In Chapters 8 and 9 of Safe Haven Marriage, the process of working towards reconnection after there has been an emotional disconnection is explored.
The Blame Cycle
A very important part of developing reconnection after it’s been lost is recognising the need to let go of the blame cycle in arguments. I think all of us have at some point in our marriages, while in the throes of an argument, been determined to work out who is really responsible; something like you’re 75% responsible for this mess and I’m only 25% responsible. It feels good at the time but only escalates the argument. We can become determined to uncover who is really at fault rather than finding out about each other’s feelings, which in the end is what will foster reconnection. If you are reviewing a past fight to allocate responsibility to the wrong party it’s unlikely that you will gain a deeper understanding of your mate’s inner experience. Instead refuse to debate the events and details and work towards empathising with each other’s position. John Gottman’s long term work with married couples has shown that the issues that were a problem at the beginning of a marriage often remain issues for the entirety of the marriage; sound all too depressing? What he has found is that while the issues may not change or go away it is how we learn to listen and react to each other that can change and so then in a sense this can have an impact on the issue. In a nutshell, Arch and Susan are saying, stop trying to solve the issue and start listening to how each other is feeling if you really want change.
This is where clarification communication is so helpful. Let’s say for example sake your husband makes the remark; “Your cooking is just like your Mum’s.” Upon hearing this statement your blood immediately boils and you want to explode at him with some kind of defensive remark as you have assumed an attack has taken place and the fight is on. Alternatively you could see this as an information gathering exercise and ask the question; “Can you tell me what you meant by that statement as I don’t think I really understand?” Similarly when hot issues arise you can practice, “speaker /listener techniques” where you and your spouse take turns at speaking while the other listens. Before the listener has a turn to speak they are required to reflect what the speaker said ensuring that you are working towards understanding each other’s perspective as a couple. Some couples will have a carpet square or a special object that they hold while involved in this process to show that something important is happening. This is a good practice as it trains both partners in a relationship to learn to listen to each other before they have their say. Ultimately this encourages reconnection. Next time you feel the tension rising give it a go and see what happens.
Some hurts in a marriage just won’t go away. Why is this the case? It’s most likely that they are attachment injuries involving abandonment. God has made us for deep attachment and emotional connection and marriage is the context where we expect attentiveness, responsiveness and supportiveness to occur. When this doesn’t happen deep wounds can form. These injuries are often repeated hence they form deep wounds in our attachment. They may occur when we are not there for each other at significant times, publically ridiculing each other, when we fail to defend each other publically when criticised, when we return from a weekend away and everyone is too busy to notice. I’m sure you can think of your own specific examples when you are aware that damage has taken place to your attachment.
Forgiveness is an essential part of the way forward in these situations; however additional restorative work will need to take place.
Step 1-Share your hurt
The wounded spouse needs to take the risk and share their story of hurt
Step 2-Understand the significance of the hurt
Attempt to walk in the shoes of your spouse for a moment to understand their perspective
Step 3-Express your emotions
The wounded spouse needs to express their emotions from a place of vulnerability, not anger and the wounding spouse needs to acknowledge this pain and hurt.
Step 4-Share how the event evolved
Describe what you did and why you did it so your spouse can see your heart and intentions.
Step 5-Understand the wounder’s perspective
Similarly the spouse who was wounded needs to work at understanding why the wounder acted and spoke as they did.
Step 6-Take responsibility
The wounder needs to take responsibility for their part in the hurt of their spouse.
Step 7-Ask for comfort and reassurance
The wounded spouse needs to reach out and ask for the comfort and reassurance that they need.
Step 8-Be available to your spouse
The one who caused the injury needs to work towards responding to their spouse in a caring manner so that a new bonding experience can take place and bring healing.
Our God is a God of restoration as demonstrated through His gracious work in the cross and as we negotiate these steps of restoration, we can in our limited human way reflect His character in rebuilding broken bonds and a safe haven can be created for a marriage where there has been significant injury. This is the hope and beauty of restoration work that can take place in our marriages while we remain here on Earth.