“It’s just so hard to work on this marriage,” Jennifer said, appearing exhausted. She curled up on the couch, buried her head in her hands and began to cry.
Don, her husband of 12 years, looked at her dispassionately, as he too felt discouraged and powerless.
Jennifer and Don had come to The Marriage Recovery Center out of sheer desperation. Having tried marriage counseling several times in the past, they looked to us for help in uncovering and healing the dysfunctional patterns that kept them stuck. The prevailing pattern during this phase of their work was a feeling of powerlessness to impact their mate—a symptom in many marriages in trouble. Both felt misunderstood and alone.
“I can’t agree with something I disagree with,” Don argued. “I just don’t see it the way she sees it and that’s all there is to it. And I don’t feel like she listens to what I’m trying to say.”
Jennifer and Don both looked to me for help. Both felt exasperated and stuck in their discouragement. Both wanted desperately to be understood and yet found themselves in perpetual power struggles. In these power struggles, they both felt victimized, blaming the other for their troubled feelings.
As we watched Don and Jennifer clutch and claw at one another in vain attempts to be understood, I noted their failure to:
- cultivate their own clear, strong voice.
- listen to the other’s point of view.
- assist the other in expressing their point of view.
- value each other’s point of view.
- collaborate to find mutually agreed upon decisions.
Don and Jennifer are typical of many couples who aren’t able to find their clear, strong voice or value each other’s perspective. They are typical of couples who talk over their mate, coerce their mate to adopt their point of view and in the process are talked over in return. These are called power struggles.
The Apostle Peter seems to highlight these issues in his writings, specifically in I Peter 3: 1-7. While not attempting to overly analyze this passage, I believe Peter is saying that women’s beauty comes not from outward appearances, but from an inner, “gentle and quiet spirit.” They are instructed to influence their husbands by their inner beauty and attitude. Men are instructed to be considerate and respectful of their wives.
Let’s consider how this Scripture can be played out in marriage to create a sense of equality and mutual respect.
1. Develop your own voice.
This requires that you take time to consider what you think and feel about a matter. Many need to pull themselves away, in quiet and reflection, and determine what they think on a particular issue. Understand that your point of view need not be the same as others, or even in alignment with what your mate thinks.
2. Encourage your mate’s voice.
We need safety to share our opinion and perspective. So it is incumbent upon each of us to create an atmosphere where our mate will share what they think and feel. Do you make efforts to encourage your mate to share their thoughts and feelings, knowing that you may disagree with them?
3. Agree that neither point of view is ‘right’ or ‘wrong,’ but simply an aspect of what each person believes.
Each point of view is to be respected and valued. As the Apostle Peter says, you are to be gentle and respectful toward your mate. No matter what your mate thinks, this is part of their personhood and it is to be respected.
4. After sharing your point of view, and assuming it is different from your mate’s, move into collaboration.
Rather than trying to change your mate’s mind, honor his/her point of view and creatively embark on collaboration. Don’t become overly attached to your point of view or trying to convince your mate that they are wrong. This requires that you brainstorm how you will find a ‘win-win’ solution to a problem.
5. Honoring your own and your mate’s point of view, celebrate finding a solution that works for both of you.
Even if you have to put an issue aside for a time, return to the discussion, with gentleness and respect, and celebrate finding a solution that works for both of you. Take your mate’s concerns seriously, honoring it as much as you honor your own concerns.
Consider the issue of mutual respect in your marriage. Are you clear about what is important to you as well as what is important to your mate? Do you know what he/she expects and do they know what you expect? Have you been able to detach from outcomes so that you can celebrate the process of brainstorming solutions?
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 website www.marriagerecoverycenter.com and yourrelationshipdoctor.com. You’ll find videos and podcasts on saving a troubled marriage, codependency and affair-proofing your marriage.