Spouse walks in, sits down, doesn’t acknowledge your presence, ignores your greeting, starts scrolling on the phone.
You’re standing there wondering, “Will it always be like this?”or worse, “Can this marriage even be saved?”
Most people would want to lash out at that point. Who wouldn’t? You’ve been lonely for a long time, misunderstood, attacked. You feel discouraged to the point of hopelessness, maybe even suicide. The pit is deep and dark and lonely… and it seems like it’s never going to change.
And of course, our natural reactions are to blame others, right. Anyone would! Just look at the evidence, right? They are, after all, ignoring you, not wanting to talk, uninterested in solving the problems. You’re the one that’s been doing all the reading, taking the classes, asking others for advice… Unless you feel like you can’t get help because you are worried of what others would think, then you are just alone…
And of course it would be normal to think they are to blame.
Why wouldn’t you wonder if you should just give up? Anyone would.
But… is it too crazy of me to suggest for a second that you might not want to do that?
You probably think I’m going down the “die to self until nothing is left” route, right? Martyr yourself, right? While there may be times for that, I’m suggesting something else… something that doesn’t put all the solution possibilities in your spouse’s hands and give away your ability to impact your marriage. Here’s the thing – you can do something about your marriage, but it won’t be what you think, and it won’t be easy. It’s not as hard as what you’ve been doing, however, and you’ll likely see progress and even watch God work in the middle of all this.
Maybe you’re still about to start thinking I’m talking about throwing yourself under a bus – hang on. In our ministry, we actually walk with people through a separation when it’s necessary, have steps for that, and encourage individuals in marriage to have healthy, marriage-protecting boundaries. All with the goal of restoration and reconciliation. No, it’s not the majority of what we do, but when a wife feels she has no other options, we walk with her in hopes of the end goal of keeping the marriage intact.
There’s a verse in the Bible about loving others as you love yourself. You’ve probably seen it. It’s in Matthew and starts in Chapter 22:
Teacher, which commandment is the greatest in the Law?” 37 Jesus declared, “Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’ 38 This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’… ”
So we’ve heard the “self-care” buzz and that’s legit. Yes, love ourselves, accept God’s love for us. (don’t be selfish – that’s different) And everything I’ve ever seen demonstrates those who love themselves well are the ones who are capable of loving others well. I do have another thought about this, though.
I could be wrong here, but it seems culture has turned that verse and Matthew 7:12 into the Golden Rule: Do unto others as you would have them do unto you with a huge misunderstanding and it doesn’t work.
Here’s the problem – and from what I’ve seen with the thousands of people we’ve interacted with since 2005, it’s a huge root of marriage issues.
We treat others as we think they would want to be treated, based on how WE want to be treated.
Notice that’s NOT how THEY want to be treated.
Do you see the disconnect? It makes no sense to do unto others as we would have them do unto us – but it DOES work if when we think of that, we are thinking about being THEM. Even the well-known parenting verse, Proverbs 22:6, train up a child in the way he should go, and when he is old, he will not depart from it, in the original language refers to how that particular child is uniquely wired. We’re supposed to raise our kids based on their Creator’s creation of them, not as if they are US. Why wouldn’t we do that with adults? Treat others as they are wired to be treated, as we would like to be treated according to our wiring, also.
So if I like ice cream, and you like ice cream, and I treat you how I’d like to be treated, when I get ice cream, I’m going to offer you some.
The problem is, I bought what I liked.
This is UDF’s Cotton Candy (don’t judge me 🙂 ). YOU like Rocky Road. So I’m sharing, giving of myself, and it’s not exactly what you want. So you’re gracious anyway and we get along fine about it.
But here’s how that can play out – and believe me, I see it all the time in our classes – commonly men and women both give and serve a spouse who doesn’t perceive their efforts the way they are intended. It’s on both sides of the fence. Often they don’t even notice what their spouse does, because it isn’t important to them. We are sharing our ice cream, sacrificing to do so, and our spouse isn’t aware that it’s a sacrifice, mostly because they’re not even really into the flavor.
Now I’m going to dish some hard stuff. You probably won’t like it.
Most of us know the domestic violence statistics. 1 in 3 women will experience intimate relationship violence in their lifetime. What we don’t hear often is this (taken from the CDC website):
- In the U.S., about 1 in 3 (33.6% or 37.3 million) men experienced contact sexual violence, physical violence, and/or stalking by an intimate partner during their lifetime (Figure 9).
- Over one-third of men (34.2% or 38.1 million) experienced psychological aggression by an intimate partner during their lifetime (Table 12).
If I just made you angry, I’m sorry. You’re right – women suffer domestic violence. We are smaller than men. We often can’t physically dominate a situation or protect ourselves. And yes, bad men exist. It’s a problem. Please know your experiences are real, they hurt, they’ve harmed you, and your feelings are valid. I would be sad if anything I’m saying here makes you feel diminished in any way. My heart is to discuss something else, without negating your experience as a wife who is hurting. Is it too much to ask to give me the benefit of the doubt on this one?
I do wonder about something with these stats and the stories I’ve heard from hurting men. (and yes, I’m fully aware I am dealing with a culture who is fifteen shades of purple ticked off about patriarchy, sexual misconduct in the workplace, and talks about toxic masculinity, #metoo). AND… Given that domestic violence happens to men at about the same rate as women, given there are hardly any shelters for them, given our culture silences their pain and voice because they are men, maybe God might use this info to wake some of us up. Maybe the veil being lifted on male emotional pain can help us save our marriages.
The question I’m asking is this… is it ridiculous to think that the emotional verbal responses women launch at their husband are any less damaging to them than the ones women suffer with?
In other words, is it out of line to think men have feelings too? Or that men may be hurting also?
Knowing also that 100% of domestic violence situations include verbal abuse, we have to understand these behaviors are on both sides of the street.
*Note to those who are now angry at me: If you are interested in fighting about this, do your research, show me your statistics, and come prepared. And be respectful because if you aren’t, I’m just going to delete your comment. Your inability to communicate about this respectfully with me may in fact just prove my point and shine some light on why your marriage is a hot mess in the first place.
If you are interested in saving your marriage, however, maybe you might be open to the possibility that you could learn something here that could turn it around.
And I do know that it is possible to simply be triggered and angry, but open at the same time. I’m cool with that, as well.
Now let’s talk about how to fix this…
The key to a successful marriage is empathy.
This is where you see things from the other person’s point of view.
Literally looking at the world the way they see it.
Please note that it doesn’t mean you change your opinion. It is simply being able to see where we are blind. Didn’t Christ say He came to give sight to the blind? Yes, to save us, but sight to the blind is also mentioned. What if we’re blind? Denying the existence of another point of view is blindness. Think about it.
Empathy isn’t giving someone a “pass” on their behavior, attitudes, or thoughts, but rather a high-level communication skill that simply articulates understanding. Without the ability to communicate empathetically, your marriage is in serious trouble. Know why?
When you live with someone long enough and they realize you don’t understand them, they feel disconnected and unknown. When you have enough of that, you lose positivity, then dive into the “4 Horsemen of the Apocalypse:” criticism, defensiveness, stonewalling, and contempt. The negative energy in the relationship starts to kill it. (According to wildly brilliant researcher, Dr. John Gottman, who can predict divorce in less than 5 minutes with a couple at 96% accuracy)
When your spouse has a hard day, do you ask questions and are genuinely interested in their situation? Or do you wait for them to stop talking so you can tell about your day? Or worse, just wander off without empathizing, comforting, really being there for them?
So while they’re sitting in the family room ignoring you, take a deep breath, table your judgment, and ask how their day was – and actually care. Think about it from their perspective, not your own.
It’s a single step in the right direction.
Know that most will eventually grasp this idea simply because you are modeling it. Oftentimes, people can’t duplicate what they haven’t experienced, and especially not what they haven’t ever even seen. So yeah. Empathy. Do it and you’ll see others eventually do it for you.
And then go get ice cream together. And both of you can get the flavor you really like!
You’ll see each other differently – and as all highly skilled communication professionals know, empathy is the key to all successful outcomes. Without it, your relationship is doomed. I’m not talking about the other person’s ability to do it, either, because you can actually help facilitate it after you master the skill.
Dare you to choose to stop being blind and truly see. Might facilitate more abundant living – and will definitely deepen your relationships.
Double-dog dare you to stop being a victim and start this movement in your family today.
Love to you,
Want more? Join us at our 2019 Women’s retreat – Deflating Defensiveness: Turning Conflict into Connection.