Getting the Gunk Out
Nancy Lee has always been very careful to pay attention to the maintenance of her car. Every 3000 miles she makes an appointment to have the oil changed and almost as frequently has the tires checked and rotated. Just recently, a little light came on indicating that she needed to check the tire pressure. Warning lights like that one, along with all of the mailings for tune-ups, rotations, upgrades and downloads actually make it difficult to mess things up. Driving a vehicle with fresh oil, new filters and proper tire pressure almost feels like driving a new car! Almost.
It’s always great to have a fresh start especially when it comes to marriage. Let’s face it, there’s enough wear and tear on any given couple living together day in and day out, that a regularly scheduled monthly meeting to keep things running smoothly should almost be mandatory. Can you imagine the difference it would make? Being proactive, even making the effort to schedule some regular marriage maintenance can go a long way. It was Benjamin Franklin who coined the phrase, “An ounce of prevention prevents a pound of cure.” That certainly rings true as we consider the importance of ridding yourselves of harmful residue. Think of it as “getting the gunk out.”
Sadly, though, that’s not how most of us think of our marriages.
Consider these two couples. Both are traveling at the speed of life, rushing to work in the morning, taking kids to hockey and dance practice, scurrying to get meals prepared. Add to all of that the squabbles and spats that come and go. But there is a noticeable difference between the two couples.
Over a period of time, one of the couples grows more distant. They used to connect before falling asleep; now she crashes into bed while he stays up to work at his computer. When they went to parties, they would keep tabs on each other across the room. Now they barely notice each other at a social gathering. They used to read the same books and have awesome discussions, or sit in coffee shops together planning their next vacation. Not anymore. Somewhere over the last few years their meaningful moments have become buried under a mountain of frustration, resentment, bickering and conflict. She talks to her friends about him. He feels like he is walking in a minefield, not knowing what will set her off; she wonders if she can trust him anymore.
The other couple travels at the same fast pace. They’re running into the same struggles with anger and hurt feelings and everything else is noticeably different. In spite of their turmoil they still connect. They still share meaningful moments and enjoy each other’s company. They still have meltdowns and arguments, but they don’t hold onto their pain and resentment. They have learned how to clear the decks and start fresh. How? They do it by being intentional about getting the gunk out; ridding themselves of harmful residue.
Stacey Oliker, a sociologist and marriage expert wrote a book called “Best Friends and Marriage.” Olikes found marriage partners seek to fill their intimacy gap with close friends, rather than with their mates. Women seek out friends or relatives before confiding in their husbands. When men were asked to name the person they would most likely talk to about their future dreams and ambitions, close friends outnumbered wives.
Why? Because sometimes there is just too much painful baggage or harmful residue for partners to completely understand each other. The bottom line is that if couples don’t routinely clean their relationship of damaging emotions and lingering pain, they are bound to drift apart and lose their sense of connectedness that brought them together in the first place.
So, how do we rid ourselves of harmful residue? Here are several great ways to go about it.
Explore unfinished business
Take a minute and answer this question: “What’s weighing on you most right now related to your marriage?” Every couple has unfinished business. The reality is that every time we have an issue that goes unattended, we increase the pressure and tension in our relationship. We need closure, and to get started we need to ask each other: “What unfinished business in our relationship is weighing on you mist right now?”
Talk About feeling alone
Loneliness comes from the painful awareness that we are not meaningfully connected to others. Loneliness is the result of protecting ourselves from rejection. Even in marriage, we can put up a wall that prevents our true self from being fully seen and wholly accepted. It can come from a self-defeating attitude or from trust issues. We don’t allow ourselves to be vulnerable for fear we will be rejected. Loneliness is better than rejection in our minds. The truth is, being vulnerable is the only way to create trust and connection. The cure for feeling lonely is building trust again. Take the risk of sharing your real feelings. Turn off the TV and all of the distractions and have a heart to heart. You can start by asking each other this important question: “When have you been most lonely in the last 30 days? Where can we connect?”
Talk About Your Money
It’s probably not a surprise that the biggest source of lying among married couples is money. And the biggest problem with lying to your spouse about money isn’t found in trying to balance our checkbooks. Money matters are a metaphor for other troubles in a marriage—troubles that involve power, security, competence, and self-esteem. That’s why money is so difficult to talk about at times. So ask yourself this question: “Is there any deception around money with your spouse?” If so, it can’t be stressed enough: clear it up!
Talk about your anger
Every marriage has more than enough of its share of anger. Anger rears its head when a spouse feels attacked or shortchanged. For some couples anger is a chronic problem, where there is self-defeating rage, where there is rage or abuse it is time for professional help. But even if you and your partner have managed to avoid this kind of hostility we all still struggle with anger. The truth of the matter is that we don’t get much practice dealing with anger. We usually repress our anger. But it always comes out. And when we are hurt, we can get consumed by the desire to hurt back, to balance the score. That’s when the damage starts to happen. How do you release revenge? One way is to talk to your partner about how you feel hurt, but then surrender your desire to hurt him or her back. Talk together about how you both might be able to let go of anger. Ask each other, “When have I made you angry in the last month?” Without interrupting, simply listen and refuse the urge to justify or explain. Simply say, “I’m sorry. Thank you for letting me know.”
Give each other freedom to fail
Try this: get three tennis balls and play catch. Start with one tennis ball and toss it back and forth. After you’ve done that several times, introduce the second ball. Notice how much more you have to concentrate and watch each other. Now add in the third one. When you drop the tennis balls, encourage each other—build each other up. You might realize that you’re even laughing. It’s easy to drop the ball. We all do it. You don’t have to be perfect people to have a great marriage.
Forgive when you feel hurt
A pastor was giving a children’s sermon one Sunday morning. He held up an ugly-looking shirt that he wore around the house. He explained to the children that someone said the shirt was ugly and should be thrown away. “That really hurt me,” he explained to the kids. “I’m having trouble forgiving the person who said those mean things to me.” Do you think I should forgive that person? Immediately his six year-old daughter raised her hand and said, “Yes you should.” “But why should I do that?” the pastor asked. “That person hurt my feelings!” The pastor responded. His daughter responded once more: “Because you are married to her.” You know the “truth” of forgiveness is that “the only person to be healed by forgiveness is the person who does the forgiving.” In a healthy marriage, two people help one another become better at forgiving by asking for forgiveness, as well as giving it when needed. The two most important phrases you’ll ever use are these: “I’m sorry. Will you forgive me?”
Update how well you know your spouse
A couple was arriving at their favorite coffee shop when the wife said, “I’ll get the coffees, you go find a cozy table.” Great!” the husband said, “When you get mine, just pour about a tablespoon in the mug and then pour the coffee in on top. That will mix it all up very well. The wife flippantly said, “Hey, you better to it yourself.” So the husband returned to the line to get his own coffee. When they were both sitting together at the table, the husband turned to his wife and gently said, “After all these years, I think you should know how I like my coffee.” That statement caught his wife off-guard, but then she thought to herself, and then said to him: “I do want to know how you like your coffee. Tell me once again and I’ll be happy to get the next one for you. The point is: knowing simple intimacies about your partner is at the heart of a healthy marriage. Mrs. Einstein was once asked if she understood her husbands’ theory of relativity. “No”, she said, “but I know how he likes his tea.” In our pursuit to get rid of the harmful residue, keep up to date on the ever-changing intimacies of your spouse. This is more preventative; a little warning can go a long way in minimizing harmful residue from accumulating for the next month. A great question to get at this is this: “What do I need to know about you that I may not know already?”
- Is there any unfinished business you and your partner need to talk about?
- Have you felt lonely lately? How can your partner help you feel less alone, less isolated in certain areas of your life?
- Is there a money issue you and your partner need to discuss? Are you being honest with each other when it comes to your spending habits?
- Have you been angry with your partner this month? If so, explore with together what’s going on and why you sometimes feel this way?
- How can you better support one another emotionally or practically in the next four weeks? Be specific.
- To keep your marriage current, ask each other what has defined you in the past month. What has been on your mind the most?