“He just doesn’t understand me,” Darcy complained during a recent couples’ counseling session. “He never has really understood me, and that’s partly why we’re in the shape we’re in.”
Daniel noticeably bristled at her words.
Looking at her husband, Darcy continued.
“If you understood how deeply you hurt me, you wouldn’t keep doing the things you agree not to do.”
“Do you know how hard it is to be nice to you,” Daniel complained, “when it seems like you’re always angry with me?”
Daniel looked worn and tired. I looked over at Darcy, who now was crying and looking away. She had asked Daniel for a separation two months earlier, and was now participating in a Marriage Intensive to see if there was a way to rebuild their troubled marriage. She had come reluctantly, discouraged and depressed.
“I am always angry,” Darcy said emphatically. “I guess I shouldn’t be. I guess maybe I expect too much. I guess maybe I’m bad for feeling the way I feel.”
Daniel said nothing.
“You’re not wrong to feel angry,” I reassured Darcy. “However, we need to find ways to express your anger in constructive ways.” Looking at Daniel I added, “And you’ve got to keep your word so that she isn’t always angry with you.”
“That’s the thing,” Darcy said. “If he would do the things we’ve agreed on in counseling in the past, I could regain respect for him. But, I don’t think he takes me seriously, and that hurts.”
Darcy shared more about their history of Daniel making promises to read books on communication and failing to do so. He had promised to remain in counseling, but dropped out prematurely. He had promised to be a more involved father, but remained detached and irresponsible. All of these broken promises broke Darcy’s heart, leading to her ultimately telling him to leave.
Daniel, on the other hand, didn’t understand the severity of the situation. While he agreed that he hadn’t kept these promises, he was shocked and discouraged that these broken promises led to their separation. He felt that Darcy exaggerated their promises, and offered myriad explanations for why the promises hadn’t been kept. He felt hurt and betrayed that she chose to separate. He feared that she would lower the final hammer—asking for a divorce.
Is there hope for Daniel and Darcy? Yes. How do they begin to piece their marriage back together? Many allow their marriage to deteriorate, and then fitfully work at mending the many broken bridges—unsuccessfully.
What should Daniel and Darcy be working on to heal their marriage? Here are some beginning steps, which if taken will help heal their relationship.
First, no matter how hurt or angry, commit to speaking respectfully to each other. It is easy, when angry and hurt, to let your words become colored with sarcasm, disrespect and irritation. No one wants to be talked to disrespectfully. This only serves to push your mate further away, and certainly doesn’t cause them to want to be their best for you.
Second, practice the fine art of empathy. Few really take the time to understand their mate’s pain. Stop and take the time to really listen to your mate. Why are they hurting? What have you done to aggravate your situation? What is their point of need? Practice checking out your perception of what you think they are saying.
Third, listen more. Talk less, and listen more. Nothing feels so good to the soul as someone who cares enough to listen. We are encouraged in Scripture to “be quick to hear and slow to speak.” (James 1: 19) Allow your mates words to really sink in.
Fourth, commit to keeping agreements. Broken agreements are killers to a marriage. They suggest you don’t honor your mate enough to do what you say you will do. They suggest you don’t take your mate seriously, leaving them wondering how much you really care.
Five, be kind, compassionate and tenderhearted. Yes, this is our calling as Christians and as loving mates. “A soft word turns away wrath,” and is powerful medicine to a troubled relationship. A soft word will often draw your mate toward you, whereas a sarcastic or angry comment will push them away.
Finally, get professional help. When patterns become entrenched, it’s hard for us to see them, let alone change them. Find a trusted and skilled counselor who will point out patterns of interacting that need to be changed. Commit to going to counseling as long as needed to change those troubling patterns.
Do you find yourself in endless power struggles, or caught in the web of fighting over insignificant issues? Do you find yourself losing respect for your mate? Is your marriage in trouble and you’re not sure how to end destructive patterns? These patterns can be changed. In fact, “If it’s predictable, it’s preventable.”
I’d love to hear how these tools, which I teach to couples, work for you. Please write to me and let me know the results of these new skills. Share your opinion or send a confidential note to me at TheRelationshipDoctor@Gmail.com and read more about The Marriage Recovery Center on my website, www.YourRelationshipDoctor.com. You’ll find videos and podcasts on codependency, rejection by your mate and affair-proofing your marriage as well.