Zeb and his wife, Debra had been separated for several months after years of conflict had left them both feeling unable to remain together. They were fighting each other -- instead of fighting for their marriage. Feeling profoundly discouraged, they had separated to “get some peace”.
Zeb reached out to me, asking if there was any hope for reconciliation. Knowing little about their issues, except that they “fight constantly,” I told him there certainly was hope. As long as there is any desire for reconciliation, I told him, there was always hope.
“But what about the constant fighting?” he asked, watching me carefully as I considered his question.
“Well,” I said slowly. “We can figure out why you fight, and more important, how you fight. Understanding your destructive patterns will give us insights about who needs to change what. Then, we can set out to make those changes.”
Zeb was definitely interested.
“I’d love to get back with Deb,” he said sadly. “We’re just so tense whenever we talk, and then it makes matters worse. I just don’t know what to do. Would you consider talking to her?”
We agreed I would talk to his wife and see if she was interested in talking about reconciliation. I placed a phone call to her, and while she readily agreed to talk to me, she was at first cool to the idea of reconciliation.
“I don’t know,” Debra said. “We were fighting so much, and I like the peace I’ve found living alone. I don’t want to go back to that.”
“What if you could go back to Zeb and have things different?” I asked. “Would that be of interest to you?”
“Of course,” she said. “But, all we did was fight, and I’m not interested in that. He isn’t really interested in changing, and I’m not interested in going back to him unless he does. Why did he even have you call me?”
“Because he actually is interested in changing,” I said, “and is interested in doing whatever it takes to save his marriage. I know you folks have had a rough time and are very discouraged with each other.”
“Did he tell you about the last time we got together?” Debra asked, sounding more irritable.
“No he didn’t,” I said. “Why do you ask?”
“Because, we met at a restaurant and weren’t together five minutes before we were fighting. It felt like he was ready to fight, and I’ve got to admit, I didn’t act a lot better. That’s the kind of thing I can’t stand. I just don’t want to live like that.”
“Well, Debra,” I said. “I don’t blame you for not wanting to live like that. However, I want to reassure you that things can be different. I’d like to suggest that the three of us talk and dissect exactly what happened at that meeting and why it happened. If we can understand what you two do, and if you’ll take responsibility for changing those patterns, we can break the cycle of fighting. Sound interesting?”
There was a moment of silence as Debra considered my request. After a few moments, she shared her feelings.
“I will do this,” she said haltingly. “But, I’m not going back to what I left. I’d love to believe things can be different, but I really am not convinced of that. I’ll give this a try though.”
I continued talking to Debra and prepared her for a counseling session. I could sense her trepidation and her wounds from years of hurting each other. While she wanted to save her marriage, she wanted peace more. I laid out the strategies needed to enhance the possibility of our session going well. These are the tools I have shared with others with remarkable success.
First, you must be prayed up. We need God’s power and courage to go back into a frightening situation. When you’ve mustered all the courage you have to leave a troubling marriage, it isn’t easy to go back. God promises to go before us into any kind of danger, and His strength will see us through this kind of situation as well.
Second, be willing to listen to your mate. You cannot hear anything your mate, or counselor, says to you when your defenses are high. When meeting for the possibility of beginning reconciliation, it is imperative that you be willing to listen and learn from your mate and the counselor leading the way. You must be open to hearing things you’d rather not hear.
Third, you must own your part of the problem. There are usually two people participating in a destructive dance. If one, or ideally both, recognize their part and are willing to change it, success is possible. Go to the meeting with humility, “not thinking of yourself more highly than you ought.” (Romans 12:3) Approach this situation having a teachable spirit.
Fourth, agree on a time and place to deal effectively with old wounds. For the present moment you must be driven by the need to ‘do no harm,’ and instead plant seeds of reconciliation. Remember that your ultimate desire is to save the marriage, restoring the relationship to a place of trust and love. This is possible if you will ‘contain the conflict,’ receive expert guidance, and move slowly back into a relationship that is respectful and pleasing to both. Remember that it is God’s desire to “heal the brokenhearted and bind up their wounds.” (Psalm 147:3)
Finally, leave your bat at home. Many have trouble finding their way back to each other because they’ve been hurt and want to hurt back. Bristling with anger and irritability, this attitude pushes the other away. While extremely difficult to do, you must bring good will, humility, and an inviting spirit to the table. Anything less is a set up for failure.
So, agree to that counseling session and take every precaution to make it a success. Building upon that initial success, rediscover the love that has always been in your marriage while working with a professional to eliminate the unhealthy patterns of fighting. Take one step at a time, one moment of success built upon the other, and pray that God will melt away the hostility as problems are solved.
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Share your feedback or send a confidential note to me at firstname.lastname@example.org and read more about The Marriage Recovery Center on my Web site, www.marriagerecoverycenter.com and yourrelationshipdoctor.com. You’ll find videos and podcasts on saving a troubled marriage, codependency, rejection by your mate, and affair-proofing your marriage.