The couple was both obviously irritable and irritated with one another. They had been fighting for several days prior to coming to The Marriage Recovery Center, and apparently fairly consistently for years before that.
When asked about what had brought them to The Marriage Recovery Center, they focused on the emotional stress they felt from fighting. However, they added that their fighting had taken a toll on each of them physically, and this was the final issue leading them to seeking professional help.
Fighting takes a toll on people. This should come as no surprise.
Studies are showing that marital stress—often in the form of fighting—causes significant emotional as well as physical problems. One study in the journal Health Psychology found that women in unsatisfying marriages are prone to heart disease, higher blood pressure and cholesterol as well as higher body mass indexes. When in a stressful marriage, they are also prone to higher levels of depression, anxiety and anger—all fueled by stress.
Other studies show that the immune system falters in times of stress. An article in Physiology and Behavior showed that germ-fighting cells tell to surrender when couples fight, causing a vulnerability to infectious diseases.
The scientific findings certainly mirror what I’ve found in couples coming to The Marriage Recovery Center. I’ve noticed a much greater incidence of women with physiological problems when in unhappy marriages. They complain about various aches and pains, autoimmune issues as well as emotional malaise.
Again, there is nothing earth-shaking about these findings. We know we feel better when we are satisfied in our marriage, and also know that when things are going well, we don’t do well.
It also should not surprise us that there are Scriptures that instruct on to have positive attitudes and healthy perspectives, and that these will play a key role in positive mental health. Specifically, we are taught to be “full of the Spirit,” and that the fruit of the Spirit is “love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness and self-control.” (Galatians 5:22-23; Ephesians 5:18) Lives demonstrating these traits are certainly going to be less prone to fighting and the emotional and physical toll it takes.
Here are some additional strategies I suggest you practice to assist you in your marriage and to enjoy the positive mental health available to all:
First, keep a short account of wrongs with your mate.
Don’t let problems build up. Talk about them when they are small and they won’t fester and become infected wounds. Practice checking in with each other to ensure you are dealing effectively with problems.
Second, when wrong, apologize.
Yes, this sounds easy enough, but you might be surprised to hear that many couples who are struggling have long since lost the art of humility and apology. Perhaps they offer a quick, “I’m sorry,” but their heart is not in it. They don’t offer what the Apostle Paul calls “A godly sorrow that leads to repentance” (2 Corinthians 7:10). We are all going to make mistakes; the critical issue is taking responsibility for them.
Third, learn from your mistakes.
Godly sorrow should lead not only to a heart change, but to behavior change. When someone is wrong and admits it, we should see a change in them. We should hear a difference in their thinking and see behavior that reflects their sorrow. We’re looking for progress, not perfection.
Fourth, practice working through issues effectively.
There are healthy ways to deal with conflict and there are terribly destructive ways. Learn all you can about how to talk about issues without calling names, fault-finding, or humiliation. Never use shame-based communication where you scold or put your mate down. Share your feelings with your mate, with each person being allowed to share their point of view.
Finally, catch each other doing things right and celebrate progress.
We’re all going to make mistakes. Healthy couples limit their conflict, learn from their mistakes and catch their mates doing the things that cause their relationship to grow. Limit criticism—it doesn’t work—and amplify encouragement, which does work.
Notice how implementing these strategies not only improve your disposition, but your emotional and physical health as well. Try it and let me know how it works.
I also want to offer you, without charge, my eBook, A Love Life of Your Dreams, found on our website. This is an interactive eBook for you and your mate to work through together. Also read more about The Marriage Recovery Center on our website www.marriagerecoverycenter.com and yourrelationshipdoctor.com. You’ll find videos and podcasts on sexual addiction, emotionally destructive marriages, codependency and affair-proofing your marriage.