Healing the Past for a Strong Future
- 2008 3 Apr
April 3, 2008
April 3, 2008
Research shows when a husband and wife can’t resolve conflict, their relationship is at risk. Unresolved conflict can rob your marriage of intimacy – or it can lead to emotional or even physical divorce. So where is your marriage today? Do you and your spouse know how to find resolution when a conflict comes up? Or do you sweep it under the rug? Have you swept so many conflicts under the rug that it’s tripping you up in your relationship with your mate?
When you offend your spouse or your spouse offends you, it hurts. The pain is not so much physical as emotional and relationship, although unhealed hurts can affect how you feel physically.
If an offense between you and your spouse is dealt with immediately, the hurt is fleeting and without lasting consequences. Unfortunately, most marital offenses aren’t dealt with so efficiently. Sometimes you don’t realize that what you said or did offended your spouse, so you’re oblivious to the hurt you caused. But more often, you know what you did was hurtful, but you’re too hardheaded or embarrassed to own up to the offense. So you let it slide, giving time for your spouse to stew over what happened while the pain increases.
You may also overlook emotional pain because, when you’re offended, you may not recognize the hurt right away. Something your spouse said or did may have left you feeling a little down, but it may not have seemed like such a big deal on the surface. It doesn’t hurt like other pain we know, so we don’t classify it as pain.
Then again, you may recognize the inner hurt right away, but try to hide it. You don’t want your spouse to know he or she has hurt you. You don’t want to be seen as vulnerable. So you tough it out and act as if nothing happened. In the meantime, the inner wound only gets worse.
Whether you are aware of it or not, when you or your spouse opens a loop by wronging each other in some way, it triggers hurt, the primary emotion in a conflict. And if you delay closing the loop, that simmering inner hurt can boil over into anger.
Unless you and your spouse learn how to work through your hurt and anger, you will likely find yourself on an emotional roller coaster that never slows down. Stuffing anger into some dark corner of your heart may temporarily help you skirt past a conflict, but the anger doesn’t go away. Venting anger through a verbal tirade, an argument, screaming, crying, or slamming doors may help you let off a little steam, but it won’t solve the root problem and you will explode again and again. The longer you allow the cycles of stuffing and exploding to continue, the more you will hurt yourself and your spouse.
If you persist in stuffing your hurt and anger, it will affect you negatively in mind, body, and spirit. Your outlook on life will tarnish, your hope for deeper happiness in marriage will fade, and you will be more susceptible to illness. Unresolved anger evolves into bitterness and resentment. You see the world through distorted lenses. You become hardened and withdrawn, developing physical symptoms such as headaches, muscle aches, colitis, ulcers, compulsive behaviors, and scores of other problems. In the process, you pull away from your spouse and tumble toward the precipice of emotional and physical divorce.
The results from venting your anger aren’t any better. It still fosters a critical, bitter, and resentful attitude. And venting is no healthier than stuffing anger inside. Since venting doesn’t resolve issues, you just get even more angry and entrenched in this destructive pattern. In the meantime, you will tend to alienate yourself from those closest to you: your spouse and children. Venting anger debilitates you, distances you from your spouse by keeping the loop open, and robs your marriage of joy and stability.
Much of the hurt and anger you experience in your marriage relationship is the result of unresolved conflicts between you and your spouse. They are all part of open loops, and the longer the loops remain open, the greater will be the turmoil in your marriage.
At some point in every conflict, you and your spouse must confront the conflict and heal the wounds. We’re not talking about going to the mat with your spouse to see who wins. We’re talking about the two of you coming together to confront the issues that prompted the offense, hurt and anger. Here are several tips for confronting your conflicts:
- Disarm the conflict through prayer. The first step toward confronting your conflicts to disarm the potential for further hurt. This can happen only through prayer.
- Take one issue at a time. Piling one offense on another can seriously harm the relationship. It is important to concentrate on one issue at a time and get it resolved before moving on to another one.
- Depersonalize the problem. The key to depersonalizing a conflict is to attack the problem without attacking each other.
- Take a gentle approach. Another way to depersonalize the conflict and neutralize the weapons of verbal accusation is to use I-statements instead of you-statements. Another way to incorporate gentleness when you confront your conflicts is to avoid exaggerations like always and never.
- Seek to resolve instead of repair. Your first response may be to jump in and try to fix the problem by righting the wrong or changing someone else’s behavior. But a quick-fix approach can get you into real trouble because your spouse may think you are trying to fix him or her. Sometimes your spouse just needs you to listen, empathize, provide support, or demonstrate that you care. So what should you do when you don’t know what to do in a conflict? Simply ask your spouse what he or she needs from you.
- Work toward a decision. In many conflicts, resolution is not achieved until the two of you make a decision about what needs to happen. Some conflicts may not need a decision because airing out the issues and providing empathy take care of it. But as you confront conflicts, realize that you will likely come to the point where you need to change course in some way, as a couple or as individuals. Stay open to different options and be open to not doing it your way.
We encourage you as a couple to take a head-on approach to confront your conflicts in a way that will honor your spouse above all else.
Portions of this article were adapted from "Healing the Hurt in Your Marriage," Copyright 2004 by Dr. Gary and Barbara Rosberg, all rights reserved. Published by Tyndale House Publishers, Inc., www.tyndale.com. To order this resource or to find our more about Dr. Gary and Barb – Your Marriage Coaches, visit http://www.drgaryandbarb.com/ or call 1-888-608-COACH.
Married over 30 years, the parents of two adult daughters and five grandchildren, Dr. Gary and Barb Rosberg, your marriage coaches, have a unique blend of insight and wisdom that touch people of all ages. Together with Gary's 25,000 hours of counseling experience and Barbara's gift of encouragement and biblical teaching, they are equipping thousands of families across the nation through their interactive daily radio program, conferences, and marriage and family.