Dr. Deb’s Mental Health Vitamin: Marital reconciliation
By Dr. Deb Wade
GCU Vice President, Counseling and Psychological Services
Although it’s hard to face reality, this is it. This marriage is in serious trouble. An obvious division exists between the husband and wife. It feels so hopeless that at least one of them is ready to call it quits – maybe they both feel that way.
The mere suggestion that the marriage could be saved rings on deaf ears and closed spirits. Attempts to “look on the bright side” wreak of Pollyannaish minimization. The couple, once so full of hope and energy and optimism, is under attack and feeling empty, barren and broken.
BUT … what if that couple was ready to try to reconcile, to repair and to rekindle? What must occur for this readiness to produce fruit?
The process of reconciliation is often difficult and sometimes painstaking. It can be met with anger, hurt, fear, disappointment, reluctance, ambivalence and hesitancy.
If your marriage, or that of someone you love, is in this position and reconciliation is a possibility, consider this:
- I will need to change my perspective. Although I may have carried ideas that perhaps I married the wrong person, that God does not want me to suffer, that life is too short to deal with constant problems, the reality is that these destructive thoughts are of my own making and are counterproductive. I must acknowledge the thoughts I have allowed to roost in my brain, which have served as rationalizations and have enabled me to stay distant and rigid with my spouse.
- I need to change my guardedness. If I have built such a wall of defense (to seemingly protect me against hurt, disappointment, sadness) that I can no longer see the efforts of my spouse to make change, I must get to work to knock it down! I must discover new behaviors that will allow me to be open to change in myself as well as be able to see change attempts in my spouse.
- I must be willing to change my responses. I most likely have allowed a pattern of responses to my spouse to become habitual. For example, my intolerance, my frustration, my slamming of doors, my walking off, etc., may have become so habitual that I have not allowed myself to be impacted by my spouse’s attempts to behave differently. I must work to be different – which, of course, takes time, patience, awareness and humility.
- I must be willing to recognize my spouse’s strengths. The conflicts and historical destructiveness between us have fostered a negative view of my spouse within me. I must challenge myself to filter out the negative and welcome the positive.
- I must be cognizant of the deeds of the past that I have allowed to cloud the present despite efforts of change. Am I guilty of defining the present by the standards and qualities of the past? God’s grace to us models a willingness to let go of the past and to remember it no more. Have my spouse and I clearly discussed the destructive tendencies of the past, owned the ones we are each responsible for, and attempted to seek overt change? Then I must be diligent in disallowing those behaviors to stay on the filter through which I view my spouse.
- I must not allow my thoughts and words to be negative and dishonorable. If negativity toward my spouse has been harbored in my thoughts, I must be willing to defuse them immediately by replacing those thoughts with ones that are uplifting and honoring of him/her.
- I need to inventory my actions and ask, “Is the love my spouse deserves being exhibited by me?” I will ask him/her what is pleasing … then I will begin to put those words into action. What are the roadblocks that make me hesitant? I must take ownership because it is my responsibility to remove them.
- I know that the re-pair work must begin with me. Have I taken an honest inventory of my contribution to the destructiveness? If so, the change must start with my actions, words, reactions and choices, which I will strive to make new.
- I will ask for feedback from my spouse. Does he/she feel loved? If so, great! If not, why not? I must challenge myself to step up to the needed behavioral change.
- Finally, I realize that this is difficult because many times I have felt that the blame for our mess is not mine. However, we are a couple … one under God … so half of the responsibility of refurbishing and cleaning up this mess is mine. The time for ownership and change is NOW.
Marital strife will happen. But when a marriage seems hopeless, rather than pointing fingers and looking at the flaws of the spouse, an attempt at RECONCILIATION must begin with me!