Through our many years in marriage ministry, Rick and I have narrowed down four areas that we believe are detrimental to a successful marriage relationship – communication, love and respect, intimacy and sex, and priorities. We have also discovered a pattern of vicious cycles in each of these areas that we all fall into at one point or another. The secret to a joyful marriage is to never fall into those cycles or learn how to break them.
I want to start with the vicious cycle of communication. Communication is the key to all we do. For example: lack of money is certainly an issue in a marriage, but the way we communicate the issue with our spouse is what makes it a big problem.
We go into marriage communicating the way our parents taught us to, good or bad. I come from a family where we didn’t talk about issues; we buried them in the sand. My father’s word was the only word, so I held everything in and never expressed my true feelings. Rick, on the other hand, came from a functional family where everything was out on the table. He learned how to work through issues. He assumed that’s how I communicated to him. And so our vicious cycle began without either of us realizing how dysfunctional it was.
Rick and I would have an issue; he would come up with a solution. Because I grew up not knowing I had an opinion, I went along with whatever he said. I didn’t know I was allowed to express my thoughts. As time passed, all the issues I didn’t necessarily agree with him on began to fester into frustration. I would reach a point where maybe I was tired or not well or hormonal, and it would all explode into a rant of accusing words I really didn’t mean. Rick would immediately feel defensive and respond with words to outdo me. We would walk away in anger, never resolving anything.
This cycle of communicating continued and took us to the point in our marriage where we almost divorced. Thanks be to God, He saved us and our marriage. That didn’t mean everything was fine and dandy, though. We had to learn the proper way to communicate with each other. I had to learn to express myself, and Rick had to learn to wait for me to sort through my thoughts and feelings before I could voice them. That was not an easy task for a fighter pilot who believed an immediate answer far exceeded a perfect solution.
It’s difficult to break these cycles we fall into, and they quickly become habit in a marriage. In the midst of a heated conversation, it may feel good, briefly, to express your righteous indignation. Raising our voices, though, only serves as a competition to who can yell the loudest or say the most hurtful words. You may walk away feeling vindicated, but you never look back and feel good about the words you’ve expressed. Most of the time you wish you could take them back.
I think the key for Rick and me was to realize that when either of us begins to “pick a fight”, the other looks at what is going on. Have they had a rough day? Are they feeling well? We try not to take it personally. We try not to react. Most people start arguments when they are stressed, unwell, hungry, tired, etc. Rick and I had to learn to recognize the emotions that get in the way of rational discussion.
Of course, it’s usually me who goes off in a tizzy. When Rick only listens and doesn’t respond, I quickly see the fault in my actions. I usually back down and apologize to him. He doesn’t allow the vicious cycle to even start. I’ve learned to do that with him, too, although he seems to get a lot more practice at it than I do.
Learn to keep the argument from starting and break the cycle. Call a time out – delay the conversation until you can discuss the situation rationally. Separate the problem from your spouse. Deal with the problem itself, not how you believe your spouse is mishandling it.
Rational communication brings peace and harmony to a marriage.