It’s funny the memories those names in our Facebook page evoke . . .
It’s funny the memories those names in our Facebook page evoke . . .
When we are deeply unhappy, we can become stuck in our own misery, feeling there is no way out—especially if the situation we’re in never seems to change. Yes, it’s hard to be positive when you’ve struggled in a hard marriage for years. It’s hard to be positive when we feel as if we are the victim and that our spouse is the one with the problem. At one level, that’s true: we are not the alcoholic, we are not the abuser, and we are not the irresponsible one. But we can change some things.
Let me share six realities—focusing on how we think about ourselves and our marriage—that can start to pull us out of that “no way out” sense of hopelessness.
Reality living approaches life with the assumption that we are responsible for our own state of mind. Trouble is inevitable, but misery is optional. Attitude has to do with the way we choose to think about things. It has to do with focus. If you focus on how terrible the situation is, it will get worse. But if you focus on one positive thing in a situation, another will appear. In the darkest night of a miserable marriage, there is always a flickering light. If you focus on that light, it will eventually flood the room.
If we have a pessimistic, defeatist, negative attitude, we will express it in negative words and behavior. At that point, we become a part of the problem rather than part of the solution.
The reality is that you may not be able to control your environment; you may have to deal with sickness, an alcoholic spouse, a teenager on drugs, a mother who abandoned you, a father who abused you, a spouse who is irresponsible, and on and on. You can, however, control your attitude toward your environment. And your attitude will greatly influence your behavior.
I understand that when you have been dealing with a problem for years it becomes harder and harder to muster up a positive attitude and the emotional energy to focus on solutions. Negative thoughts have created deep neurological pathways in the brain. But as humans, we are capable of altering these pathways. Attitude affects actions, and actions influence others.
You can control your attitude toward your environment. And your attitude will greatly influence your behavior.
The two parts of this reality must never be separated. That we cannot change a spouse is a truth we recite often, but we often overlook the truth that we can and do influence a spouse. Because we are individuals and because we have free will, no one can force us to change our thoughts or behavior. On the other hand, because we are relational creatures, others do influence us. Advertisers make millions of dollars each year because of this reality.
All spouses influence each other every day with attitudes and actions. This means that your spouse’s words and behavior may cause you tremendous pain, hurt, or discouragement. But this reality also means that through positive actions and words, you can influence your spouse toward positive change.
The reality of the power of positive influence holds tremendous potential for desperate marriages.
In the last several decades, Western society has given an undue emphasis to human emotions. In fact, we have made emotions our guiding star.
The search for self-understanding has led us to the conclusion that “I am what I feel ” and that authentic living is being “true to my feelings.” When applied to a desperate marriage, this philosophy advises, “If I don’t have love feelings for my spouse any longer, I should admit it and get out of the marriage. If I feel hurt and angry, I would be hypocritical to say or do something kind to my spouse.” This philosophy fails to reckon with the reality that human beings are more than their emotions. The truth is, you experience life through the five senses: sight, sound, smell, taste, and touch. In response to what you experience through the senses, you have thoughts, feelings, and desires. And you take actions. In your thoughts, you interpret what you experience through the five senses.
You can learn to acknowledge your negative emotions but not follow them. You should not deny that you feel disappointed, frustrated, angry, hurt, or bitter, but you can refuse to let those emotions control your actions. Taking such positive actions holds the potential for bringing healing to a relationship and restoring positive feelings in your marriage.
One positive action does not heal the hurt of a lifetime, but it is a step in the right direction. A series of positive actions holds the potential for turning the tide in a troubled marriage.
Most miserable marriages include a stone wall between husband and wife, built over many years. Each stone represents an event in the past where one of them has failed the other.
These are the things people talk about when they sit in the counseling office. Each spouse recounts what the other has done to make the marriage miserable. This wall stands as a monument to self-centered living, and it’s a barrier to marital intimacy. Demolishing this emotional wall is essential for rebuilding a desperate marriage. Destroying the wall requires both individuals to admit that they are imperfect and have failed each other. I am not implying that the responsibility for the wall is equally distributed between the husband and the wife. Many times, one is more at fault than the other, but the fact is that neither spouse has been perfect.
To acknowledge your imperfections does not mean you are a failure; it is an admission that you are human. As humans, you and I have the potential for loving, kind, and good behavior, but we also have the potential for self-centered, destructive behavior. For all of us, our marital history is a mixed bag of good and bad behavior.
When you admit your failures and request forgiveness, you begin tearing the wall down on your side. Your spouse may readily forgive you or may be reluctant to do so, but you have done the most positive thing you can do about past failures.
Many people have found the following statements to be helpful in verbalizing their confession of past failures: “I’ve been thinking about us, and I realize that in the past I have not been the perfect husband/wife. In many ways I have failed you and hurt you. I am sincerely sorry for these failures. I hope that you will be able to forgive me for these. I sincerely want to be a better husband/wife. And with God’s help, I want to make the future different.”
I want to encourage you to tear down the wall on your side. You may feel that the bulk of the wall is on your spouse’s side, and that may be true. But the reality is that you cannot tear down his or her wall; you can only tear down the wall on your side. However small it may be, this is a step in the right direction.
Love is the most powerful weapon for good in the world
Most of the couples who sit in my office talk about the lack of love, affection, and appreciation they have received from a spouse through the years. Their emotional love tanks are empty, and they are pleading for love. I am deeply sympathetic with this need. I believe love is humanity’s deepest emotional need. The difficulty in a desperate marriage is that spouses focus on receiving love rather than giving love.
The final principle of reality living declares love to be the most powerful weapon for good, and that especially applies in marriage. The problem for many husbands and wives is that they have thought of love as an emotion. In reality, love is an attitude, demonstrated with appropriate behavior. It affects the emotions, but it is not in itself an emotion. Love is the attitude that says, “I choose to look out for your interests. How may I help you?” Then love is expressed in behavior. The fact that love is an attitude rather than an emotion means that you can love your spouse even when you do not have warm emotional feelings for him or her. Love can be learned because it is not an emotion.
Adapted from Loving Your Spouse When You Feel Like Walking Away by Dr. Gary Chapman (©2018). Permission given by Moody Publishers. Used with permission.
Many couples come to The Marriage Recovery Center full of bitterness, anger, and resentment. They find themselves trapped in this continuous cycle of fighting, trying to prove their point, or what we call “building their case.” This case-building continues until one person blows up and the other withdrawls, stuffing their hurt. Neither partner can understand how they have become this bitter, mean, and miserable person.
I find that most people live in the “courtroom.” When they address issues with their mate, family, friends or co-worker they throw accusations such as “you were trying to hurt me” or “you don’t love me.” Stating feelings and thoughts as an accusation puts the other person in instant defense mode and can tend to shut them down.
In the courtroom we also tend to blame other people “if you weren’t so mean, I wouldn’t have to yell at you.” When this occurs the person blaming is not taking responsibility for their own behavior or feelings and thus avoids being able to process their feelings.
Finally, I find that these men and women are driven by truth. They are so focused on being right that they dismiss the other person’s reality because it is so vastly different than theirs. I have come to adopt a saying which I will often share with these folks. That is “You can be right, or you can be in relationship!” Being stuck in a position is not the way to build connection.
So the question I propose to you is…are you ready to put down your sword, protective armor and begin connecting with your spouse??
If you are willing to quit fighting then there is hope. You may be stuck in this bitterness, anger, and resentment, but there is a way to get out of this pit. Here is how:
Learning to live without the sword and armor will take some time. It will take being vulnerable with your mate as well as consistent introspection, congruency, and speaking from your deeper feelings. If you can accomplish this, you will have the blessing of living connected with your spouse, which brings incredible joy and contentment.
Do you remember those times early in your relationship that the world seemed to disappear when you made love, lost in each other’s embrace? If that intensity has cooled and sex isn’t as eager, fun, and adventurous as it used to be, it is time to get back on track—back to thrilling sex.
Men are streamlined, easy. They are ready to go anytime, anywhere. Women are more complicated. I often compared men to microwaves and women to slow cookers. If you want to warm up that slow cooker, here are four “dos.”
You married that woman because you were attracted to her differences, including the fact that she cared enough to ask you questions about yourself and your day. So let her be different. Allow her to be the communications expert she naturally is. Yes, she may be fussy about details and sometimes have bad timing—like in the middle of the football game—but that fussiness and commitment to improving your relationship make her who she is. It is part of that mystique you fell in love with in the first place.
A man has to accept a woman’s top needs—for affection, communication, and commitment—and learn how to read her. The prevailing winds of a woman change every day, and even from hour to hour. A man who can adjust to those changes, approach her sensitively, meet her needs, and ensure she feels loved, creates the environment of warmth a woman craves.
The prevailing winds of a woman change every day, and even from hour to hour.
In short, let her be a woman. Take her out for a nice dinner. Show your appreciation of her femininity when she dresses up for you. Whistle at her and touch those curves, showing that you still desire her. Surprise her with an appointment for a haircut or a facial, and don’t wince when you see the bill. Smile and compliment her on how beautiful she looks.
In fact, it makes you even more of a man. You can still wear the same shirt and ball cap you’ve worn for three days. You can eat the same breakfast two weeks in a row. You can still burp and release other gaseous noises . . . but please, not in her presence. And before you get amorous, brush your teeth and take a shower. Add a dash of cologne to tickle her oh-so-female nose. Then take that woman in your arms and start telling her what you appreciate about her.
When your wife talks, she isn’t necessarily giving you that information to go from point A to point B. She is talking because she is in the midst of processing some information or an emotion and wants to share that with you. Most of the time, she will already have decided what she needs to do, but she longs for you—strong, wise man that you are—to empathize with her.
That something she’s telling you may or may not seem important to you, but you should treat it as important. When she talks, you need to actively listen. Listening in between commercials or with a grunt won’t satisfy her need for conversation. It would be like you taking one bite of a perfectly done steak and then having the waiter whisk it away from you.
Little things matter to a woman—texts to tell her you’re thinking of her; a quick phone call in the midst of your business trip; a surprise flower just to say, “I love you”; a midnight run to pick up Pepto-Bismol™️. Your involvement and your interest in the little and big things of her day make all the difference in the health of your marriage.
Your wife wants you to be the strength she can count on, that immovable force who will protect her and your family against anything, whether it’s the neighbor who’s angry because you son trampled his flower bushes, a mouse that has taken up residence in your cereal cabinet, or an ex who keeps showing up uninvited.
Because women are wired innately to be relational, they also care intensely about relationships. Along with that caring comes deep emotion, which sometimes leaks out in a form we men dread—tears. Most men don’t know what to do with them. Many of us tend of edge into another room, either saying nothing or muttering, “Uh, honey, when you’re done with that, maybe we could do dinner.”
But the “rock” man, when he sees tears, gathers his wife in his strong arms, lets her cry it out, and simply holds her until she’s ready to talk about it.
I guarantee, gentlemen, that if you do that, it doesn’t matter whether you’re only five feet, eight inches, and 140 pounds. You’ll be bigger to her than Dwayne Johnson, The Rock.
If a man only makes love to his wife in the bedroom, both are missing out. He needs to make love to her outside the bedroom. I’m talking about helping.
Think of it this way, men. Every time you carry the laundry up the stairs for your wife, every time you take out the garbage or vacuum the hallway, every time you bring milk home from the store, you are gaining points of respect with your wife. You are saying, “I’m a man who can be counted on to help out with whatever you need.”
A woman whose husband serves her practically is going to be a much more willing participant in their bed because she appreciates his efforts and respects him as a man. Sure, she looks capable, juggling all those tasks. But that doesn’t mean she wouldn’t welcome her husband’s help or that she doesn’t need it. Nothing would please her more than to have you ride in on your white steed to rescue her from a difficult situation, to spirit her away for a break, or simply to get the job done.
A woman who has a good sex life tends to experience less stress in life. She knows she’s in good hands with her husband because he has her best in mind. That’s why he doesn’t mind changing diapers, cleaning up vomit, or spraying the hornet’s nest in the mailbox. That man is willing to do anything for his wife. In response, he gains a partner who is willing to do anything with, and for, him.
From Have a New Sex Life by Friday by Dr Kevin Leman. Copyright ©️2017 by Kevin Leman. Used with permission of Revell, a division of Baker Publishing Group http://www.bakerpublishinggroup.com.
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