Thank you for your comments and questions on my last entry (some left on the blog, some emailed to me). Many of you said that you could relate to my experience, and the question most raised was something like, “But how can we actually move back toward Love?”
The process is, in my opinion, theoretically simple, but rarely easy in real life (sorta like sky-diving). Almost every approach to marriage therapy will, in one form or another, offer these steps:
- Become mindful of what has happened in the past.
- Take personal responsibility for your role, and stop blaming your spouse.
- Learn and practice communication and marriage building skills.
The following chart provides a model for how I work through this with couples:
Disillusionment and anger are impossible to avoid, however, couples who are remarkably effective with each other move very quickly and naturally toward loving engagement before respect challenges can get any traction.
The part of this process that seems to be of particular help to couples is the consideration of the three destructive, anxiety driven choices in the face of conflict. The couples I work with almost always identify immediately with one of these three types. However, for a couple to move over in to the redemptive choice column, each person must begin to change behavior in ways that can seem terrifying.
- An Attacker must learn to sit with his or her anxiety rather than moving aggressively to control or change the situation.
- A Withdrawer must commit to initiating change rather than hiding in the corner.
- A Self-Abidicator, and this one is by far the hardest, must look deep inside and figure out, “Who the hell am I?” and begin to act on this Self discovery.
This process will almost always increase conflict before turning towards peace and resolution. And if only one of the spouses is on board, the relationship will often be driven to the breaking point. A part of my job is to help each person hang in there with the changes until Love has a change to work its transforming magic (oooooooo… didn’t that line sound poetic!?). The trouble is, when anxiety gets high enough, then we reflexively revert to old behaviors, no matter how ineffective they are.
Richard Rohr describes an addict as someone who can’t get enough of what he already knows doesn’t work. There’s an addictive process at work in marriage conflict, and it involves our inherent addiction to
- making anxiety go away, no matter what the cost,
- and justifying the choices we make that feed, rather than, diminish the conflict.
to be continued….