Monday, January 16, 2012

Below the Surface

You know the fights that you and your spouse have, the ones that seem to come up over and over again?

The one about your husband playing too many video games.

Or the one about your wife spending too much money on shoes.

Or the knack your spouse has for avoiding...
...the pile of dirty dishes in the sink.
...the bed needing to be made.
...putting things away instead of piling them on the dresser.

Or the one about there not being enough...
...sex.
...quality time.
...affirmation.
...little notes like when we were dating.

Every couple has those fights that just seem to repeat over and over again. One spouse just doesn't understand why the other can't just listen to them and do what they are asking. The other feels like they can't do anything right. One is defensive, the other is aggressive. Plans are made, compromises are put in place but yet the behaviors seems to always drift back to the way they were before. Before you know it you feel like your marriage is caught in a vicious cycle that you just don't know how to get out of.

What's the problem? Why can't we seem to resolve these issues? Is it time to throw in the towel?

Melis and I have been reading this book lately called Hold Me Tight by Dr. Sue Johnson and it really tackles the above questions head on. (It has definitely jumped into our top 5 list of marriage books!) The answer has been surprising but at the same time almost embarrassingly easy.

So much marriage counseling tends to get caught up in behavior management. We're taught active listening. We're explained formulas that are supposed to make our relationships better. We're taught how to compromise and how to balance our schedules.

All of these things are great tools to have for our marriages but yet sometimes they don't get to the real depth of the issue at hand. Because the fight about the Xbox really isn't actually about the Xbox. The one about the shoes isn't about the shoes. It's not about the piles or the dishes or the amount of quality time.

Instead, when we really take the time to understand ourselves and what's going on in a deeper, more emotional level we discover the fights are about something else. They are about connection...or more specifically a lack there of. The defensiveness isn't actually a means to protect yourself, instead it's an attempt to deescalate a situation and protect your relationship. Same goes for aggression...it's an attempt to connect, be heard and engage.

It's funny because I teach this to parents all the time. In a parent program called Real World Parents, there is this slide showing that trying to change your kids behavior is only the tip of the iceberg. Below the surface is a whole set of world views about how the world works. And even deeper below that there is a revelation about God, the self and the role of other people in your life. If you truly want to change someone's behavior, you have to take the time to really get beneath the surface and understand how they are seeing the world, and what is shaping that worldview. This works in the exact same way when it comes to marriage and connection.

When there is an issue or a fight, it is so important to take the time to really understand the deeper issues and emotions. Because that is really what the fight is about anyways. Really it's stupid to fight about dishes. Why the heck would anyone waste an hour arguing about dishes. That fight is really about feeling unappreciated, taken advantage of or not listened to. Maybe it's a deeper expectation that came from the way you watched your parents live out their marriage...or not live out their marriage.

This week, when you face fights or points of contention with your spouse, take a moment and pause in your argument. Take a moment to understand what is really going on inside yourself. What are the emotions and feelings stirring underneath? What are you really upset and hurt about? Does the hurt even come from your spouse, or does it come from another point in your life?

Then take a moment and ask the same questions about where your spouse is coming from. What do you think they are coming from? What do you think they are feeling? What in their past could be seeping into the present?

Then take time to just sit and talk. Share your heart and learn more about who your spouse is. Talk about your feelings and be real with one another. Not only will you develop a deeper connection with your spouse, but you'll also eventually eliminate the nagging arguments about dumb things like dishes.

Jake
Our goal of this blog is to share stories (both good and bad), thoughts and insights about our marriage and we would love for you to jump into the conversation.

The goal is to provide three things:
1) HOPE for struggling couples that they are not alone.
2) GROWTH in our marriages and our understanding of marriage.
3) ENCOURAGEMENT to keep loving your spouse unconditionally.