Mesmerized by love, few couples anticipate the challenges they will face in day-to-day relating. I don’t mean to paint a picture of ‘labor and hardship,’ but relating to your mate will challenge us in ways we cannot fully anticipate.
I often hear the words, “I get along with everyone else but him/ her,” as if that means the problem has got to lie outside themselves. To that I reply, “Most of us get along well with others, but that is still not an accurate barometer on what we are like to live with. We don’t live, eat and sleep with those people. Those people don’t see us at our worst.”
That last statement always causes people to pause.
“That’s really true,” a middle-aged woman said to me recently. “Both myself and my husband have everybody fooled. They think we have the best marriage, but they don’t know we’re secretly separated. We haven’t even told our kids yet.”
“Why not?” I asked.
“We’re embarrassed,” she said quickly. “I hate that we haven’t been able to make it work. I’m still hoping for the best, but we just don’t know how to find our way back to each other.”
Marriage is difficult. It is so easy to get embroiled in conflict and then have that conflict become a way of life. We have four different styles of communication under stress, three of which are terribly destructive:
Fighting: In this style we become argumentative, aggressive and use the “Courtroom” to try to solve problems. It doesn’t work. Fighting only leads to more fighting and eventual separation from each other;
Flight-ing: In this style we “stonewall,” refusing to engage with our mate. We rationalize this behavior, believing we are at least avoiding the arguments. But, this style also leads to eventual emotional separation and likely physical separation;
Freezing: In this style we “clam up.” We may bite our tongue, but we also avoid effective communication and problem-solving. This style also leads to emotional and possibly physical separation;
- Flowing: In this style we share our feelings in a healthy way, take responsibility for our failures and always seek the best for our mate.
Those who have practiced the unhealthy styles of relating will unquestionably be in emotional and marital trouble. They will often feel emotionally exhausted, perhaps spiritually depleted and want to scream out, “I don’t know what to do to save my marriage.”
How many couples do you know that have been emotionally separated and possibly physically separated who could echo these words? Unsure as to how they got to where they are, they are even more uncertain as to how to find their way back to each other. Yet, there is a way. Just as surely as there are predictable patterns of relating that will lead to emotional and physical separation, there are predictable patterns of relating that can assist you in finding your way back to each other.
Let’s consider what these couples can do.
One, understand and trust that there is always a way back to your mate. Yes, these are strong assertions. As long as your mate maintains any connection to you, there may be a way back to him/ her. Too often couples give up hope after being separated, allowing their resentments to linger as a barrier between them. But, if they are willing to allow God to soften their feelings, there is a way back.
Two, acknowledge your wounds. Two people having festering wounds cannot see each other for who they are. Rather, they form caricatures of their mate—“that person who hurt me.” These resentful feelings—feelings that we “re-send again and again”-- must be healed to allow for a path back to your mate. We must open our heart to “re-membering” those parts of them that we have loved.
Scripture is replete with encouragement to forgive others, just as Christ has forgiven you. There are none righteous—no one (Romans 3:23). Thankfully, Christ also gives a way to cleanse and heal our wounds. “And the God of all grace, who called you to his eternal glory in Christ, after you have suffered a little while, will himself restore you and make you strong, firm and steadfast” (1 Peter 5:10).
Third, participate in a healing process. While some of your healing can be done through prayer, reading the Word and asking God to touch your heart, much can also be done with your mate as well. Your mate is probably the best person to assist you in healing.
“But isn’t that asking the Wounder to help the Wounded?” you ask. Yes it is. I believe that, given the right frame of mind and attitude, wounded people can minister to each other and bring profound healing. I’ve talked about the Therapeutic Healing Process whereby two people, emotionally/ physically separated, can be intentional about owning how they have hurt their mate, validate their mate’s wounds, apologize and ask forgiveness and vow to relate in a healthier way in the future.
If we will “clean our side of the street” we can be a healing force for our wounded mate. We must, however, understand that we are simply doing our part and cannot coerce or demand the same from our mate. This requires great humility and a willingness for forgive. This is also best done with the help of a skilled therapist who can skillfully guide the process.
Fourth, be patient as you heal wounds and guard against inflicting new ones. Much can be done to create a path back to your mate by simply showing acts of kindness, again and again, and guarding against creating new wounds. Having participated in a Therapeutic Healing Process, you will likely feel kinder toward your mate. Seeing and feeling progress increases hope that the gap between you two can be bridged.
Finally, persevere in protecting your mate. With a generosity of spirit, you can treat your mate in new, loving ways. You refuse to be reactive, even if he/ she acts harshly to you. If you stick with it, you will notice positive change. It may not be as fast as you would like, but it will likely occur.
“Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres” (1 Corinthians 13:6-7).
Are you living in a broken marriage? Have you been emotionally/ physically separated, and do you long to find a way back to each other? Even if this is a one-sided desire, don’t wait any longer. Consider how you have wounded your mate, refusing to linger any longer on how you’ve been wounded. Ask God if he would ask you to be a healing instrument to bring healing to them. Invite them into a healing process, with no expectations as to outcome, as a way to help each other heal. Get expert help and begin the process.
If you would like to learn more about finding a way back to your mate after emotional/ physical separation, please go to our website, www.marriagerecoverycenter.com and our new website, www.thecenterforhealing.org and read more about the Therapeutic Healing Process. Please send responses to me at email@example.com 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: March 17, 2015