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Archive for the ‘Marriage’ Category

Are You Helping or Enabling Your Spouse?

SOURCE:  Mark Merrill

Does your spouse want or need to change something in their life? If so, it’s critical to know the difference between helping and enabling them through that change.

The change they want or need could be something serious like an addiction to prescription drugs, alcohol, food, or pornography. Or it could be something simpler like eating healthier, exercising more, or changing an annoying habit. They may talk about it, they may whine about it, they may pretend it doesn’t exist, but being their spouse, you see it better than most anyone.

In general, helping your spouse is doing something right and healthy for them that they cannot do for themselves. Enabling is doing for them what they can and need to do for themselves, allowing them to live an irresponsible life.

A recent reality show my friend was watching about a severely obese person illustrates both helping and enabling. A woman needed to lose hundreds of pounds or she would die. Her relatives had been going to the store for her every day (since she couldn’t go herself), but they bought only the unhealthy food that was killing her. That was not helping; that was enabling her obesity. Later, the relatives saw the reality of what they were doing, moved in with her, and helped her change her eating and cooking habits by cooking only healthy foods for her for several months. That was helping. She learned to choose healthier options, and successfully lived alone again, with a radically different lifestyle and weight loss that gave her hope.

Here’s what enabling looks like:

  • You do for your spouse the things they can and should do for themselves.
  • You cover up for your spouse when their issues create problems for them and others.
  • You make excuses for their behavior with others.
  • You lie to them, to yourself, and to others about the extent and eventual consequences of their issue.
  • You protect your spouse from the normal consequences of their problem.
  • You ignore your spouse or their issue altogether. Ignoring is enabling.
  • You blame others or indulge your spouse blaming others, for their issue.
  • You make empty threats related to the consequences of their choices and don’t follow through.
  • You avoid being around your spouse. Sometimes, this is necessary for a dangerous situation but usually, it only allows the spouse to wallow in the problem.
  • You repeatedly get your spouse out of the trouble their issue creates, usually at a high cost to yourself.

Here’s what helping looks like:

  • You do for your spouse the things that they cannot do for themselves.
  • You are honest with them about the consequences of inaction.
  • You don’t lie for them, and you don’t lie to them.
  • You don’t create excuses to others to cover up for their problems or issues.
  • You don’t clean up the messes their struggles or issues create.
  • You love them unconditionally, just as they are, yet you also love them enough to hope they choose to change.
  • You help them focus on the goal, without dwelling on any missteps or failures along the way.
  • You cheer them on and celebrate even small steps towards their goals.
  • You accept that you cannot change them, that they will not change unless they want to change. This may feel like giving up, but accepting this truth gives them freedom to own the change.
  • You refuse to take responsibility for their bad choices.

These are just some of the ways you can check yourself to see if you are truly helping them or enabling their destructive choices. But these are not exhaustive checklists. Don’t delay to seek out professional counsel for yourself if you have a serious situation. Don’t give up hope, but don’t give in to the temptation to indulge them in keeping the peace. And remember, your spouse can only experience true change when they want true change.

Blended Families: 10 Things to Know Before You Remarry

SOURCE:  Ron Deal/Family Life

Challenges every single parent should consider before deciding to remarry.

Specializing in stepfamily therapy and education has taught me one thing: Couples should be highly educated about remarriage and the process of becoming a stepfamily before they ever walk down the aisle.  Remarriage—particularly when children are involved—is much more challenging than dating seems to imply. Be sure to open your eyes well before a decision to marry has been made.

The following list represents key challenges every single parent (or those dating a single parent) should know before deciding to remarry. Open your eyes wide now and you—and your children—will be grateful later.

1. Wait two to three years following a divorce or the death of your spouse before seriously dating. No, I’m not kidding. Most people need a few years to fully heal from the ending of a previous relationship. Moving into a new relationship short-circuits the healing process, so do yourself a favor and grieve the pain, don’t run from it. In addition, your children will need at least this much time to heal and find stability in their visitation schedule. Slow down.

2. Date two years before deciding to marry; then date your future spouse’s children before the wedding. Dating two years gives you time to really get to know one another. Too many relationships are formed on the rebound when both people lack godly discernment about their fit with a new person. Give yourself plenty of time to get to know each other thoroughly. Keep in mind—and this is very important—that dating is inconsistent with remarried life.

Even if everything feels right, dramatic psychological and emotional shifts often take place for children, parents, and stepparents right after the wedding. What seems like smooth sailing can become a rocky storm in a hurry. Don’t be fooled into thinking you won’t experience difficulties. As one parent said, “Falling in love is not enough when it comes to remarriage; there’s just more required than that.”

When you do become serious about marriage, date with the intention of deepening the stepparent/stepchild relationships. Young children can attach themselves to a future stepparent rather quickly, so make sure you’re serious before spending lots of time together. Older children will need more time (research suggests that the best time to remarry is before a child’s tenth birthday or after his/her sixteenth; couples who marry between those years collide with the teen’s developmental needs).

3. Know how to “cook” a stepfamily. Most people think the way to cook a stepfamily is with a blender, microwave, pressure cooker, or food processor. Nothing could be further from the truth. All of these “cooking styles” attempt to combine the family ingredients in a rapid fashion. Unfortunately, resentment and frustration are the only results.

The way to cook a stepfamily is with a crockpot. Once thrown into the pot, it will take time and low heat to bring ingredients together, requiring that adults step into a new marriage with determination and patience. The average stepfamily takes five to seven years to combine; some take longer. There are no quick recipes.  (Read more about how to cook a stepfamily here.)

4. Realize that the “honeymoon” comes at the end of the journey for remarried couples, not the beginning. Ingredients thrown into a crockpot that have not had sufficient time to cook don’t taste good—and might make you sick. Couples need to understand that the rewards of stepfamily life (security, family identity, and gratitude for one another) come at the end of the journey. Just as the Israelites traveled a long time before entering the Promise Land, so will it be for your stepfamily.

5. Think about the kids. Children experience numerous losses before entering a stepfamily. In fact, your remarriage is another. It sabotages their fantasy that Mom and Dad can reconcile, or that a deceased parent will always hold his or her place in the home. Seriously consider your children’s losses before deciding to remarry. If waiting till your children leave home before you remarry is not an option, work to be sensitive to your children’s loss issues. Don’t rush them and don’t take their grief away.

6. Manage and be sensitive to loyalties. Even in the best of circumstances, children feel torn between their biological parents and likely feel that enjoying your dating partner will please you but betray the other parent. Don’t force children to make choices, and examine the binds they feel. Give them your permission to love and respect new people in the other home and let them warm up to your new spouse in their own time.

7. Don’t expect your new spouse to feel the same about your children as you do. It’s a good fantasy, but stepparents won’t care for your children to the same degree that you do. This is not to say that stepparents and stepchildren can’t have close bonds; they can. But it won’t be the same. When looking at your daughter, you will see a 16-year-old who brought you mud pies when she was 4 and showered you with hugs each night after work. Your spouse will see a self-centered brat who won’t abide by the house rules. Expect to have different opinions and to disagree on parenting decisions.

8. Realize that remarriage has unique barriers. Are you more committed to your children or your marriage? If you aren’t willing to risk losing your child to the other home, for example, don’t make the commitment of marriage. Making a covenant does not mean neglecting your kids, but it does mean that they are taught which relationship is your ultimate priority. A marriage that is not the priority will be mediocre at best.

Another unique barrier involves the “ghost of marriage past.” Individuals can be haunted by the negative experiences of previous relationships and not even recognize how it is impacting the new marriage. Work to not interpret the present in light of the past, or you might be destined to repeat it.

9. Parent as a team; get your plan ready. No single challenge is more predictive of stepfamily success than the ability of the couple to parent as a team. Stepparents must find their role, know their limits in authority, and borrow power from the biological parent in order to contribute to parental leadership. Biological parents must keep alive their role as primary disciplinarian and nurturer while supporting the stepparent’s developing role (read this series of articles for more on stepparenting). Managing these roles will not be easy; get a plan and stick together.

10. Know what to tell the kids. Tell them:

  • It’s okay to be confused about the new people in your life.
  • It’s okay to be sad about our divorce (or parent’s death).
  • You need to find someone safe to talk to about all this.
  • You don’t have to love my new spouse, but you do need to treat him or her with the same respect you would give a coach or teacher at school.
  • You don’t have to take sides. When you feel caught in the middle between our home and your other home, please tell me and we’ll stop.
  • You belong to two homes with different rules, routines, and relationships. Find your place and contribute good things in each.
  • The stress of our new home will reduce—eventually.
  • I love you and will always have enough room in my heart for you. I know it’s hard sharing me with someone else. I love you.

Work smarter, not harder

For stepfamilies, accidentally finding their way through the wilderness to the promised land is a rarity. Successful navigation requires a map. You’ve got to work smarter, not harder. Before you remarry, be sure to educate yourself on the options and challenges that lie ahead.

Be the Change You Wish to See in Your Relationship

SOURCE:  Terry Gaspard/Gottman Institute

Ben and Alicia are both waiting for the other person to change. I see it all the time in my private practice.

“I’ve been miserable for years,” complains Ben. “I’ve asked Alicia to give me space, but things don’t appear to be changing. It feels like I can’t breathe.”

“Ben has his friends over every weekend,” Alicia reflects. “He doesn’t consider my needs and I feel so alone.”

If you want your partner to change, start by accepting them for who they are. In The Seven Principles for Making Marriage Work, Dr. John Gottman says, “People can change only if they feel that they are basically liked and accepted the way they are. When people feel criticized, disliked, and unappreciated they are unable to change. Instead, they feel under siege and dig in to protect themselves.”

Instead of criticizing your partner, remind yourself of all of the things you appreciate about them, and share those things with them. Be genuinely interested in learning about why they see or do something differently than you, and be open to respecting and even celebrating what makes each of you unique.

Of course, there are some things that should never be tolerated in a relationship, like abuse, addiction, or infidelity. These behaviors should be addressed in a loving and direct way with the help of a professional. Even in those cases, it is possible to accept the person even if you do not accept their behavior.

Vulnerability and intimacy go hand in hand

What Ben and Alicia don’t realize is that they aren’t really arguing about the amount of time they spend together. The underlying issue in their marriage is that neither partner is able to express their needs in a non-blameful way.

They had never discussed what alone time and time together meant to each of them. By talking about this in my office, Ben finally understood Alicia’s fear of being alone. His understanding led him to carve out time to spend together on the weekends.

Couples seeking a deeper emotional connection need to understand that vulnerability and intimacy go hand in hand. In other words, intimacy can only occur when partners are vulnerable enough to share their deepest hopes, fears, and dreams without judgement.

Change starts with you

Do you spend more time questioning your partner’s words or actions than examining your own? Blaming your partner can feel good in the moment, but it’s dangerous because it can lead to anger and resentment.

Conflict is not a bad thing in relationships. After watching thousands of couples in his lab for over 40 years, Dr. Gottman discovered a simple truth: all couples argue. The difference between the couples that stay together and the ones who divorce is the way they repair after conflict. The Masters of relationships take responsibility for their role in the issue and change their own behavior.

Dr. Gottman explains, “The couples that don’t repair those hurts end up with festering wounds that grow bigger day by day, the month, and the year until they finally break the couple apart. Repair is absolutely crucial in any kind of relationship, particularly intimate relationships.”

Here are four things you can do instead of trying to change your partner that can change your relationship for the better.

1. Be a better partner
Many people stay in bad relationships with the desire to change their partner. In Marriage Rules, Dr. Harriet Lerner writes, “If you don’t change your part in a stuck pattern, no change will occur. Change comes from the bottom up: that is from the person who is in the most pain, or who has the least power, or who has lost or compromised too much in the relationship.”

2. Focus on the issues at hand
When you focus on changing your partner, you miss the opportunity to work together to come up with a solution. You’re no longer on the same team. Instead, focus on the issues at hand to meet both of your needs.

Anger is usually a symptom of underlying hurt, fear, and frustration, so speak in I statements and focus on expressing your feelings in a vulnerable way that invites your partner to understand your pain, rather than pushes them away.

3. Take responsibility
We are responsible for how our words and actions make our partner feel. Apologize to your partner by taking responsibility for the problem, even just a small piece, and this will validate their feelings, promote forgiveness, and allow you both to move on.

4. Complain without blame
In Why Marriages Succeed or Fail, Dr. Gottman explains that criticizing your partner is one of The Four Horsemen that predicts divorce. It is different from offering a critique or voicing a complaint. A criticism attacks the core of a person’s character while a complaint focuses on a specific behavior.

Successful couples remember to give each other the benefit of the doubt and consider that they are both doing the best they can. In The Science of Trust, Dr. Gottman advices couples to talk about their feelings in terms of a positive need, instead of what they do not need. By being good friends, you can build a healthy bond that will help you repair and navigate challenging moments together.

There is a saying to be the change you wish to see in the world. Gandhi advises us, “If we could change ourselves, the tendencies in the world would also change. As a man changes his own nature, so does the attitude of the world change towards him.” I believe this to be true in relationships as well.

Instead of trying to change your partner, be the change you wish to see in your relationship.

5 Biggest Little Ways to Improve Your Marriage

SOURCE:  Shaunti Feldhahn/Family Life

A few small actions carry surprising power in building a lasting relationship.

Not long ago, the marriage of some close friends—I’ll call them Daniel and Jessica—suddenly imploded. We did everything we could to stand with them in their crisis to speak hope for their future together. Unfortunately, their marriage didn’t survive.

I’ll never forget a conversation I had with Jessica one day. Through her sobs, she said, “He worked so hard for a year to take us on that amazing vacation to Hawaii. But all I really wanted was for him to put his arm around me at church!”

Huh? Do you think in the midst of all her pain that she was thinking clearly? Actually, I do.

I could fill in lots of other details, but ultimately the pattern is a sadly common one. You may have seen it too. Daniel was a godly, well-intentioned husband who showed his love in several ways, including working long hours to provide for his family and to do nice things for them. You see, for him, providing is love.

Unfortunately, he didn’t realize that what he was working so hard for wasn’t what Jessica most needed—and in some ways was actually robbing her of the closeness she needed the most. (And of course there were ways she didn’t know she was hurting him.) What she needed most, more than all the expensive vacations in the world, were a few simple, specific day-to-day actions.

But as simple as loving gestures in public? you wonder.

Yes! My research on happy couples showed that an extraordinarily high percentage of them were (often without realizing it!) doing a few little specific actions that were making their spouses feel deeply cared for. Jessica, as it turns out, is like nearly all other men and women in her deep rooted desire for these surprisingly meaningful gestures.

Day-to-day actions

Clearly, a few small actions won’t fix deep relationship problems. But for most of us, a handful of simple day-to-day actions increase the likelihood that our spouse feels that we care deeply about them, instead of feeling that we don’t. There’s just enormous power in that!

For nearly every man or woman, the same few small, gender-specific actions not only matter but have a huge impact on a couple’s level of happiness. But these little actions take on even more power when accompanied by those that matter to your spouse individually.

Let’s begin with the few small actions that the surveys indicate matter a lot to almost every man or woman—what we might call the Fantastic Five.

When individuals were asked on the survey if a particular action made them happy, the affirmative response numbers were staggeringly high for five specific actions for each gender, even among the struggling couples. Close to 100 percent of all husbands and wives said these actions mattered, with between 65 and 90 percent of all husbands and wives saying these actions would deeply please them.

In other words, you are very likely to make your spouse feel deeply cared for if you make a habit of doing the same five things consistently.

The Fantastic Five for him

A wife will have a big impact on her husband’s happiness when she does the following:

1. Notices his effort and sincerely thanks him for it. (For example, she says, “Thank you for mowing the lawn even though it was so hot outside.” Or, “Thanks for playing with the kids, even when you were so tired from work.”) This deeply pleases 72 percent of all men.

2. Says “You did a great job at __________.” This deeply pleases 69 percent of all men.

3. Mentions in front of others something he did well. This deeply pleases 72 percent of all men.

4. Shows that she desires him sexually and that he pleases her sexually. This deeply pleases 85 percent of all men.

5. Makes it clear to him that he makes her happy. (For example, she expresses appreciation for something he did for her with a smile, words, a big hug, etc.) This deeply pleases 88 percent of all men.

The Fantastic Five for her

On his side, a husband will have a big impact on his wife when he does the following:

1. Takes her hand. (For example, when walking through a parking lot or sitting together at the movies.) This deeply pleases 82 percent of all women.

2. Leaves her a message by voice mail, e-mail, or text during the day to say he loves and is thinking about her. This deeply pleases 75 percent of all women.

3. Puts his arm around her or lays his hand on her knee when they are sitting next to each other in public (at church, at a restaurant with friends, etc.). This deeply pleases 74 percent of all women.

4. Tells her sincerely, “You are beautiful.” This deeply pleases 76 percent of all women.

5. Pulls himself out of a funk when he’s morose, grumpy, or upset about something, instead of withdrawing. (This doesn’t mean he doesn’t get angry or need space; it means he tries to pull himself out of it.) This deeply pleases 72 percent of all women.

Keys that unlock any door

Did you notice that all these happiness-inducing actions are simple, learnable, and doable by any wife or any husband? If you put each of the five biggest little things to work every day, I’m betting your marriage will improve—in some cases, radically.

And here’s more great news: All these small but powerful actions matter regardless of what the person’s love language is. For example, most wives (82 percent) are affected when her husband reaches out and takes her hand, regardless of whether physical touch is her thing.

There’s no looking back for our friends Jessica and Daniel. But I’m so thankful that God is good. He is always at work to redeem our broken hearts—and I know He’ll do it for our friends. Still, a corner of my heart mourns the heartbreak that might have been prevented if they had truly understood the power of doing these best little things.

We all know that small, thoughtful acts are not a magic cure-all for every marriage problem. But having talked to so many who nurtured much happiness with simple but powerful actions, I know all of us can build that all-important foundation that helps us believe that our mate notices and cares.

Because as it turns out, believing that the other person cares is far more important to building a happy marriage than most of us ever realized.

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Adapted from The Surprising Secrets of Highly Happy Marriages, by Shaunti Feldhahn

Strengthen Your Relationship Roots

SOURCE:  Prepare-Enrich

After being gone almost all day I arrived at home at about 4:00pm.  The door we use to enter our house leads to the kitchen and the first thing I saw was a counter full of dishes.

My frustration levels grew instantaneously.

My heart started beating faster.

Angry emotions gripped me.

I thought, “I have been gone all day.  My husband and kids have been home all day and they left all their breakfast and lunch dishes for me to do!  How am I to cook supper with no counter space?”  I proceeded to walk into the living room and complain to my husband in front of the kids about why he didn’t do the dishes and why he left them for me to do.

Bad choice.

As you can imagine the rest of that evening was not harmonious, nor were the next few days as my husband hardly spoke to me.  This incident was a tipping point.  Brad was feeling falsely accused in front of the kids.  He thought he had been this great dad, spending the day with the kids and giving them his full attention and I came home and immediately complained about how he spent the day.  I was feeling taking advantage of.  We both needed to learn a new way to communicate our feelings.

Later that week, Brad gave me a piece of paper with three life rules, some pertaining to this instance and some pertaining to other struggles we were having.

 

While this is not a fond memory for us, it forced us to form new habits and new understandings, new relationship roots.  We are not perfect, but we seek to understand each other – not accuse each other, to talk about our frustrations with each other in private, to always speak well of each other in front of others, and to forgive each other. It was hard, yet we are better today because of it.

What relationship roots are you and your partner growing?

  • Are you allowing the tough times in your relationship to grow deep roots, shallow roots or no roots?
  • Roots need room for water to flow in and out.  Are you giving and receiving forgiveness to keep communication flowing?
  • Are you growing new roots by seeking different ways of communicating or spending time together?
  • What are you doing to listen to the old roots – the lessons you have already learned, the lessons that provide structural support to your relationship?

Marriage/Relatonships: Does Love Cover A Multitude Of Sins?

SOURCE:  Leslie Vernick/AACC

A woman struggling in an emotionally destructive marriage once asked me, “Doesn’t love cover a multitude of sins? (1 Peter 4:8).  She continued, “Who am I to hold my husband’s sin or blindness against him?   The Bible teaches us, ‘It is good for us to overlook an offense’ (Proverbs 19:11).  Shouldn’t I just keep quiet and minister to him, and pray that he will see God’s love in me?”

Many counselors working with those in destructive marriages struggle with this same question.  Jesus makes it clear. We are not to judge or condemn anyone (Matthew 7:1,2).  God instructs all his followers to forbear with and forgive one another.  We know we all fail one another (James 3:2), and we know that Jesus tells a person to take the log out of their own eye before attempting to deal with the speck in someone else’s eye (Matthew 7:3-5). To bring up each and every offense in any relationship would become tiresome indeed.

Love does cover a multitude of sins but not all sins. Paul tells believers that we are to distance ourselves from those who claim to be believers yet live immoral and destructive lives (1 Corinthians 5:11). He instructs us to warn those who are lazy (1 Thessalonians 5:14), and that we ought not participate in unfruitful deeds of darkness (Ephesians 5:11).  Paul also encourages believers to restore someone who is caught in a trespass (Galatians 6:1) and James exhorts us to bring a brother back who has wandered from the truth (James 5:19), When someone deeply offends us, Jesus says we’re to go talk with them so that our relationship can be repaired (Matthew 18:15-17).

Yes, we ought to forgive and forbear, overlooking minor offenses hoping others will do the same for us. And, we are to speak up when someone’s sin is hurting them, hurting others, or hurting us.

Serious and repetitive sin is lethal to any relationship. We would not be loving the destructive person if we kept quiet and colluded with his self-deception or enabled his sin to flourish without any attempt to speak truth into his life  (Ephesians 4:15).  Yes, we are called to be imitators of Christ and live a life of love, however, let’s be careful that as Christian counselors we do not put a heavy burden on someone to do something that God himself does not do.  God is gracious to the saint and unrepentant sinner alike, but he does not have close relationship with both. He says our sins separate us from him (Isaiah 59:2; Jeremiah 5:25).

When someone repeatedly and seriously sins against us and is not willing to look at what he’s done and is not willing to change, it is not possible to have a warm or close relationship.  We’ve at times misrepresented unconditional love to mean unconditional relationship. Jesus’ conversations with the Pharisees are examples of him challenging their self-deception and pride so they would repent and experience true fellowship with him (Matthew 23). He loved them, but they did not enjoy a loving or safe relationship. Jesus never pretended otherwise.  Let’s not encourage our counselees to pretend and placate. Jesus never did.

A marriage or relationship that has no boundaries or conditions is not psychologically healthy nor is it spiritually sound.  It enables a repeatedly destructive spouse to continue to believe the lie that the rules of life don’t apply to him and if he does something hurtful or sinful, he or she shouldn’t have to suffer the relational fallout. That kind of thinking is not biblical, or healthy, or true.  It harms not only their marriage, it harms everyone involved.

For the welfare of the destructive person and his or her marriage, there are times we must take a strong stand.  To act neutral in the matter only enables the person’s self-deception to grow unchallenged. Scripture warns, “He who conceals his sins does not prosper” (Proverbs 28:18).

The destructive person desperately needs to see God’s love, but he or she also desperately needs to see himself more truthfully so that he can wake up and ask God to help him make necessary changes. It’s true that we are all broken and in desperate need of God’s healing grace.  The problem for the destructive person is that he or she has been unwilling to acknowledge his part of the destruction.   She’s been unwilling to confess or take responsibility or get the help she needs to change her destructive ways.  Instead she’s minimized, denied, lied, excused, rationalized, or blamed others.

Confronting someone and/or implementing tough consequences should never be done to scold, shame, condemn, or punish. As Christian counselors we have one purpose—to jolt someone awake with the strong medicine of God’s truth or the reality of tough consequences.  We hope that by doing so, they will come to their senses, turn to God and stop their destructive behaviors for the glory of God, their own welfare, and the restoration of their marriage.

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Leslie Vernick, M.S.W., is a popular speaker, author, Licensed Clinical Social Worker and relationship coach with a counseling practice in Pennsylvania. She is a best-selling author of seven books, including The Emotionally Destructive Relationship and her most recent, The Emotionally Destructive Marriage. Leslie currently serves on the Board of Directors for Lighthouse Network, a Christian mental health outreach ministry. She received her Master of Clinical Social Work degree from the University of Illinois and has taken postgraduate training in biblical counseling and cognitive therapy.

 

Marital Distress: Why Do I Have to Be the One to Change?

SOURCE:  Michele Weiner-Davis/The Huffington Post

You’re really mad at your partner. You’ve explained your point of view a million times. S/he never listens. You can’t believe that a person can be so insensitive. So, you wait. You’re convinced that eventually s/he will have to see the light; that you’re right and s/he’s wrong. In the meantime, there’s silence. But the tension is so thick in your house, you can cut it with a knife. You hate the distance, but there’s nothing you can do about it because you’re mad. You’re really mad.

You try to make yourself feel better by getting involved in other things. Sometimes this even works. But you wake up every morning facing the fact that nothing’s changed at all. A feeling of dissatisfaction permeates everything you do. From time to time, you ask yourself, “Is there something I should do differently,?” but you quickly dismiss this thought because you know that, in your heart of hearts, you’re not the one to blame. So the distance between you and your partner persists.

Does any of this sound familiar? Have you and your partner been so angry with each other that you’ve gone your separate ways and stopped interacting with each other? Have you convinced yourself that, until s/he initiates making up, there will be no peace in your house? If so, I have few things I want to tell you.

You are wasting precious energy holding on to your anger. It’s exhausting to feel resentment day in and day out. It takes a toll on your body and soul. It’s bad for your health and hard on your spirit. It’s awful for your relationship. Anger imprisons you. It casts a gray cloud over your days. It prevents you from feeling real joy in any part of your life. Each day you drown yourself in resentment is another day lost out of your life. What a waste!

I have worked with so many people who live in quiet desperation because they are utterly convinced that their way of seeing things is right and their partner’s is wrong. They spend a lifetime trying to get their partners to share their views. I hear, “I’ll change if s/he changes,” a philosophy that ultimately leads to a stalemate. There are many variations of this position. For example, “I’d be nicer to her, if she were nicer to me,” or “I’d be more physical and affectionate if he were more communicative with me,” or “I’d be more considerate and tell her about my plans if she wouldn’t hound me all the time about what I do.” You get the picture… “I’ll be different if you start being different first.” Trust me when I tell you that this can be a very, very long wait.

There’s a much better way to view things when you and your partner get stuck like this. I’ve been working with couples for years and I’ve learned a lot about how change occurs in relationships. It’s like a chain reaction. If one person changes, the other one does too. It really doesn’t matter who starts first. It’s simply a matter of tipping over the first domino. Change is reciprocal. Let me give you an example.

I worked with a woman who was very distressed about her husband’s long hours at work. She felt they spent very little time together as a couple and that he was of little help at home. This infuriated her. Every evening when he returned home from work, her anger got the best of her and she criticized him for bailing out on her. Inevitably, the evening would be ruined. The last thing he wanted to do after a long day at work was to deal with problems the moment he walked in the door. Although she understood this, she was so hurt and angry about his long absences that she felt her anger was justified. She wanted a suggestion from me about how to get her husband to be more attentive and loving. She was at her wit’s end.

I told her that I could completely understand why she was frustrated and that, if I were in her shoes, I would feel exactly the same way. However, I wondered if she could imagine how her husband might feel about her nightly barrage of complaints. “He probably wishes he didn’t have to come home,” she said. “Precisely,” I thought to myself, and I knew she was ready to switch gears. I suggested that she try an experiment. “Tonight when he comes home, surprise him with an affectionate greeting. Don’t complain, just tell him you’re happy to see him. Do something kind or thoughtful that you haven’t done in a long time…even if you don’t feel like it.” “You mean like fixing him his favorite meal or giving him a warm hug? I used to do that a lot.” “That’s exactly what I mean,” I told her, and we discussed other things she might do as well. She agreed to give it a try.

Two weeks later she returned to my office and told me about the results of her “experiment.”

“That first night after I talked with you I met him at the door and, without a word, gave him a huge hug. He looked astounded, but curious. I made him his favorite pasta dish, which was heavy on the garlic, so he smelled the aroma the moment he walked in. Immediately, he commented on it and looked pleased. We had a great evening together, the first in months. I was so pleased and surprised by his positive reaction that I felt motivated to keep being ‘the new me.’ Since then things between us have been so much better, it’s amazing. He’s come home earlier and he’s even calling me from work just to say hello. I can’t believe the change in him. I’m so much happier this way.”

The moral of this story is obvious. When one partner changes, the other partner changes too. It’s a law of relationships. If you aren’t getting what you need or want from your loved one, instead of trying to convince him or her to change, why not change your approach to the situation? Why not be more pragmatic? If what you’re doing (talking to your partner about the error of his/her ways) hasn’t been working, no matter how sterling your logic, you’re not going to get very far. Be more flexible and creative. Be more strategic. Spend more time trying to figure out what might work as opposed to being hell bent on driving your point home. You might be pleasantly surprised. Remember, insanity has been defined as doing the same old thing over and over and expecting different results.

Look, life is short. We only have one go-around. Make your relationship the best it can possibly be. Stop waiting for your partner to change in order for things to be better. When you decide to change first, it will be the beginning of a solution avalanche. Try it, you’ll like it!

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