Marriage is difficult.
Yes, I’ve started other columns in a similar fashion, but a recent Marriage Intensive reinforced those words again in my mind.
Leslie and Cam had traveled a great distance for this “last effort to save our marriage.” While they were to be applauded for this effort, they hadn’t fully counted the cost of this effort. Like others, they had apparently hoped change would not be so difficult or exact such a personal cost. It didn’t take long for me to see this attitude had gotten them into so much trouble.
I began in a routine fashion, telling them marriage, and specifically relationships, become troubled by behaviors and attitudes, and if those are changed, relationships can thrive.
After sharing some of the patterns that get couples into trouble and hearing their background, I invited them to begin sharing some of their issues with each other.
“I want to talk to you about hurt I’m still feeling,” Leslie said softly.
“Okay,” Cam said. “But I don’t want this to only be about me.”
“It won’t,” Leslie reassured him, slightly put off by his comment. “So can I share some things that are bothering me?”
“I don’t know,” Cam said. “I’m bothered about a lot of things too.”
“You’re going to get a chance to share,” I reassured Cam. “Can she begin and you can practice some of the things we’ve talked about regarding active listening, empathy and validating.”
“I didn’t know she was going to chew me out,” Cam said, showing what would turn out to be an ongoing surly attitude.
“I came here to talk about what is bothering me in our marriage,” Leslie said defensively, now becoming more agitated. “I don’t consider that ‘chewing you out.’”
“Cam,” I said firmly. “Do you remember what we talked about at the start of our session? Actually, you even signed a form that you were inviting each other to share critical feedback with each other if they did it in a loving and respectful manner. Leslie seems to be following those guidelines.”
My words didn’t seem to soothe Cam.
“I need to take a break,” he said. “I’ll be back in a few minutes.”
With that he got up and went outside, Leslie and I looking at each other.
“Welcome to my world,” she said. “When anything gets too close he retreats. When I challenge him in any way he can’t handle it. He hates criticism.”
“We all have to invite criticism into our lives. We can’t see our own craziness. We must question ourselves and ask our mate for feedback. We must welcome information that helps us see how we are difficult to be around. That is the only way to grow.”
“I know,” she said softly. “I want him to know I’ll accept critical feedback. I want to be able to give it to him as well.”
Cam reentered the room and I shared with both the power and importance of a Marriage Growth Agreement. You may want to incorporate it into your marriage as well.
First, make a Marriage Growth Agreement. Accept that you must check in with one another frequently to ensure all issues are dealt with in a timely manner and resolved. Give each other permission to share critical information, if done respectfully and kindly on areas of growth and change needed in the other.
Second, set a time each week to review your marriage and personal changes you are working on. This time of sharing can be done at the same time each week, or also on an “as needed” basis when issues arise. Again, agree that you both have freedom to approach the other with areas of concern.
Third, cultivate an inviting attitude and receptivity to feedback. Make it easy for your mate to approach you and offer feedback. Welcome opportunities to change and grow, knowing this will cultivate intimacy and connection. Guard against defensiveness and attitudes that push your mate away or create fear of bringing up unpleasant topics.
Fourth, catch each other making positive changes. Your relationship cannot, of course, be marked by criticism, even though critical feedback must be an integral part of growth. Make a specific note that you will catch one another making positive changes and doing things right.
Hebrews 10: 24-25 says, “And let us consider how we may spur one another on toward love and good deeds, not giving up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing, but encouraging one another—and all the more as you see the Day approaching.”
Finally, hold each other accountable for change. Change is rarely easy and regression is common. Make clear plans for ongoing growth, acknowledging you are human and mistakes will be made. However, growth occurs with a clear plan for change and ways to maintain positive behavior. Holding each other accountable for change will be important.
Are you able to safely and freely give each other critical feedback? Do you have an open attitude and atmosphere where change and growth can occur? Would you like help in defining and facing problems? If you would like further help, we are here for you. Please send responses to me at email@example.com and also read more about The Marriage Recovery Center on our website and learn about our Personal and Marriage Intensives.
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Publication date: February 27, 2017