by David Hawkins
There are mistakes—and there are mistakes.
You forget that your wife asked you to pick up some groceries on the way home from work and come home empty handed. No worries. You dash back out to the corner supermarket and everything is forgiven.
Perhaps you scolded your husband unnecessarily, forgetting that he’d told you he had a late meeting at the office. Or maybe you forgot your wedding anniversary or that it was your turn to pick up the kids from soccer practice. Mistakes happen.
These mistakes, dealt with immediately and remedied, cause little if any permanent damage. But, there are other mistakes, occurring repeatedly over time, that leave your marriage vulnerable. Your relationship becomes like fine fabric left out in the weather, easily tearing apart under pressure. These are the mistakes we must learn to avoid.
Today and in the next three columns we will explore some critical mistakes that must be attended to and avoided, if you are to keep your relationship healthy. This week we look at the first critical mistake: Pushing the plunger.
Stephanie and Tim have been married twelve years and have three beautiful children. By all accounts they are the All-American family. They have survived the tumultuous first years of marriage, made it well beyond the early years of child-rearing, and have purchased a wonderful home with several acres of land where they enjoy riding horses. They have one significant problem: when they fight, they really fight.
Stephanie and Tim are frustrated with this problem. They love one another deeply and are fully committed to each other. They are active members in their church. However, in counseling, they shared with some embarrassment, that when they fight they use language they would never otherwise use, slam doors and make threats against one another. Stephanie has thrown dishes and Tim has broken the doorjamb. They even pushed one another on one occasion. While they have vowed many times to stop this behavior, they sheepishly admit, “Our anger gets the best of us. When we’re mad, we’re likely to say anything.”
“I am really embarrassed at how I behave,” Tim says. “I don’t act like that with anyone other than my wife. I never lose my temper, not even with my kids, and they can push me to the limit. But with Steph, I want to make my point and I feel like she’s not listening to me. So, I know it sounds stupid, but I just yell louder. She yells back and I yell louder.”
“It’s not just him,” Stephanie chimed in. “I act crazy. I don’t know what sets me off, but I am a fiery redhead. I don’t like to lose. So, if I think what he is saying is nonsense, I tell him so. Of course, he doesn’t like it and there we go.”
Stephanie and Tim may be talking your language. You may find that you go from zero to boiling in ten seconds. You may fight in very destructive ways. Like construction crews who push the detonator, sending debris in every possible direction, you may push the plunger on your anger, sending emotions and language in every possible direction. If this sounds like you and your mate, you must learn some vital skills to avoid this critical mistake.
First, you and your mate must anticipate these explosions and learn to see them coming. There is a saying: “If it’s predictable, it’s preventable.” We must learn to anticipate those sensitive topics, or patterns of escalation that cause us problems. We must interrupt those destructive patterns. Studies show that doing almost anything different from the way we’ve always done them, helps us start new, more constructive patterns.
Second, agree to call a time out when emotion starts to run high. The scriptures are clear about the problem with anger. “My dear brother, take note of this: Everyone should be quick to listen, slow to speak and slow to become angry, for man’s anger does not bring about the righteous life God desires.” (James 1: 19-20) Here the apostle James is clear—two ears to hear, one mouth to speak carefully. We must practice really listening, not pushing our agenda. When we become defensive, that is usually a signal to call a time out. When emotion begins to run high, which will happen, call a time out and start again when both feel settled.
Third, agree to disagree. You do not have to agree on everything. It is perfectly all right to see things differently. In fact, someone has said that if you agree on everything, one of you is unnecessary. While I won’t go that far, you and your spouse are different people. You were raised differently, are different in skills, education, temperament and sex. In fact, the differences are so great it is a wonder anyone can live together. But, we can, and do, because differences are wonderful. Be careful, however, about demanding that your mate see things the same way you do. It’s not going to happen.
The Apostle James offers another word for us. “What causes fights and quarrels among you? Don’t they come from your desires that battle within you?” (James 4: 1-2) Selfishness and pride often stand in the way of giving in to your mate. These are traits that must be managed in a healthy marriage.
Fourth, stay focused on the real issue. That means, of course, that you must agree ahead of time on the real issue. One topic at a time. While it may be tempting to take side trips from one topic to another, it will only serve to confuse the real issue. Pick a topic and stick with it. It may be helpful to keep a pad and pencil handy to remind yourselves of your starting point, as well as a desired ending.
Finally, find solutions that work for both of you. Remember, rather than engaging in a downward spiral where one person “wins” and the other “loses,” how about working on an upward spiral where you both feel like you reached a positive outcome? It takes creative discussions to find agreements that meet both of your needs. One-sided victories are hollow. Negotiating solutions that work for both of you are wonderful experiences that draw you closer together.
Begin work on eliminating the first critical mistake, Pushing the Plunger, from your marriage and replace it with a win-win solution. Blessings!
With more than 30 years of counseling experience, David Hawkins, Ph.D., has a special interest in helping individuals and couples strengthen their relationships. Dr. Hawkins’ books, including “When Pleasing Others Is Hurting You” and “When Trying to Change Him Is Hurting You”, have more than 300,000 copies in print. Taken (or Adapted) from: (Nine Critical Mistakes Most Couples Make). Copyright © 2005 by Dr. David Hawkins. Published by Harvest House Publishers, Eugene, OR. used by CBN with permission.