A commitment to healing marriage can include this simple exercise:
Imagine you are standing on the edge of a small forest, and you can faintly see your partner through the trees, standing on the other side. Imagine the trees as the issues, hurts, and irritations that currently stand between you both, the ones that you argue about or that keep you silently fuming or withdrawn from one another.
You want to come back together as a couple, but the forest of issues and disagreements seems too thick. Your first instinct might be to pull out the axes and begin attacking the trees, chopping at them, working to resolve dozens of seemingly big relationship issues. But you quickly discover there seem to be too many, and more trees/issues are growing all the time. What to do?
Perhaps we can learn something from a ranger tasked with keeping a real forest environment healthy. The ranger will evaluate the the trees in a given area and place a bright ribbon or splash of paint on those designated for removal. Those trees are then removed and the entire forest benefits as light and nutrients are better distributed.
I don’t want to take the analogy too far, but ask that you note a couple of parallels with your relationship management. Can you identify those issues/trees that lie between you that are truly sucking the light and life out of the marriage? Now, as a couple, “mark” those trees and commit that your problem solving energies are going to be directed only toward those issues. Make certain the problems designated for attention are true issues that lie between you, not just sapling misunderstandings, irritants, or idiosyncrasies that you wish your partner didn’t have.
Work together on the big trees:
- Clearly define the problem
- Use a formal communication technique to keep things under control and on track (we teach some great ones at LIFE Marriage Retreats)
- Commit to seeing and understanding one another’s perspective
- Both partners make meaningful, written commitments to one another, including promises to change when appropriate
- Follow through on your commitments
After working with hundreds of couples in a marriage healing retreat setting we have found that most really have only 2-4 significant trees that are damaging the relationship ecosystem. As couples focus on those issues they invariably discover that many of the other relationship-blocking issues were related to the few major issues, and fade away.
Now, what about those remaining seemingly irritating trees? Certainly some of those will be naturally taken care of in a healthier marriage environment and as both partners commit to ongoing growth and change. But it is essential that you realize that NEVER will they all go away. You will have the choice to see remaining differences as twisted sun-blocking trees, or simply as part of a fascinating and beautiful garden. You will either continue to be endlessly and uselessly frustrated by them or you will learn to appreciate your partner’s different perspectives and ways of doing things. It is your choice.
So if you are committed to a healing marriage, start with some careful but committed pruning of real problems, but also be willing to sit back and simply enjoy some of the natural and exhilarating differences between the gardeners! And if the forest seems too thick, don’t hesitate to contact LIFE Marriage Retreats.
At our LIFE Marriage Retreats Margo and I describe to couples the way we envision a conflict or issue we are dealing with. Rather than allowing the issue to come between us as something to be fought over, leading to a struggle to prove ourselves right, we instead work to envision ourselves on the same side, standing shoulder to shoulder dealing with the issue from that vantage point. We realize that we want to be on the same side more than we want to “win” the argument. We remind ourselves that our marriage relationship is far more important than the disagreements we might have.
There is nothing wrong with conflict in a marriage, it is inevitable. Conflict is simply a different perspective, a dissimilar opinion of possible solutions. It is when we begin to contend or fight over the conflict that it becomes damaging. We have the choice in every disagreement to either tear our partner down in an effort to prove ourselves right, or to unite to solve a common problem, building our relationship in the process.
The next time an issue arises in your relationship be aware of how you perceive the situation. Are you looking at your partner as the problem and as an adversary? If so, make a shift and see the issue as the problem, and unite with your partner in finding common ground and a solution that works best for all. Problem solving always feels best as part of a team rather than as adversaries.