By Katie Bailey, MA, LPC
Marriage is not easy. I’ve been seeing couples for a long time, and I’ve witnessed the pain, heartache, and loneliness people can feel in a marriage. If you are lonely in your marriage, maybe feeling like you and your spouse are more like roommates, and trying to communicate just ends up in a fight or cold silence, you are not alone.
Marriage is meant to be a safe place, our spouse is supposed to be our “person” – the one we want to tell things to first, the one who comforts us when we are hurt and celebrates with us when we win. We are supposed to be able to trust our spouse will be “there” for us – both actually physically present, and also emotionally present. In marriage, we are meant to be a team, each working for the good of the other and the whole.
Sadly, this isn’t always the case. A good marriage takes a lot of hard work, self-awareness, and sacrifice. Many of the couples that come to my office for marriage counseling often aren’t fully aware why their marriage is failing, all they know is they are tired of fighting. They are longing to feel connected and loved again. Many times, spouses aren’t even talking about anything other than when the repair guy is coming.
I want to share with you 6 mindsets that will change the way you think about your marriage. I have found that most couples need help to see what’s really going on between them. Often, they have never learned healthy relationship skills, and I have the privilege of teaching them.
Marriage is a team sport.
I always tell my couples that it’s “you and me vs. the problem”. What I mean by that is, it’s not husband vs. wife, it’s you two together vs. the problem. Whatever that problem is. When husband and wife think like a team, they act like a team, and are going to find more solutions. The team mindset also leads to more overall satisfaction for everyone.
The biggest obstacle I see in my office to the team mentality is from people, most often from the Christian community, who believe that the woman is meant to submit to the man. This biblical passage from Ephesians 5 is interpreted as the woman is supposed to do whatever the man tells her, and so, she is not an equal member of the team. This is absolutely not what God intends. Many people forget to keep reading through those verses that the husband is to love and sacrifice for the wife. They are equal members of the team with different roles to play. This is easily one of the most missed used verses of the Bible.
Sometimes the lack of a team mentality comes from simply watching what your parents did. If your mother ran the show and bossed your dad around, you didn’t see a team example. If your dad ordered your mother around and didn’t listen to her, you also didn’t see a team example.
Marriage works best when both people work for the team and see a problem as something they need to overcome together.
Don’t avoid conflict.
Many, many couples who come see me are afraid of conflict. I get concerned when couples tell me they never fight. It always means they’ve been ignoring issues, and the volcano is going to blow. When we pretend we aren’t hurt or angry and stuff it down, it’s like filling up a volcano – and I promise you, that volcano WILL erupt at some point. And it absolutely won’t be pretty. It could be that you get in a physical fight, or maybe someone has an affair. Perhaps you start feeling depressed or anxious all the time. It’s very likely you rarely, if ever, have sex. Ignoring your conflicts will eventually blow up on you, no doubt.
Successfully navigating conflict in a marriage is actually very good for your relationship. When a couple realizes they can get through a fight without yelling at each other, they will feel more connected, and safer, with each other. They will have strengthened the team. How do you face conflict well?
Learn to speak each other’s language.
Listen. I mean really learn to listen and hear each other. Don’t listen to your spouse just to get ready to respond – truly listen to him or her and understand what they are feeling in that moment. When a person feels fully understood and heard – well, there’s nothing else that can diffuse a situation quite like knowing you are seen, heard and loved. Reflective listening skills help build empathy. Empathy strengthens connection between two people. When you listen to understand, you will communicate more clearly and again, strengthen your team.
Learn each other’s pain points.
This one is hard to do on your own, and almost always couples need my help with this one. We all have past hurts that effect how we think, feel and act today. Sometimes people aren’t even aware of their own pain points. These tender spots are what fights are usually really about. Couples will share with me disagreements they’ve had about seemingly small things – how the dishwasher is loaded (some of us are VERY particular on this one!), who puts the kids to bed, how often one spouse works late, who folds the laundry – but really our arguments are about what is happening underneath those things. Maybe you feel like your spouse doesn’t help out around the house enough, and that makes you feel abandoned, like the work all falls on you. Perhaps you stop trying to do things around the house because your spouse gets angry that you didn’t do it correctly – so why bother if you can’t get anything right, you must just be the worst spouse ever.
How can your marriage get stronger? How can you be more like a team and speak each other’s language when navigating conflict? How can you keep your volcano from blowing up?
I absolutely love helping couples learn these skills. I rely on a method called Emotionally Focused Therapy (EFT) to guide my work with couples. The basic thought of EFT is that couples should be a team, safely connected to one another. When couples are in distress, we find the negative “dance” they keep repeating, and help them to recognize it. Then we work to learn new ways of relating as a couple and how to soothe and comfort one another.
Feeling stuck in a hurtful, disappointing, and distant marriage is overwhelming. Maybe you’ve even started to lose hope. I promise you we can work on your marriage and help you guys learn new skills to work as a team, diffuse your volcano, and learn to be each other’s safe place. Contact me today for a free consultation and let’s chat to see if I am the right therapist for you. I truly want to see your marriage find new life.