly do.
Don’t expect yourself to be perfect, but do expect yourself to make consistent progress. Most mates will forgive occasional errors if they see a change of heart and consistent patterns of behavior change. Agree together there will be “bumps” along the trail. “Progress, not perfection,” must be your motto. Learn from the bumps so they don’t continue to occur.
Take a few chances. Don’t make your journey back to her all work. Ask if she would like you to plan some special outings, and if so, make it happen. Keep the dialogue open about her expectations, working together to set the pace of progress.
Many relationships can be saved if the warning signals are heeded. I’d love to hear about your success stories or areas of struggle.
Published February 10, 2009
Dr. Hawkins is the director of The Marriage Recovery Center where he counsels couples in distress. He is the author of over 30 books, including When Pleasing Others Is Hurting You, Love Lost: Living Beyond a Broken Marriage, and Saying It So He'll Listen. His newest books are titled The Relationship Doctor's Prescription for Healing a Hurting Relationship and The Relationship Doctor's Prescription for Living Beyond Guilt. 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.