Rebuilding Trust in Your Marriage

Q. I don’t trust my spouse anymore…how can I learn to trust again?

A. You’re going to need to rebuild your marriage from the bottom up. This is the stage when you both put your hands up and surrender. This is where there are tears of anguish over the offense and tears of relief that it has been confessed. Actual tears or just tears of the heart say very loudly the two words that the person who was hurt wants to be convinced of – “I’m sorry.“ This is where you get on your knees and say, “I can’t do this alone, Lord. I need Your help to trust my spouse again.”

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With that prayer comes the admission that you need God to help you in the rebuilding process. When faced with starting at the bottom and working to rebuild, many times the spouse who has been hurt will do one of three things: run from it, deny it’s happening, or collapse in overwhelming fear and be unable to cope. Responding in one or all of these ways get you nowhere in the rebuilding process because you’re trusting yourself to be in control.


The problem is, you were never in control. Unfortunately it may take a wake-up call to remind you of that. What you can know is that God is in control. When things get bad, turn your eyes off yourself and turn to him. Rather than depending on your own strength, which will only fail you, ask God for the strength to trust and love your spouse again.


You may have no hope that such a huge problem can be solved. But when painful situations occur, you need to commit to being a team. This is when you and your spouse join together and join God as you work through restoration. A counselor could be a part of the team as well, helping you work through the rebuilding process.


Next, you and your spouse need to start talking. Pray before communicating. If you’ve depended on God for strength to trust, you can also depend on God to help you communicate what’s really going on so that the other person will better understand. Be honest and yet speak the truth in love. This is when you both communicate your needs and your pain while working to regain one another’s trust.


As you talk to each other, don’t be talking to everyone else. While there is a time for your family and Christian friends to be involved in helping you through the difficult times of your life, this is not one of the times they need to hear all the details. This matter is between you and your spouse. As you work to rebuild your marriage, respect each other enough not to say too much around others.


Be prepared for attacks. Remember, when you start to rebuild your marriage, the enemy will do all he can to tear it down. The last thing Satan wants is for you to be reconciled. He loves to create isolation and distress in a relationship and drive people apart. When you seek to restore a relationship, the enemy gets busy and throws doubts at you from within and attacks from the outside. No matter who wants you to stay apart, God wants you to reconcile. Be aware and be ready for resistance!


Finally, don’t rush this process. It’s going to take time. This is going to be a journey. The element of time plays two roles in the rebuilding process: First, it takes time to heal the pain. Second, you also need time to add some positive experiences to a relationship that’s become accustomed to pain. As you schedule time on the calendar to create new memories, the healing process will begin. Be willing to persevere.

Closing The Loop

Continue with us in the Healing the Hurt blog series as we talk about how to close the loop of conflict on the path to healing in your marriage.

Prepare Your Heart
You may be totally sincere in your desire to resolve a conflict, but if your heart isn't right, your efforts may only make things worse. Gary and I want to share with you four steps for preparing your hearts to close the loop.

Step 1: Take a Personal Time-Out
Have you ever said or heard someone say, "I need to get away and clear my head"? For you, this may mean driving to the country, the mountains, or the beach for a day – or even just for an hour or two. Your personal time-out may take the form of a walk to a nearby park or in hours spent in a quiet corner of your house. Believe me, it really doesn't matter where you go; the idea is to create some space between you and your normal routine so you can talk through your thoughts and feelings with the Lord alone and without interruption.

Here are four important elements to include when you take a personal time-out to clear your heart.

1. Listen to God. Open your heart during this time to what God wants to teach you. This happens best through reading the Bible. Even make it a point to spend time alone daily in the word of God – not so much digging for a specific answer as simply allowing God to speak to you from any passage you may read. And during the process, ask God to help you understand the truth and apply it to your life.

2. Confess your sin. Is there a violation of God's teaching you must clear up with him before you go to your spouse? Pray along with David, "Wash me clean from my guilt. Purify me from my sin. For I recognize my shameful deeds – they haunt me day and night. Against you, and you alone, have I sinned; I have done what is evil in your sight… Purify me from my sins, and I will be clean; wash me, and I will be whiter than snow" (Psalm 51:2-4, 7).

2. Talk to God in prayer. Tell Him about everything – your failures, your fears, your hurts, your desire for healing. Allow the pain that you feel in your relationship to draw you into greater dependence on God. You may pray something like this: "God, give me the understanding to be humble by resolving this issue in a way that honors you. Help me to be gracious toward my spouse and respectable of his or her perspective. Help us to talk things through. Help us to close the loop and rekindle our love for each other."

3. Determine to be a peacemaker. Jesus taught, "God blesses those who work for peace, for they will be called the children of God" (Matthew 5:9). When we counsel couples in conflict, Gary and I can tell which spouses sincerely want to move toward healing and which ones are still looking to land a few more verbal or emotional blows. Authentic reconciliation requires two people who are committed to and making an effort toward, peace in their marriage.

Step 2: Look for the Underlying Causes
When you step out to resolve conflict and heal hurt, you must go deeper than the symptoms. If you are angry with your spouse, you need to know exactly where that anger is coming from. If you were hurt by something he or she said, you need to dig behind the hurt to find its root cause. Dealing only with the symptoms guarantees that the conflict will recur and probably get worse.

As we explained in our previous post, there are many factors that can relate to our conflicts in the present, such as family training and cultural expectations. That's why developing an understanding of the past – looking at the underlying causes of our conflicts – is essential to healing. You may want to prayerfully ask yourself some of the following questions as you seek to identify the root causes of your conflict:

How does my family background seem to affect the way I resolve marital conflict today?
What experiences from my past may have caused the current conflict?

Do I feel any root of bitterness or resentment that may be sabotaging the resolution of the current conflict? (See Hebrews 12:15.)

Is there any reason I may want to maintain conflict instead of resolving it? For example, am I enjoying a measure of control over my spouse by not resolving the issue?

Step 3: Keep Your Marriage the Top Priority
One of the greatest saboteurs of a healthy marriage relationship is to take it for granted and move it to the back burner. Barb and I know this from experience. When life speeds up and we are stretched in a dozen directions at once, the people closest to us are often the ones who are overlooked or shoved to the side.

One evening many years ago, when our two daughters were little girls, I arrived home from work and a semi-comatose state. Missy, our younger daughter, greeted me excitedly, "Daddy! Daddy! Daddy!" I didn't even notice her. She kept at it saying "Daddy" about a dozen times. But I just kept walking.

Barb turned to Missy and said, "Honey, your daddy isn't home yet."

"Yes, he is,” Missy argued innocently. "He's right there."

"You know that, Sarah knows that, even Katie the dog knows that. But your daddy doesn't know it yet."

That was just one of many times my out-of-whack priorities were harmful to my wife and daughters.

If we don't keep a tight rein on our priorities, we may find ourselves in the same frame of mind as a top national executive who said, "Reaching a level of business success that I have requires total commitment. If your family is too demanding, get a new family. That's what I did." This guy didn't put his relationships on the back burner; he tossed them into the trash! It takes work and effort to keep our family relationships a top priority. It also takes sacrifice.

Step 4: Ask Others to Hold You Accountable
It takes effort and discipline to keep your heart prepared for dealing with conflict in your marriage. Barb and I have discovered the great benefit of enlisting others to help us keep our marriage positive and growing. That's why we encourage you to draw close to a small group of Christian friends who will help you grow as a husband or wife by holding you accountable.

Way back in 1978, I realized my need for close companionship with a few men. I needed a place to just be myself as a man, a husband, and father – not as a professional counselor. I wanted a few men to know me well enough to ask me the tough questions and help me keep Barb and our girls as a top priority. So I began meeting every Tuesday at noon in the corner booth of an Italian restaurant with three close friends: Tim, Jerry, and Mike.

During our weekly meetings, we have done everything from Bible studies to book discussions, from praying together to telling jokes. Confidentiality and mutual respect are a huge issue for us. What is said at that table stays at that table – period. We can be ourselves with each other, happy or hurting. We share our dreams with each other and hold each other accountable. To the outside world we are a physician, a financial advisor, a businessman, and a counselor. But when we meet, we leave our credentials at the door. We are just four guys who care about, listen to, and pray for each other.

I am accountable to Barb, and she is accountable to me. But that isn’t enough. We each rely on the closeness, support, and encouragement of Christian friends to keep us moving ahead in our marriage.

We all need people who will ask us the tough questions. Without that accountability, we can become isolated, and the chance for sin gaining a foothold in our lives and in our marriages increases dramatically.

Diffuse Your Anger
The offenses in a marriage relationship produce hurts and hurts often bubble over into anger. We talked about the chain reaction of hurt and anger in our first post. Sometimes our anger simmers beneath the surface; sometimes it explodes. Sometimes it is directed at our spouse, sometimes we take it out on someone or something else. If you are going to successfully work through your conflicts and find healing as a couple, you must learn to diffuse your anger. In this chapter, Barb and I will help you with this stage in the process of exercising forgiving love.

So how can we be angry but not sin when someone has hurt us? The answer is found in learning the distinction between anger and aggression. Anger is an emotion, a feeling. Aggression is a potentially harmful behavior, an act of the will. Anger can be expressed in a God-honoring way. Jesus, for example, displayed righteous anger when he threw the moneychangers out of God's temple in Jerusalem. Anger can also stimulate us to resolve a conflict that has been brewing for some time.

How do we diffuse our anger before it grows into aggression? Here are several biblical guidelines.

Deal with Anger in a Timely Way
People make two common mistakes in dealing with anger. First, they allow it to boil over instead of halting the conversation or argument and taking time to calm down. When you feel the heat of anger rising in you or when you see signs of anger in your spouse, that should be a warning sign: Anger building! Time-out! If anger sparks in you quickly, you need to slow down and confront your anger in an appropriate way.

The second mistake is waiting too long to deal with anger. Many people count to ten, let off a little steam, and they don't feel angry anymore. So they assume there is nothing to deal with. That's a myth. Chances are, the anger is still simmering inside them, waiting for another opportunity to boil over. As soon as the anger factor knifes into your marriage, deal with it. If you put it off, it only becomes more difficult to resolve.

Cool Down Before Speaking Up
"Here we go again. We always do it your way. I'm sick of it – and sick of you!"

"I can't believe you did that again! You really tick me off!"

"I give up. You'll never change. I have to do everything around here."

Behind each of those verbal fireballs is a frustrated, angry spouse. Most times, such explosions are counterproductive to resolving marital conflict. Dealing with anger in a timely manner doesn't mean just "going off" by venting your feelings indiscriminately. Cutting, anger-driven words only produce more hurt. Instead, take time to "cool your jets," as we used to say. Work through the issue with patience and discernment.

Control Your Tongue
Many of us have the problem of not controlling our tongue. That little muscle inside your mouth is capable of doing great good and great harm. You have the power to heal a broken relationship with your spouse or burn it to the ground with what you say and how you say it. Proverbs 18:21 says, "The tongue can kill or nourish life." The apostle James wrote, "The tongue is a small thing, but what enormous damage it can do. A tiny spark can set a great forest on fire" (James 3:5).

How can you control your tongue? Here are several suggestions:
Slow down your communication.
Give your spouse permission to help you keep angry words in check.
After a confrontation, ask your spouse if your words offended him or her.
Practice gentle words.

Watch Your Self-Talk
Have you ever caught yourself talking to yourself? We all do it, of course. At times you might mutter something to yourself aloud. If someone hears you, you may sheepishly explain, "Oh, I was just thinking out loud." But most of the time, self-talk is internal. It is the conscious thought process continually going on inside our heads.

Any episode of self-talk begins with what we call a triggering event. It may be something a person says, an object with you, the scene we witness, a fragrance, a sound, or any number of other stimuli. When the trigger occurs, our minds start racing at 1300 words per minute trying to interpret what we have received. In other words, we begin a high-speed, internal monologue trying to make sense of the triggering event.

This automatic thought process trips an emotional response based on how we interpret the event. It's a chain reaction, and it can all happen in a handful of heartbeats.

However, an emotional response, such as anger, isn't the end of the chain reaction. Your emotions will always give rise to some kind of behavioral response. You may cry, laugh, fight back, kick the dog, withdraw, overeat, drink too much, or whatever. Some people pull the covers over their heads and sleep for hours on end. Others fidget, pace, or drum their fingers.

Our behavior results from an emotional response based on self-talk triggered by a specific event – or combination of events. Here's what the chain reaction looks like: triggering event > self-talk > emotional response > behavioral response.

But here's the problem. Some of our emotional and behavioral responses are irrational because sometimes our self-talk – our perception of the triggering event – is inaccurate. At times your angry feelings and behavior may be a legitimate response to an event, but at other times they may be the inappropriate result of faulty self-talk.

One of the major ways to diffuse anger in your conflicts, therefore, is to control your self-talk. These are four helpful steps to help you do that.

1. Acknowledge that self-talk happens in you.
2. Recognize when self-talk is happening.
3. Challenge your self-talk to see if it is rational (supported by evidence) or irrational (not supported by evidence).
4. Replace inaccurate self-talk with accurate self I can talk.

Give Up Your Right to Revenge
Sometimes your marital conflicts are a case of mistaken perception and faulty self-talk. But often your anger is valid because there really was an offense – and it hurt. When this happens, another important element of controlling your anger is to let go of any sense of exacting revenge. The apostle Peter admonished believers, "Don't repay evil for evil. Don't retaliate when people say unkind things about you. Instead, pay them back with a blessing. That is what God wants you to do, and He will bless you for it" (1 Peter 3:9).

When your spouse's offense hurts and angers you, the natural tendency is to look for a way to get even. You may be tempted to hurl insults, or you may plot a more intricate revenge. The problem is that repaying one offense with another offense only fans the flame of conflict and makes it worse. At some point, one of you has to stop the cycle and, as the apostle Peter wrote, give a blessing instead. When you do that you are clearing the way for diffusing the anger and healing the hurt.

 

Managing Anger in Your Marriage

Q: My spouse really struggles to control his anger. What can we do?

A: It would be nice if all conflicts were as insignificant as which way the toilet tissue is supposed to hang. But many offenses in marriage are far from trivial. Few couples escape the conflicts that result from differences in family backgrounds, personalities, or perspectives. No matter how our marriages grow in maturity, we always seem to find ways to hurt each other, either intentionally or unintentionally. And with every offense comes pain.

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Hurt leaves us wide open and upsets our equilibrium. We feel as if our hearts have been torn out and our spirits brutalized. Sometimes we don't recognize the inner pain right away; other times, we just try to hide it. We don't tell our spouses when they have wounded us because we don't want to appear vulnerable; we suppress the hurt and act as if nothing happened.

Just as it can be difficult for us to recognize hurt, it can also be difficult to spot anger. As long as you deny that you feel angry over your unresolved disappointment and hurts, you won't deal with the problem. Where there has been an offense, there was hurt. And where there is unexpressed and unresolved hurt, there is anger.

The cause of anger in a situation can also be confusing. While most of the time anger is triggered by current incidents or events, anger can also be displaced – sparked by one person or event but taking it out on someone else. For example, your spouse called to say he or she will be late for dinner again. You hang up the phone, and all through dinner you take your anger out on the kids.

Anger can also be left over – stemming from the past, sometimes so far back that the cause is even forgotten. For example, your spouse fires off a volley of angry words at you for no apparent reason. When you sit down to talk about it, you discover that he or she was hurt by something you did a month ago, something you barely remember. One of our callers had this to say:

My husband expresses anger and says mean things, and then later on he's sorry. I don't feel forgiving of him when he does that. I want him to be sorry, but I also want him to end the behavior and be done with it.

Wherever the anger comes from, God has provided a biblical way to address it and disarm the offense/hurt/anger pattern that would otherwise rob your relationship of intimacy and connection.

Whenever you experience the downward spiral of unresolved offenses, hurt, and anger, you have three options. First, you can simply ignore the offense and the hurt while allowing the anger to fester. You may continue to stuff your unresolved feelings deep inside, resulting in bitterness, resentment, and depression. The second option is to explode, venting pent-up anger without regard for how it wounds and alienates your spouse. Both of these options fail to break the negative pattern, and you continue to wear each other down. The end result may be a relational earthquake that rattles your relationship to its foundation.

But you have a third option. It's called forgiving love. When you face hurt and anger, you can decide to resolve the conflict. That's the biblical way to deal with the offense/hurt/anger pattern. What we want to work toward – as individuals and as couples – is a commitment to address the pain and anger, to resolve the conflict, to forgive the offender, and to renew the relationship. The goal is to bring the relationship to a place of healing, wholeness, and openness that will help you feel accepted and connected again.

Forgiving love restores a wounded relationship. When you practice forgiving love consistently, you protect your marriage from heading down the path to emotional or legal divorce. Our book Healing the Hurt in Your Marriage describes how you can practice forgiving love in your marriage.

Red Lights on the Road to Healing

JOIN US AS WE CONTINUE IN OUR HEALING THE HURT BLOG SERIES!

Red Light 1: Pride

Pride may be the most destructive and harmful impediment to healing in a marriage. As the Bible tells us, “Pride goes before destruction, and haughtiness before a fall” (Proverbs 16:18).

The kind of pride we’re talking about is not the warm feeling of pride we have in our family, our work, or our country. We’re talking about the kind of pride that says, “I run my own life, and I don’t want any interference from others.” It’s the pride that refuses to admit faults, placing all the blame for problems and conflicts on others. It’s the pride that causes a husband and wife to hunker down in their respective trenches and refuse to make the first step toward peace.

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Harold had been frozen by the red light of pride for a number of years. At age 57, he had succeeded in virtually every area of his life. In business he was a corporate vice-president with an income approaching seven figures. He had been president of his service club for three terms, and the group had raised more money for charity with each succeeding term.

The one area in which Harold was failing instead of succeeding was a big one: his marriage. Fourteen years earlier, their 22-year-old son, Jake, took his own life with a massive drug overdose. Harold and Desiree were devastated and broken. Then, soon after the funeral, Harold started the accusations with his wife: “If you had only trained him better as a boy, Desiree, this might not have happened. You should have controlled his behavior as a teenager. He wouldn’t have fallen in with the wrong crowd if you had been on top of things.”

Desiree was crushed, not only by Harold’s harsh and persistent blame but also by his unwillingness to shoulder any of the responsibility. He would not admit that his extensive business travel and fanatical devotion to his hobbies and projects might have contributed to Jake’s problems. As a result, the couple was popular and well-liked by many, but they were strangers to each other behind closed doors.

To Harold, admitting that there is a conflict, let alone admitting that he may be at least partially responsible for it, is a weakness. His pride is pushing his marriage to the brink of divorce.

The antithesis of pride is humility. C.S. Lewis wrote in Mere Christianity, “If anyone would like to acquire humility, I can, I think, tell him the first step. The first step is to realize that one is proud. And a biggish step, too. At least, nothing whatever can be done before it.” It is a “biggish step” to admit our pride, but it is the only way to turn that red light to green and get on with healing.

Exercising humility allows the Harolds of the world to stand back and take a look inside. We see where we lack forgiving love in our marriage and how to close the loop of conflict. Humility is a gift we rarely ask for because it usually comes in the form of some difficult lessons. But it is indeed a gift.

Red Light 2: Guilt
Mark's head hung so low it looked as if he might never raise his eyes again. "I really did it this time, Gary," he said, "and I can't go back."

Mark worked as a comptroller in a manufacturing plant. He met Mary at the small Christian college they both attended, and they married soon after graduation. Mary came from a wealthy background, while Mark grew up in a working-class home and was the first in his family to attend college. They were both 43 years old when Mark came to see me. The couple had one child in college and another in high school.

Mary enjoyed having nice things, and Mark tried to meet her desires. Though they were on a modest budget, he kept encouraging her to buy what she wanted. Mark was determined to provide for his wife the way other men in their circle of friends did, so he kept using credit cards and delaying payments. He felt terrible about the big financial hole he had plunged them into, but he couldn't bring himself to tell Mary about it.

Then one day, Mark made a decision that would change the course of their lives forever. He discovered a $12,000 error in the company's books. Sitting at his desk reviewing the figures, he congratulated himself on a job well done. But then a dark thought took him by surprise: What if I didn't tell anyone about the error? Nobody else would be able to find it. The $12,000 is there for the taking.

He knew it was wrong, but then he thought about all the raises he had been promised but had never been given. No one is looking out for me here, he thought. And trying to keep up with Mary’s spending is getting harder all the time. Maybe I can just take the money for a couple of months and then pay it back later. No one will ever know.

Can you see the web of rationalizations? Mark gave into the temptation and never returned the money as he had planned. Now he was in my office because his actions were about to be revealed by a company audit.

Mark's inability to be honest with Mary about their finances helped create his problem in the first place. But after he committed the crime, he began living with guilt. As that guilt weighed on him, he became more moody and irritable, harder to get along with. Mary knew something was wrong but didn't know what it was. Mark avoided any conflict over family finances because he did not want to admit his crime.

Mark was filled with self-condemnation and feelings of failure as he sat in my office. "What will Mary say? How will I ever face my kids and my parents? How will I support my family? What will happen if I go to prison?" Guilt had blocked Mark from resolving conflict with Mary and his secrecy only allowed things to get worse. He would be dealing with the consequences of his actions for many years.

The good news about guilt is that it can lead us to a loving relationship with God. The apostle Paul wrote: "God can use sorrow in our lives to help us turn away from sin and seek salvation. We will never regret that kind of sorrow. But sorrow without repentance is the kind that results in death" (2 Corinthians 7:10). 

The red light of unresolved guilt can inhibit the restoration of a broken relationship. When you feel guilty, you need to ask yourself a pointed question: Have I violated a law of God or humanity that would lead me to feel what I'm feeling? If you must answer yes, perhaps your guilt is constructive and can lead you to repentance and healing. Confronting guilt and repenting is a difficult step, but the freedom you experience is so much more refreshing than a terrible burden you feel when you do not face up to it.

Red Light 3: Laziness
Laziness is a subtle but dangerous enemy of closing loops, a glaring red light for many couples in conflict. When people are single, they often don't realize how much work a marriage relationship requires. The big task is finding and courting a potential spouse. Once the chase is over and they have said "I do," they kick into neutral, intending to coast through the marriage. They put a lot of effort into courtship, but they are not willing to put in the grunt work of making that marriage relationship last a lifetime. When conflict arises, they are too lazy to deal with it. They pull away from the heat and escape into their fantasies with activities such as hobbies, television, shopping, or sports. Hurt and anger go unhealed when laziness blocks a husband or wife from working through the conflicts they face.

John and Deb have been struggling for years over John's apparent lack of interest in dealing with conflict in their family. When John returns home from work, he immediately turns on the television. There he sits for hours on end, night after night, watching sitcoms and sporting events. It drives Deb nuts.

Deb grew up in an active family that was always working in the yard, playing sports, and participating in family activities together. During their courting years, John spent lots of time with Deb, and he was creative in planning special times together. But during the last few years, he has nearly removed himself from any real family activity, and it hurts Deb deeply. And whenever Deb tries to talk to John about it, he’s too absorbed in the TV to listen and respond. Their love has grown cold and they have drifted into the perilous waters of emotional divorce.

Laziness can kill a marriage. It indicates apathy, and apathetic people are never willing to put the time and effort into making a marriage work. At the end of their lives, they look back and realize they forfeited the intimacy and love they really wanted in marriage. Laziness leads to regret, remorse, pain, and divorce.

Red Light 4: Shame
Annie ran from my office, tears rolling down her cheeks. Her husband, Scott, looked at me in bewilderment. "Every time we start talking about what's going on, she cries," Scott said. "I don't know how to respond."

Here was a couple trying to develop their marriage in a healthy way. But a voice kept echoing in Annie's ears from her childhood, the voice of her mother: "Can't you ever clean this kitchen the way I told you to?"; "That boy touched you again, didn't he? I told you to stay away from him. That's all he wants."

Annie grew up with messages of shame delivered by a mother who probably had grown up in the same type of supercritical home environment. As an adult, Annie heard those messages constantly in her mind whenever she and Scott faced a conflict. Those messages came out with the same tone of shame, and always with tears: "I will never do it right, Scott. I know I'll come up short in your eyes"; "I can't go to the party looking like this. Go on without me. I'll never be ready on time."

Scott hurt for his wife. They both wanted to learn how to deal with their conflicts. But every time they began talking about a problem between them, Annie would shut down or become overly defensive, and Scott would throw up his hands in disgust and frustration. They were rarely able to resolve a conflict because Annie's feelings of shame continually blocked the process.
How does the red light of shame differ from the red light of guilt? Guilt relates to behavior; people feel guilty for what they did. Shame relates to the individual; people feel shame for who they are. In her excellent book, Released from Shame, Sandra Wilson wrote, "Shame is a sense of being uniquely and hopelessly flawed. Shame leaves a person feeling different from and less valuable than other human beings."

The shame-controlled person needs to understand and internalize two key biblical concepts. The first is grace. When the apostle Paul cried out to God to remove his weaknesses, God's answer was to trust in his grace. Paul wrote, "But [God] said to me, 'My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.' Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses so that Christ's power may rest on me" (2 Corinthians 12:9, NIV). It is in our very weakness that God will display his power in our lives – if we let him.

The second key concept is regeneration. Shame-filled people must release their negative view of themselves and embrace their true identity as the people God made them to be when they place their faith in Jesus Christ. The apostle Paul wrote to the church at Ephesus: "Throw off your old evil nature and your former way of life, which is rotten through and through, full of lust and deception. Instead, there must be a spiritual renewal of your thoughts and attitudes. You must display a new nature because you are a new person, created in God’s likeness – righteous, holy, and true" (Ephesians 4:22-24).

The fifth red light may be the most formidable of all. Barb will describe the role fear plays in blocking us from healing the hurts in our marriages.

Red Light 5: Fear
Fear is primarily a response to something that we perceive as overpowering or threatening in our lives. Fear can exert either a positive or a negative force on us. In the Bible we are instructed to fear God, meaning that we are to respect and defer to his power in our lives. A healthy fear of God is manifested in our trust in God. Ironically, a respectful, trusting fear of God can help deliver us from other fears that can damage our lives and marriages. In other words, the more we fear God in the proper sense of the term, the less we will fear those things that keep us from being the persons and spouses we want to be.

Fear of Failure
When you fear failure in your marriage, you will go to great lengths to avoid the problems and conflicts that generate your fear. Sometimes the fear of failure can become so severe that marital communication in any form is a chore. You may feel as if you don't measure up to your spouse’s expectations, so you stay away physically or emotionally. By avoiding the pain of failure, you can allow conflicts to fester for years.

Fear of Success
Ironically, some people back away from conflict resolution because they are afraid of success, not failure. You may wonder, "The fear of failure makes sense, but who would be afraid of success?" People who fear success avoid taking risks because their past is so scarred by failure that success is an alien idea to them. They stand immobile at the fork in the road because moving ahead into the unknown of healing seems more threatening than the familiarity of failure.

Subconsciously these people reason, If I work through and resolve this conflict with my spouse, I may have to change my behavior, and I don't know how to handle that. Or they think, If I clear up this conflict successfully, I'll probably mess up the next opportunity, so what's the use of trying? Some of these people will actually sabotage conflict resolution to spare themselves the anxiety of a change in the relationship with their spouse.

Fear of Rejection
Fear of rejection is a cousin to fear of failure. It's the small voice inside that says, "If your spouse really knew what you were thinking and feeling, he or she would laugh at you and turn away from you." Fear of rejection keeps some spouses from explaining the true reasons for their conflicts. We figure that if we risk stepping out, we will be rejected again. So instead of forging ahead to resolve a conflict, we swing back into the shadows and shut down. Fear of rejection leads to a loss of self-confidence that can develop into anxiety or depression. Conflicts may persist, but the pain of discussing them is so great that avoidance seems the best route to take.

Fear of Emotional Intimacy
Another type of fear that can impede the resolution of conflict in marriage is the fear of emotional intimacy. You may equate emotional intimacy with sexual intimacy, but they are very different. Many couples succeed at sexual intimacy while starving for emotional intimacy. Sexual intimacy is easy. You can come together physically and be satisfied in a short amount of time. Being close emotionally takes constant work and commitment.

People who fear emotional intimacy put up walls of protection to keep their spouses from getting close. They carefully keep their deep thoughts and feelings under wraps. They push their spouses away emotionally with angry blowups, or they avoid getting too close in the first place. Either way, the result is a marriage where conflicts are resolved only at the surface level and deep hurts go unhealed.

Slaying the Dragons of Fear
Here is a vivid image that will help you deal with any fears that may be blocking you from the path of conflict resolution and healing. Someone shared this picture with Gary and me several years ago, and we have used it in our own personal lives and in our counseling ever since.
If some kind of fear is standing between you and the healing you desire in your marriage, picture that fear as a fierce, fire-breathing dragon. Every time you even think of taking a step in the right direction, that dragon roars and breathes fire at you, keeping you at bay. The more you feed that fear with your irrational thinking and worry, the more the dragon grows. The only way to stop the growth and move ahead is to slay the dragon. 

How do you slay the dragon of fear? In confronting it with the truth. Fear is mention hundreds of times in the Bible. But more than 300 times we are told by our all-knowing heavenly Father to "fear not." Paul wrote to Timothy, "God has not given us a spirit of fear and timidity, but of power, love, and self-discipline" (2 Timothy 1:7). Our fears may seem invincible, but they are no match for the power, love, and self-discipline we have from the indwelling Holy Spirit.

Whether you struggle with the fear of failure, success, rejection, or emotional intimacy (any or all of them), you can defeat your fears by demonstrating faith in the God who empowers us to slay all our dragons.

Red Light 6: Control
The issue of control centers on the struggle for dominance or power in the marriage relationship.
There are two kinds of controllers: active and passive. Active controllers want to call the shots, make the decisions, determine the course of action, and otherwise dominate what happens in their relationships. Active controllers often block healthy conflict resolution by not regarding a spouse's opinions, needs, or suggestions. Or if both partners happen to be active controllers, they will spend their time arguing and seldom reach a resolution. 
Passive controllers have a low need for control and a high need to please. When it comes to conflict, they also have opinions, needs, and suggestions, but they will often back off to keep the peace and make their spouse happy. Or they will simply walk away and avoid the conflict. Passive controllers can block conflict resolution just as effectively as active controllers. By allowing a partner to dominate, often their needs in the conflict are unstated and thus unmet, so the conflict continues to simmer beneath the surface.

What's the biblical response to the problem of active or passive control and marital conflict? I think there is a helpful picture in Revelation 3:20, where Jesus says: "Look! Here I stand at the door and knock. If you hear me calling open the door, I will come in, and we will share a meal as friends.” Jesus is a gentleman. He doesn't bust down the door of your marriage and take over like an active controller. Nor does he stand timidly at the door unnoticed like a passive controller. Rather, he knocks and politely waits to be invited in.

You disarm the threat of control in marriage conflicts the same way. Active controllers, you must learn to back off and knock, as it were, instead of running roughshod over conflict resolution by asserting dominance. Extend your partner the courtesy of asking his or her opinions, learning his or her needs, and hearing his or her suggestions. Classic controllers, instead of always being the doormat, you need to find the courage to step up to the door and knock. Learn to express yourself respectfully but unequivocally. The more you emulate Jesus' courteous example and your relationship, the easier it will be to deal with your conflicts and find healing.

 

We Need Two Incomes, but I’m Missing Out On Time with My Kids

Q. My husband and I are having a disconnect in our goals in terms of my work. Somehow along the way I have surpassed his income. My job is very stressful and I work a lot, including some time on the weekends. I feel like a bad mother. I’m never around. Grandma always has our kids. They just don’t have the benefit of their mother watching them at sporting events or even dropping them off at school or picking them up. Since the beginning, I didn’t want to have children if we couldn’t provide well for them. Now that I can do that, I want to be there for them when they get off school. I want to participate in their school activities. I want to be more involved in their schooling. But my husband is afraid of losing my income—and frankly, so am I. We need my income, but I’m hurting inside every day.

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A. A wife who is a mom as well as the primary wage earner carries a huge load. Many women are in the situation of working full time, and in some cases, their income is higher than their husband’s income. While there’s certainly nothing wrong with that, many couples will find that there is a price to pay because moms, in particular, hurt inside when they have to put work before their kids. If a wife is working full-time plus weekends and missing out on activities and events with the children, she probably needs to slow down and think about a few things. First of all, she shouldn’t label herself as a bad mother. If the Holy Spirit is speaking, then it would be wise to listen and consider what can be done to make some changes so that she will not have any regrets when the kids are suddenly grown and out of the house.

Women, think ahead. When you stand at your child’s graduation, will you have regrets or will you be satisfied that you didn’t miss the important events along the way? Of course, you can’t be at all the events, but you need to make your kids a priority now. They aren’t going to be in this stage of life for long.

It may take some creative thinking. It will take lots of prayer. Let God know your heart. Understand your real needs. Work on your budget. See if there’s a way you can work fewer hours so that there’s still some income but so that your work hours are not hurting the family. Talk to your boss. Communicate with your husband. No matter what age your kids are right now, if they’re still at home they need you and will benefit from your extra attention. Believe us, you’ll feel real satisfaction if you can tailor your job to make this possible.