These mistakes, dealt with immediately and remedied, cause little if any permanent damage. But, there are other mistakes, occurring repeatedly over time, that leave your marriage vulnerable. Your relationship becomes like fine fabric left out in the weather, easily tearing apart under pressure. These are the mistakes we must learn to avoid.
Today and in the next three columns we will explore some critical mistakes that must be attended to and avoided, if you are to keep your relationship healthy. This week we look at the first critical mistake: Pushing the plunger.
1..you and your mate must anticipate these explosions and learn to see them coming.
There is a saying: “If it’s predictable, it’s preventable.” We must learn to anticipate those sensitive topics, or patterns of escalation that cause us problems. We must interrupt those destructive patterns. Studies show that doing almost anything different from the way we’ve always done them, helps us start new, more constructive patterns.
2..agree to call a time out when emotion starts to run high.
The scriptures are clear about the problem with anger. “My dear brother, take note of this: Everyone should be quick to listen, slow to speak and slow to become angry, for man’s anger does not bring about the righteous life God desires.” (James 1: 19-20) Here the apostle James is clear—two ears to hear, one mouth to speak carefully. We must practice really listening, not pushing our agenda. When we become defensive, that is usually a signal to call a time out. When emotion begins to run high, which will happen, call a time out and start again when both feel settled.
3…agree to disagree. You do not have to agree on everything.
It is perfectly all right to see things differently. In fact, someone has said that if you agree on everything, one of you is unnecessary. While I won’t go that far, you and your spouse are different people. You were raised differently, are different in skills, education, temperament and sex. In fact, the differences are so great it is a wonder anyone can live together. But, we can, and do, because differences are wonderful. Be careful, however, about demanding that your mate see things the same way you do. It’s not going to happen.
The Apostle James offers another word for us. “What causes fights and quarrels among you? Don’t they come from your desires that battle within you?” (James 4: 1-2) Selfishness and pride often stand in the way of giving in to your mate. These are traits that must be managed in a healthy marriage.
4..stay focused on the real issue.
That means, of course, that you must agree ahead of time on the real issue. One topic at a time. While it may be tempting to take side trips from one topic to another, it will only serve to confuse the real issue. Pick a topic and stick with it. It may be helpful to keep a pad and pencil handy to remind yourselves of your starting point, as well as a desired ending.
5..find solutions that work for both of you.
Remember, rather than engaging in a downward spiral where one person “wins” and the other “loses,” how about working on an upward spiral where you both feel like you reached a positive outcome? It takes creative discussions to find agreements that meet both of your needs. One-sided victories are hollow. Negotiating solutions that work for both of you are wonderful experiences that draw you closer together.
Begin work on eliminating the first critical mistake, Pushing the Plunger, from your marriage and replace it with a win-win solution. Blessings!