LOVE AND MARRIAGE
Richard (Dick) Innes
I think most, if not all adults, will be in full agreement with what God’s Word, the Bible, stated at the very beginning: “It is not good for the man to be alone. I [God] will make a helper suitable for him.”1
The facts of life confirm this truth. As a New York Times article stated sometime ago: “According to insurance statistics, the death rate for married men aged 25 to 34 is 1.5 per thousand; for single men it is twice as high—more than 3.5 per thousand. The difference is greater as men grow older: in the 35 to 44 group, the death rate for married men is 3.1 per thousand; for unmarried it is 8.3. Among all women, the mortality rate for single females is almost twice that of women who are or have been married.2
What is so tragic is the terrible high divorce rate that is breaking down so many marriages and tearing families apart. According to the McKinley Irvin law firm, “Most people already know that around 50 percent of marriages in the United States end in divorce. The number is similarly high in many other developed nations. When you break that down by the number of marriages: 41 percent of first marriages end in divorce. 60 percent of second marriages end in divorce and 73 percent of third marriages end in divorce.”3
So why is it that so many marriages fail? According to twenty years of research from the University of Colorado, the number one cause of marriage breakdown is the inability to manage conflict creatively. The reality is that wherever there are more than two people together—and especially so in close relationships—there will always be a time or times of conflict even in the best of relationships. The critical issue then is how can conflicts be resolved before they destroy close relationships?
“Broken relationships can only be
resolved when both parties acknowledge
their contribution to the conflict.”
In my more than 20 years of leading relationship seminars, and teaching classes on divorce and grief recovery, I have found that there are two major reasons for the failure of managing conflict creatively that need to be resolved.
First, is the critical importance that each partner owns and accepts responsibility for what he/she is contributing to their conflict.
I have found that the majority of people in failed marriages primarily blame their spouse for the breakup of their marriage without even considering what they contributed. Poor or broken relationships can only be resolved when both parties acknowledge their contribution to the conflict. Yes, it is true that some people are belligerent, dogmatic, and abusive. Even the Bible implies that some people are impossible to get along with.4
Even then there is something each partner can do. It may be standing up for him/herself—that is, overcoming one’s overly passive or overly dependent nature, or super-sensitive style by saying “No more.” and exercising tough love, but most important is quitting the “blame game” and seeing and admitting our part in the conflict.
For example, Jim’s first marriage failed and he is now on his second marriage. Almost immediately after the honeymoon was over problems began to surface. By the end of the second year, Jim and Sharon were in a major conflict.
Their problem isn’t their fighting. That’s just a symptom of their unresolved personal issues. Unfortunately, while Sharon knows she has a problem, Jim doesn’t think he has any. In his mind, the conflict is all Sharon’s fault.
True, Sharon had an abandoning father and feels very threatened whenever Jim even goes to lunch with a male friend. Her fear of abandonment gets triggered which causes her to cling to Jim. However, she admits she is overreacting and is going to counseling to help her resolve her problem.
On the other hand, Jim had a smother mother and, whenever he feels Sharon is clinging to him, he overreacts too, gets angry, and blames Sharon for his overreaction. The impasse or deadlock is that Jim won’t admit that he, too, has a problem – and consequently won’t go for help.
The reality is that both Jim and Sharon are overreacting.
Overreactions happen when unresolved issues or wounds from one’s past are triggered. So the more we have resolved our issues from the past, the less we will overreact when negative things happen to us. This isn’t to say that we won’t get our feelings hurt or that we shouldn’t feel angry at times, but we need to learn how to react in the right manner at the right time in the right proportion to what has happened, not in proportion to our hypersensitivity.
The degree to which I overreact is always my problem. How the other partner responds is always his/her issue, but how I respond is always my issue and my responsibility.
So what hope do couples like Jim and Sharon have? Almost none unless both are willing to take ownership of what each is contributing to their conflict. However, if both are willing to be genuinely honest with themselves and each other—and with God—and together on their knees ask God to show them what they are contributing to the conflict, take full responsibility for their part, and ask God to help them find and get the help they need, then there is great hope for both personal growth and resolution of their marital conflict. As God’s Word says, “The Lord is near to all who call on him, to all who call on him in truth.”5
Second: Equally important is learning to communicate effectively.
Be honest with your feelings. Author John Powell expressed this need poignantly when he said, “We defend our dishonesty [denying and not sharing our true feelings] on the grounds that it may hurt another person. And then, having rationalized our phoniness into nobility, we settle for superficial relationships.”6
“A soft answer turns away wrath but
grievous words stir up hostility.”
When sharing feelings use “I” messages. Instead of saying, “You make me mad,” or “You really hurt my feelings,” say words to this effect: “When you say (or do) things like thus and so, I feel hurt and/or angry, and I need to talk to you about it.” This takes responsibility for your own feelings and avoids blaming the other person. Blaming others blocks resolution. As difficult as it may be, I need to admit that nobody causes my hurt feelings or makes me angry without my permission. This doesn’t justify what the other person does, but it accepts full responsibility for how I react and respond.
Also, give up the right to always be right. People who have a compulsion to always be right tend to be insecure and immature. Be willing to say, “I was wrong. I apologize.” And as the Bible also teaches, “Don’t sin by letting anger gain control over you. Don’t let the sun go down while you are still angry, for anger gives a mighty foothold to the Devil.”7
Resolve conflicts and angry feelings as quickly as possible, for when do, the devil loses his foothold.
Lastly speak softly. Most of us tend to raise our voices when we are upset. Research has shown that one effective way to handle yellers is to speak softly. This tends to make them lean forward and speak more softly so they can hear what you are saying. Yelling begets yelling! As Michel de Montaigne said, “He who establishes his argument by noise and command shows that his reason is weak.” As the Bible says, “A soft answer turns away wrath but grievous words stir up hostility.”8 There we have it. If each partner will accept full responsibility for what he/she contributing to their relationship conflicts, and communicate effectively without playing the blame game, there is great hope for conflict resolution and genuine and lasting love in their marriage.
1. Genesis 2:18 (NIV).
2. Encyclopedia of 7700 Illustrations by Paul Lee Tan, p. 778.
4. Romans 12:18, (NIV).
5. Psalm 145:18 (NIV).
6. John Powell, Why I Am Afraid to Tell You Who I Am. Argus Communications.
7. Ephesians 4:26–27, (NLT).
8. Proverbs 15:1.