I had a challenging encounter with my wife, Christie some time ago. During an argument, I had said some hurtful things to her.
She approached me a bit later and said she wanted to talk to me.
“Sure,” I said. “But then I have some things I would like to say as well.”
“No, David,” she said. “I want this to be a time when I’m able to share with you.”
“I understand,” I said reassuringly. “I’ll listen fully, but then am going to want to share my feelings.”
“Not at this time,” she said. “I’d really like this to just be about my feelings concerning some things you said.”
“Certainly Christie,” I said. “I’m going to listen completely to you before sharing any of my feelings.”
Again Christie paused and looked at me, now becoming more upset again.
“I’m asking that this time be completely about my feelings and needs,” she said calmly. “You can share any concerns you have later tonight or tomorrow.”
“That’s not fair,” I protested. “I should be able to share my feelings too. This can’t be just about you.”
“I don’t know if it’s fair, David,” she continued, “but I’d like to know you are listening fully to me and not preparing what you have to say. I’d like to know you are fully with me and tuning into my needs.”
I could see that I was in a pickle as was Christie. I so much wanted to share my side of the story and she could sense that, causing her to feel unheard and unsafe. I wanted to make this a 50/50 proposition, and she could sense that as well. I wanted to make the situation “fair” and in so doing I was losing her and our connection.
I have written before on the incredibly powerful and necessary skill of bracketing, discussed by Scott Peck in his book, The Road Less Traveled, where we temporarily suspend our reactions and opinions to fully attend to another. Christie was asking me to set aside any agenda I had, any feelings of my own to fully attend to her. This was and is a reasonable request.
“Yes,” I said, softening. “I will fully be with you with no expectations of my own. I can sit with you, listen to you and not have any rebuttal or argument.”
“Thank you,” she said, softening in response.
She shared her feelings with me as I focused on the tools I strongly believe in when in a challenging encounter: active listening, empathy, validation, taking ownership and asking helpful questions. The more she shared and the more I tuned into her, the more the problem resolved.
Consider what happened here and how you might apply these concepts and tools to your marriage:
First, give up the “equal responsibility” fallacy. There is no such thing as “equal responsibility.” You are responsible for 100 percent of your behavior. Scripture tells us to “first take the plank out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to remove the plank from your brother’s eye.” (Matthew 7: 5) Scripture continues, saying we are to bear with another’s weaknesses. There is never a place for a 50/50 proposition, and pushing for this nearly always stems from a prideful desire to even the score. Give it up.
Second, understand first and then seek understanding. Stephen Covey, in his book, The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People made this phrase famous and it is worth adopting—seek first to fully understand and then, when the time is right, seek understanding. This requires a sensitivity to when the time is right and a thorough inspection of our attitude. Are you humble in seeking understanding? Have you fully met your mate’s need to be heard?
Third, focus primarily on your side of the street. We all know it’s true, but it bears repeating—we can only change ourselves. Efforts to manipulate others are bound to backfire. Focus on the 100 percent responsibility you have for yourself and watch your relationships become healthier.
Fourth, share concerns at another time. Your thoughts and feelings do matter, but there is a right time, place and situation in which to share them. Don’t share them out of reaction! Share them when you’ve had a chance to reflect, pray and consider your feelings. Ensure you have fully attended to your mate first and share your thoughts and feelings at another time when they will be better equipped to hear you.
Finally, listen carefully to how God wants to refine your character. As you create an environment to fully attend to your mate, step back and ask God what He wants to do with your character. See every situation as a “refining fire” used to grow your character into who He wants you to be.
Are you ready to focus on your part, attending fully to the needs of your mate? Are you ready to give up the “equal responsibility” fallacy? Are you ready to have your heart transformed? If you would like further help, we are here for you. Please send responses to me at [email protected] and read more about The Marriage Recovery Center on our website and learn about our Personal and Marriage Intensives as well as our newly formed Subscription Group, Thrive, for women struggling from emotional abuse.
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