Building Better Marriages
by Rob Furlong
Don’t stay stuck in negative habits
"You make me feel as if I am not good enough!" are never pleasant words for a husband to hear from his wife but they are especially difficult to take when you write and speak regularly on the topic of relationships. However, they were words I needed to hear from Karen when we recently had one of those "discussions" that all married couples experience in their relationship!
In all truthfulness I was able to say that this was never my intention but I did have to face the fact that the way I was expressing myself to Karen and the manner in which I did so was leaving her with the sense that she just could not measure up to my expectations of whatever it was we were arguing about at the time. After thinking it through I realised she was right, so I apologised to her and gave her a commitment that I would change the way in which I approached these things in the future.
How we communicate things that we are not happy about to those closest to us is learned early in life in our families of origin and for most of us what we have learned is negative and insensitive. Just a few years ago when I was visiting my parents I overheard my Mum speaking to my Dad about a situation that she was extremely unhappy with – I was shocked because in her words and her tone I recognised that I had been exactly the same many times over the years!
If we are really serious about breaking free from the bad relationship habits of our past an important step forward is to realise that our life is not the script. Put another way, the world does not revolve around me or my needs and wants. In fact, our lives are actually sub-plots in the grander script that God has written for the world – our lives fit into His plan, not the other way around.
When we properly understand this, it changes how we relate to our partners, family members and friends. Instead of seeing others as being there to meet our needs we become more interested in them, in their emotional needs and in seeking to serve them out of deep, genuine love.
Once you have recognised a bad relational habit it is also necessary to deliberately put it behind you. Peter Scazzero says, "You must go back (visit the past) in order to move forward." I like to put it this way – "Don't stay stuck!" I talk to far too many people who constantly blame their poor ways of relating and dealing with people on things that happened to them in the past.
"My parents never showed me any affection and I cannot either."
"He told me he loved me and then he just walked out...I will never trust another man again."
"When I was growing up I was constantly being told how I had messed up so that is why I become defensive when you criticise me."
There is truth in all of these statements (and in many others) but they must not become an excuse to continue your bad behaviour today. By all means go back and identify the things that have hurt you in the past but use them as a catalyst to change the way you behave in the present – never use your past to justify your negative treatment of others in the now.
"Those who fail to learn from the mistakes of the past are condemned to repeat them" need not be the mantra of your life but it will require that you visit the past in order to move forward...so don't stay stuck!