Hurry Up! We Need to Fix This!

Do you ever feel that you just can’t wait to get a problem fixed?  There’s a gnawing tension in your relationship and you just can’t let it rest.  “We just need to discuss this some more and get it resolved.  I know I can get her to see what I’m talking about and she will understand and we can get this behind us.  I know it’s creating tension and there are unspoken feelings that are getting in the way of us being close.  Why can’t we just get this resolved now?”

I’m reminded of a time when we worked on one of those “impossible” puzzles.  You know the kind where they take a panoramic picture of hundreds of buildings and every piece in the puzzle is exactly the same shape and size.  So you first look for the edge pieces and build the frame of the puzzle.  At least we know that it has four corners.  The point is that we make progress.  We start with the obvious pieces and then work, sometimes slowly, to find a piece here and another there.  These puzzles often stretch our patience and it’s understood that we probably won’t get it done in a day.  It may take several days or even weeks to get it finished, but with patience and persistence we can usually get it together.

Deep rooted relationship issues also take the same patience and persistence.  If we attempt to solve them with a mindset that they can be quickly resolved, we get frustrated and tempted to withdraw and give up.  Then we try to cope by ignoring the issue since we can’t get it fixed quickly.  When it surfaces again, we once again have a hurry-up attitude and a quick fix mentality that really sabotages our ability to be successful at finding a long term resolution.

Men especially want resolution right away.  They particularly dislike leaving problems unresolved.  So they approach issues with a fix it mentality and by that they mean “fix it now”.

The key here is patience and an understanding that incremental progress is good. Just like the puzzle, we need to start with some basics.

  • First of all, understand that most issues should not be bigger than your commitment to your relationship.
  • Try to remember all the positive things in your relationship with your spouse and get the issue in proper perspective.
  • Be thankful for even small changes in the direction of resolving the issue.
  • Shift perspective and empathize with what your spouse is feeling.  This will help keep you from falling into the trap of a self-centered point of view.
  •  Be thankful.

Yes, even when it takes time to work through our thorny issues, we need to be thankful for our spouse.  Neither of you are perfect and both of you need to extend grace to each other.  Make it a priority to love each other and the time needed to finish the puzzle and resolve the issue won’t seem so overwhelming.

I Do.

Remember the day when you said “I do?”  How did you feel that day?  What were your hopes and dreams for your marriage relationship?  Do you remember what exactly you promised your new spouse at your wedding?

Most of us had a combination of the following  and maybe a few others:

  • to have and to hold from this day forward
  • for better or for worse
  • for richer, for poorer
  • in sickness and in health
  • to love and to cherish
  • from this day forward until death do us part.

We promised to love forever, in all circumstances, when things were good and when bad.  There were no ifs, ands, or buts that day.  We meant what we said and we were sure that love would conquer all in those bad times, if they ever came.  But maybe they wouldn’t because we were perfect for each other!

A ways down the road of married life reality hits and we see each other for the imperfect people that we are.  Sometimes we hurt each other with words or actions.  We disappoint our spouse.  We find out things about our spouse that we didn’t know before, like habits, coping mechanisms, addictions, and extended family. Maybe some of our dreams will never be realized because of sickness or financial strain.  These are the worst, the poorer, and the unhealthy times.

When in those hard times, some couples lose sight of their wedding vows, me included.  I acted like my vows read more like this:

  • I will have and hold you when it’s better
  • When it’s worse, I will probably keep you at arm’s length.
  • I will love you as long as you love me.
  • Maybe I will cherish you, unless you hurt me.
  • I will take care of you when you are sick
  • But I will take you for granted when healthy.

That’s not what we dreamt of ever!  How can anyone possibly undo all the damage?

If you see yourself in some of that, there is hope to turn things around.  I discovered that Jesus has the perfect remedy for the sin of selfishness—confession and repentance to him and your spouse.  And because healing rarely happens all at once—continual confession and repentance.  There was freedom from selfishness and joy in serving when I turned from sin to Jesus. And now, instead of shame and guilt after each failure, there is forgiveness and reconciliation.

At the center of our marriages there should be the same unconditional love that Jesus has for us.  His love for us does not depend on what we do, say, think, or even how we treat him!  When we can love our spouse like that then we can truly have, hold, and cherish in all times.

Sometimes it’s good to go back to the beginning to evaluate the direction of your path.  For your own growth look at how you have kept the promises you made to your spouse.  If you’re really brave, ask your spouse how you’ve done!  Listen and learn how you can be a better servant to your spouse.  You will find the path to a soul mate marriage!

Talk about It

In order to experience a truly fulfilling soul mate relationship, be vigilant to ensure that you don’t allow issues to go unresolved.  The ones that are the most difficult to discuss are issues that have deep hurts attached.  You may have said or done something that has deeply offended your spouse and be totally unaware that he or she is harboring hurt feelings.  As a matter of fact, the actual incident may have happened years ago, and your spouse “buried” the issue because it was too painful.  It didn’t get fully resolved when talked about originally.  This is one of those boxes that clutters up the shop and is marked “DO NOT OPEN.  DO NOT TOUCH”.

These issues are the most damaging to a truly close and intimate relationship.  They create an emotional barrier keeping the relationship at a superficial level.  The day to day interactions function just fine but real depth and intimate connection is illusive.  Ignoring them is perilous because they will seriously damage your relationship.  The longer you wait to open a discussion, the harder it is to talk.

 All couples experience disagreements and say and do things that are hurtful.  How you deal with the problem is what will make the difference.  Do you approach issues as adversaries or as teammates?  Remember you are on the same team.  Working through an issue to a resolution that satisfies both spouses means your team wins!

Here are a few ideas on how to handle these issues:

  • Pray and ask for special grace
  • Be honest and take the risk of bringing the issue up again
  • Set aside uninterrupted time when you have the freedom to focus
  • Actively listen as you each share feelings and endeavor to understand your spouse
  • Try not to blame or bring accusations
  • Remember that you are bringing this up again so that you can have a closer relationship
  • The goal is a heartfelt resolution where a deep understanding is achieved
  • Be willing to apologize and ask for forgiveness.  This needs to be genuine and not superficial
  • Have an attitude to forgive.  It may be hard to forget, but you will need to truly forgive
  • Allow time to reflect for several days or even longer if needed.  Be patient
  • Never be demanding.  Be patient and calm
  • Seek counsel if you come to an impasse

Always keep in mind that the objective is to strengthen your relationship so that you can be closer together and experience a deeply fulfilling relationship.  True intimacy can not happen when we harbor unspoken resentment and hurts.  You must have the courage to continue to work at all issues.

I Don’t Want to Talk About It!

Have you ever been in a discussion with your spouse and one of you says, “I don’t want to talk about it!”  Have your ever heard those words or spoken those words?  If we’re honest, most of us have on occasion.  There are many reasons why we resort to this defensive position.  Here are some possibilities:

  1.  We are flooded.  Our emotional bucket is too full to continue a rational discussion.   John Gottman, professor of psychology at the University of Washington, in his book The Seven Principles for Making a Marriage Work, explains that a spouse feels flooded when he or she feels defenseless. To avoid the criticism and attack of a spouse, she steps back and disengages emotionally.
  2. We are angry.  We’ve had this discussion so many times and it never gets resolved. So we block further dialogue to keep from experiencing more pain and back away, shouting that we are done talking.
  3.  We are frustrated because we see no way to get this issue resolved.  Endless discussion is not producing a resolution.  In our frustration, we shut down, walk away and block any attempts at further dialogue.

The end result is usually the silent treatment. This can go on for days.  Even if there is a quick recovery to polite interaction, the unspoken cold war is waging underground, still causing a silent coolness in the relationship.  Sure, you can manage superficial conversation, get the kids to bed, get the chores done, and even get to church with a “happy face.” In reality, the unresolved issue lingers like a relationship virus that keeps you from the close connection you really want.

So what can we do when we get backed into a corner and want to break off communication and flee?

We must first realize what is going on.  Our emotions have peaked and we are not in the best position to continue the discussion.  Be honest and ask your spouse if you both can take a break in order to reflect and let the intense emotions subside.   After you’ve both cooled down, ask your spouse if you could share your feelings about the particular issue.  And here are the rules of engagement:  Your spouse needs to listen without offering a solution or restating his or her position.  This is to be a one-way conversation.  Restate your position, share how you feel, and ask your spouse to take a day or two to think it over.

When a few days have gone by, take time out together so your spouse can express what he or she thinks and feels about your position.  Many times, just the time alone to reflect will result in a positive solution.  Your spouse may even say they are sorry and that they feel they understand you much better now. Or, you may be able to continue working through the issue when you both are more rational.

Remember:  Never let the sun go down on your anger.  Actively seek to keep even minor issues from being pushed aside.

Growing Together

One of the most important things that you can do to improve the quality of your relationship is to take personal responsibility for your own personal growth.  Take a look at those boxes in the shop.  How many of them are YOUR boxes of clutter?  Do an honest self-assessment.  Independent of your spouse, you need to evaluate what areas in your life need work.  And then communicate that to your spouse so that she can be actively involved in the process of helping you deal with your issues.

  • Discuss the particular area of concern
  • Pray about it together
  • Allow time for change
  • Remember to be thankful for even small movements in the right direction

And you need to be realistic about the time frame to deal with these issues.  Some of the areas we need to grow in most have been habit patterns ingrained in us for years and it will take some time to reverse the habits.  You’ll need to exercise a high degree of patience with yourself as you work at overcoming issues.  And further, if you are the spouse helping your partner, you need to be patient even more.

Then we need to face the issues that surfaced since we’ve been married, our JOINT baggage so to speak.    Face it… when we first got married, we did not have extensive training in how to be a good life partner.  We were single and the only needs that we paid close attention to were our own.

To be sure, our family background should have taught us the importance of the following character qualities:

Sharing                                                          Humility

Patience                                                        Self-Control

Forgiveness                                                   Sensitivity

Generosity                                                     Tolerance

This may come as a shock to some of you, but most of us did not come from perfect families.  To one degree or another we come from damaged backgrounds.  We each begin married life needing to work on those areas in which we are lacking.  At the same time, we need to develop the skills necessary to be a good spouse.  We are basically working on growing up while we are working on developing the skills necessary to build a fulfilling relationship.

So it is a process. If we really understand this, we can have the patience and tolerance necessary to allow our spouse the time and space necessary to grow, much as we need the same patience and tolerance.  We need to have an attitude of encouragement.

Here’s a good example.  Your husband has a pretty bad habit of leaving his socks on the floor.  He takes his shoes and socks off, get undressed and jumps in the shower, leaving the socks on the floor.  What, is he blind?  He steps over them and then when you bring it up he says, “Oh right, I guess I forgot!”  So here’s the plan.  When he does remember, don’t say something like, “Well! Finally!”  Instead, snuggle up to him, nibble a little on his ear lobe and whisper to him, “I am so proud of you.  It makes me happy when you remember.”  Then, just sit back and watch how often he remembers.

Next time we’ll look at the questions, “Why water often?”



The Soul Mate Dream

It’s true that when first married, we all envision an idyllic relationship.  We believe we have found our perfect match.  We enjoy being together; romantic music plays in our heads and our hearts beat a little faster. We’re so lonely when apart and we jump when the phone rings because we just can’t wait to hear that voice again.  This must be the right one.  Everything will be oh so wonderful…

After the wedding, reality is eventually exposed.  When the light turns on we uncover the boxes of issues both spouses brought to the marriage.   Over time, more issues pile up as our unique problems interplay with those of our spouse.  The intimacy we had is hindered and inevitably, we realize the ideal relationship we envisioned is but a dream.

We have spoken of our relationship being like a shop that is filled with clutter and boxes of old stuff.  The problems and issues in those boxes hinder us from being close.  And that’s where we live, in an old messy shop with problems, issues, fighting, and nagging.

Pause for a moment to reflect on this:

Can the dream of an ideal married life with a deep soul mate connection become a reality?

Imagine that you won a fantasy vacation to the most beautiful destination, a picture perfect private lover’s beach house with tall palm trees and white sand beaches.  Each room has sweeping views and tasteful decor.  As you look around you notice that there is no clutter, no boxes of old stuff. Each of you has been transformed. No issues keep you and the love of your life from being together, from enjoying each other fully.  Every day you feel a depth of love for each other that is otherworldly.  He is kind, understanding, and romantic.  And she really understands your deepest needs. You deeply love one another and you want to spend the rest of your lives together, right here.  You have begun to experience the joy of being soul mates.

Here’s the question: Where do you choose to live?  In a cluttered messy old shop with issues and problems that keep you apart?  Or will you choose to live in that idyllic location?  Yes, it is a choice to be soul mates but you can’t be effortlessly transported there.  We all start out in an old messy shop that we can transform into a soul mate relationship by hard work.

We must work every day on

  • personal growth and
  • selfless serving

In the journey, we will each grow and mature, getting rid of the old boxes and clutter.  We’ll clean up the mess over time, and we’ll discover a depth of love for each other that few experience.

Cleaning up the Mess

Last time we talked about your relationship being like a shop. Over time it gets cluttered with boxes of “stuff.” Hurt feelings and unmet needs hinder a relationship from being close. Some of us begin our marriage with baggage that we carry from when we grew up. We seldom begin with a “clean shop” so to speak. Before we come back from the honeymoon our shop is already piled with clutter.

So how do we apply common sense to clean up the clutter in our relationship?

First, honestly assess the quality of your relationship. Both spouses should independently score themselves from 1 to 10 on the following:

  • overall quality of our relationship
  • time together
  • communication
  • finances
  • physical health
  • free time
  • relatives
  • kids
  • romance
  • sex life
  • mutual trust
  • household chores
  • handling problems and decisions
  • spiritual life
  • church involvement
  • goals
  • dreams
  • desires

Add additional items if you feel they are needed.

Now, each should list about 10 items that you really appreciate about your spouse and any items that are a struggle. Honesty is important. Hiding issues lets “boxes of stuff” remain covered.

Now list four things that you feel would help your relationship grow closer.

And finally, list anything that has really hurt you. This can be difficult. It requires that you dig deep. Often when we have been hurt, we bury our feelings because they are too hurtful to talk about. But these particular “clutter boxes” can be the very issues that keep us from being truly close. We can easily overlook socks left on the floor, but deeply felt wounds are like invisible forces that keep us from being close. (More on Hurt and Forgiveness in a future blog.)

Completing the assessment above is merely a first step to let you know if you have clutter in your relationship. The list and your answers will help you to begin a discussion on how to take a particular area and begin the process of making it a 9 or a 10.

Here are some helpful tips:

  1. The shop is “our shop.” It isn’t “your box of junk.” Both must realize that in order to have a close relationship you both need to be responsible to work on getting it healthy. Look at an area of concern in this light: What can “we” do together to work at making this issue less of a hindrance to us having a close relationship.
  2. Patience should guide your actions. It took us a week to clean up our messy shop. Relationships are much more complex and patience is needed to allow time to resolve issues. We bring issues into our relationships that have been issues since we were young children. They take time to work through. Don’t try to resolve them all at once. Take a few steps and be thankful for your progress. Be patient and gracious with each other.
  3. Communicate with each other in a kind, loving, and non-demanding manner. Remember that you are working at cleaning issues up so you can enjoy the richness of a soul mate relationship.