When was the last time you had a fight, slept in separate bedrooms and had fantasies/fears that your marriage was over?
Joe and Tamra, working with me on a recent Marriage Intensive, had a night like that in the middle of their Intensive counseling.
“It’s over this time, doc,” Joe said during a frantic phone call one evening. “I know she is never going to keep working on our marriage.”
“Easy does it,” I said to the 49-year-old gentlemen from the Midwest. A hard-working man with a blue-collar job, Joe was not prone to exaggeration. His call indicated he really did fear the worst.
The first day of work had gone well and their marriage seemed to be stabilizing quickly. They were near separation when they arrived, but both were pleased with the way they had faced some difficult issues and learned new skills for keeping them out of trouble in the future.
“I said the wrong thing tonight,” Joe admitted. “You told us to go easy and I didn’t follow your advice. She said something that bothered me and I barreled ahead. We got into one of the worst fights of our 20-year marriage. It might be over.”
“Joe,” I said firmly. “It’s not over. She is upset and understandably so. She may be incredibly angry with you. We’ll go over what she said and why she isn’t talking to you tonight. But, tomorrow we’ll sort it out.”
Joe wasn’t easily soothed. Tamra wasn’t talking to him and they were in for a rough evening. I shared with Joe how every couple has been there—the cold, challenging evenings of sleeping alone. The silent treatment, where both walk on eggshells and any wrong word leads to another eruption.
“What I want you to do this evening, Joe, is simply to not make matters worse. Give her the space she wants and tomorrow we will sort things out.”
Thankfully, we’ve all been there and couples must learn how to pull out of these kinds of tailspins. Here is the additional counsel I gave Joe that evening.
First, know when to leave well enough alone. One of the worst things you can do when the situation is volatile is stoke the fire. There is a time when you need to leave well enough alone. When tired we don’t do our best thinking. When our emotions are frayed, we don’t reason clearly or well. Let the situation settle.
Second, step back to examine the problems. We don’t reason well when we are too close to the problem. We cannot gain perspective when our emotions are high. We must not only leave well enough alone, but must step back to reflect on the problem.
Third, quickly own your part in the problems. Having reflected on the problem, focus on your part in the problems. There is little value in focusing on what your mate has done wrong. Focus instead on your side of the street.
Scripture makes it clear we are not to judge or blame others. “You, therefore, have no excuse, you who pass judgment on someone else, for at whatever point you judge another, you are condemning yourself, because you who pass judgment do the same things” (Romans 2:1).
Fourth, listen to your mate for where/how they are wounded. Every fight is an opportunity to bring healing to your mate. While of course they may not receive that healing immediately, at some point they will be receptive to you owning your mistakes and offering to listen to them. They will, if done correctly, receive your apology and offer for connection.
Finally, agree to grow from the problems going forward. Every emotional melt down is an opportunity to step back, analyze what is happening, own your part and agree to do better next time. Hope is the great elixir to a broken and wounded heart. Offer it to your mate.
Joe and Tamra came to the next day’s session wounded but ready to learn and grow. In a short time they had talked out what had happened, why it happened and what they would do better next time. The same can happen for you.