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 to TheRelationshipDoctor@gmail.com.
"I feel like I have to tiptoe around my wife,” Gerald said to me during an individual counseling session. “So, I try to accommodate Judy to make sure I don’t upset her.”
“Why are you working so hard not to upset her?” I asked.
“She has a temper you wouldn’t believe,” he added. “When she gets mad at me she’ll scold me for ten minutes.”
“How do you feel about that?” I asked.
“Horrible. Inadequate. Angry. So, I try to not upset her. Seems to work better that way.”
“Do you do that with others, as well?” I asked.
“Oh yeah,” he continued. “I’m always trying to make sure I don’t upset my boss. He’s a real tyrant, and I don’t like upsetting him.”
“Do you feel frightened of your wife and boss?” I asked.
“Hmm. I don’t know if I’ve thought of it that way,” he said. “I just do what I can to make sure I keep my marriage together, and of course I want to make sure I keep my job.”
“Yes,” I said. “Many of us have very good reasons for not rocking the boat, but the net effect is perpetuating some destructive processes.”
“What do you mean?” Gerald asked quizzically.
“Well, let’s talk about your wife,” I said. “To accommodate her at times is a very good thing. It speaks volumes about how much you care about her.”
He nodded his head, approving my observations of his affection for his wife.
“But,” I continued, “to avoid saying or doing things out of fear is not a good place to be emotionally and in fact may be denial on your part. You may be avoiding a deeper problem, such as her anger or, as in your boss’s case, his anger. As long as you accommodate them you avoid facing some deeper issues.”
I watched as Gerald took in what I was saying.
“I’m not sure I’m following you entirely. I’d like to hear more about this,” he said.
“There is a definition of codependency that I like,” I said. “When we see a weakness in another, such as someone’s anger, and ignore it, we thereby reinforce it. So, when you shirk away from addressing your wife or boss’s anger, you reinforce their problems. Make sense?”
“Yes,” Gerald said. “I can see that I have some work to do.”
We reviewed several steps to help him stop avoiding conflict, facing important people in his life with integrity and courage.
First, be honest with yourself about your situation. As you consider your primary relationships, are you honest with these people? Do you share what you are really thinking, in a respectful way? Or, do you tiptoe, adapting yourself to their needs as a way of avoiding conflict?
Second, determine if you have been accommodating out of fear or respect. If you have been accommodating out of fear, acknowledge this to yourself, and perhaps a trusted friend or counselor. Take inventory on the impact this is having on your relationships. Acknowledge that accommodating out of fear keeps you trapped and reinforces a weakness in another.
Third, determine a more honest level of interaction. Set out to interact in a healthier, clear and more honest manner. From your Clear, Calm, Compassionate Self, let your feelings inform you, not control you. As you listen to your feelings and discern a better course of action, you can address the problems with honesty. Every time you do this you will strengthen your inner Self, and will stop enabling a destructive process. Denial falls away and truth emerges.
Fourth, develop healthy boundaries. Don’t say ‘yes’ when you mean ‘no.’ Scripture tells us to “let your ‘yes’ be ‘yes’ and your ‘no’ be ‘no.’” (James 5: 12) Don’t say you agree with something when you don’t. Be willing to step out, slowly at first, sharing how you may see things differently than others. That’s okay. We need different points of view in every dynamic interaction.
Finally, stay the course. Perfect practice makes perfect. As you set out on this journey you will rediscover lost parts of yourself. As you stop adapting and accommodating others, you will come to know yourself better and have healthier, more honest relationships. You will find your relationships becoming more vibrant, alive and filled with respect and integrity. From this new position, you will have more self-respecting and will be better able to respect others.
Please read more about these issues in my best-selling book, “When Pleasing Others is Hurting You” and explore more about my Marriage Intensives and Wildfire Marriage Interventions at www.MarriageRecoveryCenter.com. Send comments to me at TheRelationshipDoctor@gmail.com.
Dr. David Hawkins is the director of the Marriage Recovery Center where he counsels couples in distress. He is the author of over 30 books, including Dealing With the CrazyMakers in Your Life, 90 Days to a Fantastic Marriage, and When Pleasing Others is Hurting You. 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. You can also find Dr. Hawkins on Facebook and Twitter.