The problem is not the problem

Couple in love
48978353 – young couple walking in park and reading city map

I’ve learned that just because two people argue, it doesn’t mean they don’t love each other.  And just because they don’t argue, it doesn’t mean they do.
– Omer Washington

Our greatest weakness lies in giving up. The most certain way to succeed is always to try just one more time.
– Thomas Edison

Imagine trying to unlock your front door with a twig.   Ever feel like in your marriage?  Me too.  That was me with the dark eye circles and broken heart.  Then something changed – or more accurately, we changed something.   Years of hurt and then in 2 weeks we were friends again, in two months we were kissing like teenagers.  

What was wrong with my marriage?  Probably the same thing wrong with yours: what you think the problem is.  I learned that the problem is not the problem. How you deal with it is.  How you deal with it is also the solution.  

My wife and I both wanted to be crazy head over heels in love and lust – like it used to be when we got married.    It just seemed like we had grown apart; had too many old wounds; didn’t have enough in common; even the simplest thing turned into a fight.   I thought that if we could just resolve the problems, not fight, we’d be happy.

Gottman’s research says that 69% of your problems are unsolvable.  I wasn’t surprised.  The thing that brought me up short: that number is the same for marriages that are happy as well as the ones that are unhappy.   Some of Gottman’s happiest marriages were between people that had been squabbling about the same stuff for 20 years.   Turns out those conflicts were the very thing that deepened the couple’s intimacy and made their marriage fulfilling.  Well, it wasn’t exactly the conflicts; it was the attempts to resolve them.  

How is that for irony?  Isn’t it just like God to show us we’ve got it backwards; to be great, serve; to keep your life, lose it  me; give to get.  Now you can add a new one: If you want a happy marriage, fight – just fight right.  Want that passionate attraction again – that one that got you married in the first place?   Start here.

First: here are four things to remove from your fights.

  1. Criticism: saying the problem is your partner.  For example, you’re a slob, versus honey can we do the dishes after we eat?
  2. Contempt: This can show up in anything from deep sighs and eye rolling, to your tone of voice as you tell them what’s wrong with them in an insulting way.
  3. Defensiveness: deflecting the problem.  For example, honey, I’d like it if we did the dishes right after dinner. They answer, well you always leave your clothes everywhere.
  4. Stonewalling: refusing to engage in a conflict.  You might, check your texts, stare out the window, or just leave the room.

Those are really simplistic explanations, but any one of them can mean you’re on the road to divorce or at least a whole lot of misery.  If you recognize a couple of these in your marriage, you know I’m not lying.

Second: create a tradition and carve out time to just hang out.  We started having coffee each day before work.  I went in to work a little later and she got up a little earlier.   This is not the time to talk about your issues.  This is time to talk about your day or whatever is important to you – your dreams, goals, wishes.  If you’re stuck, give your partner something to guess about you: who are your three best friends, or in what city were you born.  Here are a few you can borrow.

The coffee time was easy.  Removing the “four” things was a lot of work.  It’s Ok to get it wrong.  We spent a lot of time apologizing, and then having to try again.  If your partner royally screws it up, remember the reason they’re trying at all is because they love you.  Accept the apology and try again.

Third: forgiveness.  Let it go.  It’s really really hard.  What worthwhile thing in life isn’t?  Resentments are like weeds that pop back up minutes after you just pulled them out.   Keep pulling.  I write a list whenever I’m angry.  “I forgive you for:…”

There are also a lot more tips and tricks to help you along in the process and I found them here.  The book has all the info, but this workbook was easier to actually do.  Things started to change right away.  I had felt like a pile of garbage had slowly been building up between us for twenty three years.  At some point we lost sight of each other and all we could see was the crap.   Then a few cups of coffee, some silly questions, and a lot of apologies and healthy fights later, we could see each other over the pile.  I saw that same girl I married.  She saw the protector and provider she wanted.  Before either of us knew it we were in love again, cuddling, kissing, and laughing.

I’m writing this because I want the same thing for you.  Marriage can be the best thing you can imagine or the worst pain you’ve ever felt.  Just like God allows the evil around us to fashion our souls into treasure that will never fade, he can take the very thing that makes you want to give up on your marriage and use it to create a love deeper, more passionate, and more fulfilling than you ever thought possible.  That’s why we serve him.  He gives us more than life, he gives us life abundant.