When Your Marriage Gets Tough
When the Walls Went Up
Jeff and Linda's Story
“I can’t speak to you anymore!” The words wouldn't leave Linda’s mind. She mulled over the events that had lead to the argument between her and her husband Jeff. It seemed to be a recurring theme with the same conflict repeating itself over and over again. This was the ‘atmosphere’ that they had lived in for the last few months. This last ‘explosion’ ended, when her husband Jeff finally stormed out of the house, leaving her sitting on the couch crying. He used to be so happy… What happened? She thought to herself.
Earlier this year, Jeff was looking forward to a promotion and the possibility that he and Linda would finally own their first home. Instead, they handed him a layoff notice. Jeff had worked in middle management for years in a successful ad company. Now, without any warning from any of the meetings he had attended, they were saying they needed to ‘cut back’. He and a few others would be let go.
After the initial shock, Jeff and Linda decided they wouldn’t let the situation dishearten them. With determination, they resolved to ‘move forward’. After all, they thought, Jeff should be able to get something from all of his years of experience. Linda began working tirelessly, answering phone calls and searching for leads. Jeff in turn, ‘pounded the pavement’ and went through interview after interview. He was even open to taking any entry-level positions the ad industry would offer. After awhile, it was apparent that there were no openings for his type of expertise. Things became progressively ‘tight’ when it came to finances. Both Jeff and Linda’s parents offered to help them pay their bills, and hold onto their small one bedroom apartment.
Finally, after experiencing rejection after rejection, Jeff soon fell into a depression. Every attempt that Linda tried encouraging Jeff with, backfired. He began to verbally ‘lash out’ at her saying things like, “You don’t even trust me to find a way out of this mess!” and, “Why do our parents have to ‘carry us’?” These episodes often left Linda perplexed. She started to become so tired of them, that she began to retaliate. This made the arguments worse.
Soon, Jeff and Linda’s parents-having limited retirement incomes-regretfully, could no longer help them out. They encouraged Jeff to try to get a job in any field, even if it was out of his area of experience. At their encouragement, Jeff even went to an agency that would ‘hook him up’ with freelance contracts he could bid on. It seemed to be a good place to start. However, competition was fierce, and Jeff could only get a ‘handful’ of assignments.
After a time, their credit bills began to mount from buying even the most simple of necessities. Frustrations began to build up once more, and the arguments increased. It seemed that both of them could not say one word without a misunderstanding occurring. Each began ‘reading the worst’ in the others intentions. Very shortly, both began to ‘hug’ their sides of the bed, not wanting to even touch each other.
Desperate for relief from the situation, Linda came up with an idea. She considered finding a job to help ease the strain on both their finances and marriage. It was this suggestion that had caused the most recent and explosive of arguments between them. Jeff accused her of finally proving what he said he’d known all along-that she really didn’t trust him to ‘get them out of this situation’. Linda tried to reason with him, saying that none of those things had even 'entered her head', and that she only wanted to help. She tried to reassure him saying how she saw this as a ‘team effort’, to try and climb out of the circumstance they were in. None of Linda’s attempts to explain and calm the situation helped. It only served to aggravate him all the more. It was shortly afterward, that Jeff had stormed out of the house.
It was while Linda was sitting on the couch, thinking about what had just occurred, that she finally realized what had been at the root of all of their conflicts. Jeff needed to be the one to ‘fix’ their situation. He had to, in his eyes-and everyone else's, or there was something wrong…with him.
Does this scenario seem like a familiar situation you've heard about? Perhaps you may even be able to relate to it on a more personal level? The scenario you’ve just read about is fictional, but made up of similar 'elements' we may have all heard about, or perhaps, even experienced. We will explore the illustration above, and learn five simple keys that can help any marriage avoid the ‘pit falls’ Jeff and Linda experienced (and thrive no matter what the circumstances-even in today’s economic climate).
First, we need to understand the 'friction' that both Linda and Jeff went through. When we recognize them, its at this point we need to practice these five keys.
Understanding 'Relational Friction'
‘Relational friction’ is a term I’ve come up with to describe just what Jeff and Linda were experiencing in the turmoil their marriage is going through. The ‘friction’ is actually tension that builds between married couples whenever they experience a ‘communication breakdown’. This 'communication breakdown', usually is the direct result of fear or insecurity of a perceived threat.
In the scenario we presented above, Jeff actually reveals what is at the 'root' of his depression. His statements of feeling like Linda did not trust his ability to get them out of the situation, spoke very loudly about his insecurity. It's important, if your spouse is depressed do not engage in any arguments with them. Don't allow yourself to get 'caught up' in any angry emotions that may cause you to retaliate as Linda did. When the depressed spouse is more calm, they may be more willing to talk and reveal more details about the thoughts and emotions they're dealing with. If the depression persists, the next route may be going to a counselor. Jeff's emotions influenced how he viewed himself and his circumstances. Although, many may not experience the depression Jeff went through, the 'relational friction' both he and Linda experienced are good examples of what we could go through. They may simply be on varying levels. Once we recognize when relational friction is starting to occur, its at this point we need to apply five important steps to deal with the situation.
We are going to look at five specific keys that will help married couples navigate the storms that can cause 'relational friction'. Regardless of the outward circumstances (whether its the economy, or any other situation), these five points will help any married couple. This is not a formula, or magic incantation. It requires hard work, and they are dependent on two things; cooperation from both sides in the marriage, and honesty.
The first key is naming the real problem. As a couple, both of you need to name the feelings that are affecting your relationship, and admit (be transparent) about how it might be effecting you. Let me be upfront here. Your thoughts and feelings really do effect how you may perceive yourself, circumstances and each other. So be very honest to both spouse and yourself. Once you've named the problem, it's important here to create a 'safe' environment so you can express your thoughts feelings without the concern of feeling condemned for them. Allow each other to say (without interruption, or interpreting any intentions you think your spouse has). When you've both finished naming the real issue, you need to 'own' them.
The next step is ownership/acknowledgment of those thoughts and feelings. In this step, we embrace our them and recognize that they are the cause of our perceptions, and the relational friction that we've experienced. Once we've embraced our feelings as being the 'root' of our thinking and actions, we then need to understand they don't define us or our circumstances (as individuals or a married couple). Once we've come to grips with that, we are then ready to know who we really are as unique people and as a team.
The step of, defining Identity, requires you as an individual (and a team) to recognize that our thoughts and feelings are not who we are. Yes, we have emotions and they're a part of us, but they're not wholly a definition of who we are. We have emotions, but they shouldn't 'have' us (or define us as a person). Consider this: emotions 'come and go', do you as well? Once we both recognize our identity fully, we must solidify who we are.
Solidifying who we are, is called knowing yourself. We must, as unique people know who we are wholly, and understand that emotions are only a portion of what makes us up as a person. However, as I mentioned earlier, emotions 'come and go'. We need to sit down and 'weigh out' who we are. Then, recognize our strengths and weaknesses honestly. Knowing what we can offer as a person (and in our marriage). Understanding ourselves completely, will inevitably change our perception of both who we are and the circumstances we're in. When we've finally come to see ourselves wholly as a person, (instead of, what I call a fragmented person. Identifying ones self in only emotional terms and its influenced perceptions), we will be able take the final step towards 'walking out' who we are individually and as a strong unit.
This is the next, and most crucial step I call 'walking it out'. Once we deal with what is causing all of the relational friction-it's root cause (embracing it, and finally journeying from who we thought we were, to who we really are), we're finally ready to face whatever life has to 'toss our way' as a healthier couple. It doesn't guarantee that we will never argue, but it will guarantee that we will have less of them, and be successful in how we handle our problems.
I mentioned that my husband and I have counseled people using these concepts. It would be remiss of me, if I never told you that we have had to use these techniques ourselves. Being a successful couple, doesn't equal never having gone through difficult times or conflicts. Healthy and happy married couples, embrace, and navigate through difficult times together. Those are always the ingredients to success!
Links to Help Your Relationship
- The RELATIONSHIP CLINIC: Five Components of a Healthy Marriage
- Healthy Marriage: Four More Things You Can Do To Renew and Maintain a Healthy Marriage
Four more renewal factors are suggested for a strong, healthy marriage. This third in a series of healthy marriage advice articles invites you to take some time to reflect further on love and marriage, particularly on keeping, restoring and renewing