Some forms of communication are deadly.
We all know when we are being spoken to with respect. We know when someone cares about our well-being and shares with us in such a way that we feel alive and well in their presence.
We also know when we feel disrespected. We know when language is used to hurt, hurl blame and shame and put us down.
We all know this to be true experientially — but how do we learn to recognize it in the moment and better yet, learn to change it?
Chelsea and Sam came for their Marriage Intensive like many other couples, in the throes of desperately trying to change old patterns that had eroded their marriage.
Married for seven years and with two young children, they wanted to save their marriage. They shared how they had been hurting each other for some time and couldn’t pull out of their vicious spiral. They were motivated to change but their bad habits came out immediately.
“Sam makes accusations all the time,” Chelsea began, hardly noticing that she was making an accusation even while stating that is what he did. “He makes me feel terrible by the way he talks to me. He talks bad about me and doesn’t seem to notice that he hurts me.”
“I’m only telling the truth,” he responded defensively. “She does things that she knows I hate. I tell her I don’t like what she does and she does them anyway.”
They bickered back and forth for a few minutes before I stepped in. Chelsea and Sam were Christians and had asked that faith be part of their therapy.
“Are you both aware of what Scripture says about blame?” I asked. I then went on to quote the words of the Apostle Paul.
“Let all bitterness and wrath and anger and clamor and slander be put away from you, along with all malice. Be kind to one another, tender-hearted, forgiving each other, just as God in Christ also has forgiven you.” (Ephesians 4: 31-32)
“We don’t live by those words,” Chelsea said. “I know I don’t.”
“You folks have issues that need to be solved,” I said. “But blaming or shaming your mate won’t solve those problems. It only adds layers of pain to your wounds.”
“So what do we do?” Sam asked. I proceeded to give them some guidelines.
First, refuse to blame or shame your mate. Blame is corrosive. Blame says “You are the problem, not me.” Shame ridicules and puts down your mate, leading to even more issues in your relationship. Problems usually involve both people and it is critical that each person take responsibility for their part of the ongoing problems.
Second, agree on rules for talking about problems. Couples must set aside times and tools for the tackling problems. Just as disorganization within any team leads to chaos, so it goes in a marriage as well. There must be some structure to talking about problems so that solutions are found.
Third, speak respectfully. You will never solve problems and obtain intimacy without respect. Both partners must agree to speak with gentleness and kindness, keeping their mate’s well-being ever in mind. If your mate doesn’t feel appreciated and respected, it is unlikely that they will truly listen to you and try to meet your needs.
Fourth, attack problems, not people. Every problem has a solution. If you agree from the onset that you are on the same team and must seek solutions, you will surely find them. Blaming and shaming each other will never lead to effective solutions.
Finally, seek collaborative solutions. “We’re in this together and we can figure it out.” This is the motto I propose to couples who work with me. There are solutions that can work for both partners. Look for them. Settle for nothing less. By working together you can find solutions that create happiness for both partners.
Practice the above strategies and let me know how they work for you. Please send responses to me at [email protected] 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: January 26, 2016