A sarcastic word here, an hostile glance there, added up create an impenetrable wall between couples.
This was never more apparent than when I sat with Gene and Kelly recently, a couple who had been dating over a year and hoped to be married soon. However, a growing wall between them threatened their hopes.
Both Gene and Kelly had been married before, each with two children that they had joint custody. Blending their families appeared, at least on the surface, to be the major issue. However, upon closer inspection, it was clear that both had resentments that had created distance and distrust.
The issue of resentment — resending a conflict again and again — surfaced first with Gene. Kelly had been sharing her feelings about his children, feeling disrespected and unsupported by him.
“It’s not going to work,” Kelly asserted, “if you take their side over me.”
Gene bristled and turned away. Their connection had been broken and he was no longer listening. Unaware of the broken connection, Kelly continued to share her point of view.
“You take their side even if they have clearly been in the wrong,” she said angrily.
Gene continued to look toward the wall, with pursed lips and anger steaming from him.
“Hold it,” I said to Kelly. “I don’t think Gene is still listening. Your talking at him but no longer with him. Can you see that?”
My words seemed to bounce off her. She started back in again, making her point.
“Kelly,” I said more firmly. “He’s not listening. You can continue to talk, but the connection between you two has been broken.”
With that Kelly slowed down, looking over at Gene who still was caught up in his own mood.
“What’s going on Gene?” I asked.
“Things are not the way she is saying them and I resent her for portraying just her side of things,” he said.
“So how am I exaggerating anything?” she said hotly.
“Folks,” I interjected. “We need to go back to the beginning of our work together. Remember what I said about agreeing together that you would need to work together to bring down walls of resentment?”
“It might be good for you to tell us again,” Kelly said, breaking into a slight grin.
“Sure,” I said.
With that I offered them the advice I give to every couple.
First, we must work together to repair our relationship. This takes great cooperation and an agreement on goals. It is common for couples to agree that they want to rid their relationship of resentment, increase communication and learn to effectively manage conflict. But, it takes two! If we nitpick each other, jab at each other’s wounds and generally demoralize each other, progress is impeded. We must cooperate and work together to rebuild a relationship.
In the passage of Scripture where Nehemiah rebuilds the Jerusalem wall, he notes, “So we built the wall. And the wall was joined together to half its height, for the people had a mind to work.” (Nehemiah 4:6) Against great odds and incredible challenges, Nehemiah was able to marshal the working together of the people. Cooperation with one another makes finishing a project possible.
Second, the simple act of agreeing on a solution creates unity. Much like a military platoon or sports team, marriage requires joining forces and agreeing upon solutions. Attack the problem, not the person. Sit together and frame the problem and then explore solutions.
Third, fault-finding impedes the progress. Any shaming, blaming or fault-finding will only impede the work and add to the wall of resentment. We must let go of these behaviors and be solution-minded. We have all done things to add to the problems and so no one has room to throw stones.
Fourth, take time to discuss wounds. There will be times when you must take a temporary hiatus from problem-solving to discuss old wounds/ resentments. This is all right as long as the sharing of wounds is done in a constructive manner, again not shifting back to fault-finding and blaming of the other.
Finally, celebrate gains made. Progress is not linear, nor is it perfect. Take time to notice the small improvements made, continually reminding each other of the end goal. Don’t get side-tracked into fault-finding, but rather acknowledge each other’s efforts toward the agreed upon goal.
Which is better, connection or separation? The choice is easy. Do you long for caring connection?
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