Try and remember for a moment the last time you had a rather intense “discussion” with your spouse. Not the kind that lasts for two or three minutes and is soon forgotten, but one that might result in several hours (or perhaps days). When every little comment seems to begin an argument all over again. Or even worse – the “Silent Treatment.”
For many of us, we do not have to go very far into our memory banks to think of one that happened last week, or yesterday, or even this morning!
In most cases when this occurs, neither spouse can really remember exactly what happened. Each remembers the anger and the hurtful comments flung at each other. But, what actually started it? Who knows?
Ring true for you?
What is the Goal? We Want to Win!
At first, we are simply informing our spouse of our opinion, or our observation, or perhaps something that they are saying or doing that “bugs” us. We are simply trying to help them out!
We are sure that a simple comment will motivate them to change what they are saying or doing. We know that they love us. So, why wouldn’t they?
However, a quick “memory check” will remind us that recent history does not provide us with much hope for this expectation.
At some point, after the voices rise, our motivation changes. We no longer are caring about our relationship (at least in the heat of the battle). We want to win! We want to convince our spouse that we are right and they are wrong.
What options do we have? We know that what we are doing is not working and is pushing the two of us apart.
We don’t like it. And we are miserable.
Miserable is a good sign! (Although not a very pleasant experience.) It means that you care and want your relationship to improve.
Red Light, Green Light
We need at least two things in order to change:
- The motivation to change
- A new pathway out of the pattern in which we find ourselves stuck
Remember the childhood game, “Red Light, Green Light?”
What we need is a “Red Light” to change the conversation. I often ask couples to come up with some type of secret code word that they can use. This code word or phrase should be personal – and hopefully amusing – so it will break the intense emotion.
The Next Step is Completely Different!
The next step often needs some coaching. After all, if it was easy, we would have figured it out years ago.
Although we often do not realize it, anger is what is called a “secondary” emotion. We feel it strongly. It is powerful. But it pushes the other person away…and something else is triggering the anger.
There is almost always some type of “soul word” that describes what is truly pushing us to frustration, irritation, and anger.
But these “soul words” are difficult to identify. Especially when we are angry. Let’s face it. In the moment, anger feels pretty good. And we intend to win the argument!
As I list several of theses “soul words” below, they will strike you as completely different from anger. But left unchecked, we will bypass these feelings and go immediately to anger – especially if we don’t realize that they exist.
Short List of “Soul Words”
…there are many more.
Each describing a feeling that, left unrecognized, will result in anger.
Sound different? These words may at first seem difficult to even say out loud.
Men can especially struggle with this. Let’s face it, men. Many of these words appear weak. But, they are authentic and vulnerable and will allow us to connect with our wife’s soul. This sounds unbelievable – but it is true. In fact, speaking this language takes far more courage that than the words that we use in anger.
It is risky to be this vulnerable, unless both the husband and the wife are willing to “go there.” But, it always needs one of you to take the first step.
After all, do we want to continue this “anger pattern” for the next 30 years?
Is it Really Possible to Change this Pattern?
Almost always, the couple needs help. Changing patterns that we have developed over years (and perhaps decades) is awkward at best, and seems impossible at first. It is unfamiliar territory.
But, much like riding a bicycle, or driving a manual transmission car/truck (remember those?), sooner or later it will become more natural.
And, in reality, it is a “heart issue.” Our natural bent is to protect ourselves. Anger does that. Vulnerability can be scary because we do not know how the other person will respond.
Galatians 5:16-17 teaches us:
“But I say, walk by the Spirit, and you will not gratify the desires of the flesh. For the desires of the flesh are against the Spirit, and the desires of the Spirit are against the flesh, for these are opposed to each other, to keep you from doing the things you want to do.”
And the fruit of the Spirit are the qualities we need in order to take these courageous steps:
“…love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control.”
The impact on the marriage relationship is worth it!