Working Through Red Lights in Your Marriage

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Red Light #1: Pride.  Pride may be the most destructive ingredient to healing in a marriage.  It says, “I run my own life, and I don’t want any interference from others.”  A person stuck at this red light refuses to admit their faults, places blame for problems on others, and struggles to see issues from other people’s perspective.  He or she can succeed in every other area but the marriage, however, they won’t admit their failure.  For them, admitting there is a conflict, or admitting that they are at least partially responsible for it, is a weakness.

  • What to do?  Exercising humility allows people stuck at the red light of pride to stand back and take a long look inside.  We see where we lack forgiving love in our marriages and how to close the open loops of conflict.  Humility is a gift we rarely ask for because it usually comes in the form of some difficult lesson.  But it is indeed a gift. 

Red Light #2: Guilt.  People stuck at the red light of guilt are irritable, moody, and hard to get along with because guilt weighs on them.  When your spouse is burdened with guilt, you know something is wrong but don’t know what it is.  Guilt can come from a variety of sources: secrets, finances, sexual temptations, infidelity, past mistakes, a tragedy that you could have curbed, lack of forgiveness, rebellious or hurting children, or rebellion from God.  People with guilt are filled with self-condemnation and feelings of failure.  Although you will have to deal with the consequences of your actions for many years, the good news about guilt is that it can lead us to a loving relationship with God.

  • What to do?  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 the terrible burden you feel when you do not face up to it.

Red Light #3: Laziness.  Many people put a lot of effort into their dating relationship, but don’t put the grunt work into the marriage.  They escape from the heat 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.  Night after night they avoid dealing with conflicts in the family.  Their withdrawal from the marriage and/or family life hurts the spouse deeply.  Their love grows cold and they drift into the perilous waters of emotional divorce. 

  • What to do?  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.  While people feel guilty for what they did, people feel shame for who they are.  People stuck at the red light of shame are haunted by criticism, failure, or disappointment—or have been hurt since childhood.  They express their feelings of inferiority by either withdrawing or doing all they can to measure up to an impossible set of standards.  Their perfectionism, defensiveness, low self-worth, and insecurity poisons their heart.  Whenever they face a conflict with their mate, their negative, degrading messages come out like: “I will never do it right.  I know I come up short in your eyes;” “It’s no use.  I’ll never change.”  The spouse with shame shuts down or becomes overly defensive, and the discussion ends in frustration. 

  • What to do?  Shame blocks the process of resolving conflict.  The shame-controlled person needs to understand and internalize two key biblical concepts.  The first is grace.  It is in our very weakness that God will display his power in our lives—if we let him (2 Corinthians 12:9).  The second key concept is regeneration.  Shame-filled people must release the negative view of themselves and embrace their true identity as the people God made them to be.  Receiving God’s gift of new life allows us to release to him once and for all the sins of our past.  We may not completely forget them, but thanks to God’s grace and forgiveness we can move past them and find a healthy way of resolving marital conflicts.

Red Light #5: Fear.  People stuck at the red light of fear battle with fear of failure, fear of rejection, and fear of emotional intimacy.  Fear of failure thinks, If I work through this conflict with my spouse, I may have to change my behavior, and I don’t know how to handle that.  Or, If I clear up this conflict successfully, I’ll probably mess up the next one, so why try?  Fear of rejection is the small voice 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.”  Many husbands may not discuss their sexual or emotional needs because their wives may reject him.  As a result, they may be more vulnerable to temptation.  People who fear emotional intimacy put up walls of protection to keep their deep thoughts and feelings hidden so their spouse won’t get close. You may fear emotional intimacy because you weren’t close to your family, so you never learned how to allow other people to be close to you.

  • What to do?  How do you slay the dragon of fear?  By confronting it with the truth.  Demonstrate faith in the God who empowers us to slay all our dragons.  The best way to deal with fear in marriage is to talk pressures and problems out with your spouse.  Honest, open, accepting communication nurtures a healthy marriage.  Many people don’t talk honestly with their spouse about their feelings because they expect to hear, “You shouldn’t even be thinking that, honey.”  But they need to be heard.  They push their spouses away emotionally with angry blow-ups, or they avoid getting too close in the first place. 

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 often block healthy conflict resolution by not regarding a spouse’s opinions, needs, or suggestions.  Passive controllers have a low need for control and a high need to please.  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. 

  • What to do?  Active controllers, you must learn to back off instead of running roughshod over conflict resolution by asserting dominance.  Extend your partner the courtesy of asking his or her opinions, learning their needs, and hearing suggestions.  Passive controllers, instead of always being the doormat, you need to find the courage to step up to the door.  The more you learn to express yourself respectfully, the more healing will occur.

 

Excerpted from Dr.Gary and Barb Rosberg, Healing the Hurt In Your Marriage (Wheaton: Tyndale House Publishers, 2002), 77-94.

Image by Robert Couse-Baker