Jenny inquired about a Marriage Intensive. Their marriage began to unwind nine years ago over a disagreement about their adult daughter moving back into the house. Dalton insisted that they would be there for her and Jenny felt like her move back into the house would keep her from growing up and stepping into adulthood.
“Ever since then, we can’t talk about anything without Dalton storming out of the room.” Jenny reported that she never feels heard and can never get any issue resolved. Dalton described being nagged about everything and leaving the conversation before he did something he’d later regret.
Move Against – Move Away Cycle
Dalton and Jenny were in what we call the Move Against – Move Away Cycle. Jenny moves against Dalton with a criticism and Dalton moves away from Jenny.
Cindy was sitting on the other side of the couch with tears running down her face. “When I told my best friend Lisa about my unhappy marriage, she told me I should look into what it would cost for a divorce and handed me a phone number of the attorney she used.”
“All I wanted was for Lisa to give me some support.” Cindy made that call to the attorney’s office who’s sales focused incoming calls receptionist talked her into a face to face, no obligation, free meeting with them to learn more about it. During the appointment, the divorce attorney’s staff focused on the problems in the marriage and encouraged her to proceed with signing them as her representation just in case things ever proceeded.
Father absence is at epidemic status in the United States today. Yet, science has been unable to produce a single child without one. In fact, 100% of children have a father. Some are deceased, incarcerated, pushed away or errantly absent, but everyone has a father… it’s the only way children are made.
For decades, research focused on why mothers are central to children. It is a no-brainer that moms play a critical role in parenting and child development. Sometimes single moms tell us that they are “the mother and the father.” They may be doing double duty, but mom cannot replace dad. In the past few decades research has revealed that “father need” is as central to children as “mother need.”
Heather and Joe showed up for their scheduled Marriage Intensive almost and hour late. Heather was tired before we started the first process. She had been up since 5 AM when her 18 month old couldn’t sleep any longer. It took longer than expected to get three young children to her parents for the day. She was operating on fumes.
Stuck In A Pattern Of Interacting
Like every one of the three hundred plus couples we have taken through the Marriage Intensive, Heather and Joe were stuck in a negative pattern of interaction. Joe felt like he was not important or valued in the marriage as he experienced her unavailability for conversation, time together, affection, and physical intimacy.
Heather felt like she was not enough as a woman and not good enough as a wife and mother as she experienced any un-affirming remark he made as criticism of anything that she had done to take care of their young children and the domestic chores of the home.
Lisa was about to explode. Her husband of 8 years came home early from work, plopped down on the couch and asked, “what’s for supper?” After a full day of caregiving for her 18 month old and kindergartner, she was tired and stressed. And his first communication with her was one that really pushed her buttons.
Full body attention is how we tell our spouse they are the most important and highest priority in our world in that moment.
Todd believed he was gifted with insight about other people. He was a “quick read” of people and could identify their flaws easily. When Rochelle and Todd first met, she was impressed with him and loved the funny comments about others that they had just met.
Once they began their life together as a married couple, Todd’s gift of insightfulness felt much more like criticism to Rochelle. She felt like his humor felt like sarcasm. His “quick read” abilities felt like he was always telling her what she was thinking and was unable to listen to what she was trying to communicate about herself. They called us for a Marriage Intensive.
“If you judge other people, then you will find that you, too, are being judged. Indeed, you will be judged by the very standards to which you hold other people. Why is it that you see the dust in your brother’s or sister’s eye, but you can’t see what is in your own eye? Don’t ignore the wooden plank in your eye, while you criticize the speck of sawdust in your brother’s eyelashes. That type of criticism and judgment is a sham! Remove the plank from your own eye, and then perhaps you will be able to see clearly how to help your brother flush out his sawdust.’ Matthew 7:1-5 (VOICE)
We were near the end of an incredibly long Marriage Intensive day with Kurt and Cassandra. Kurt discovered that how he was treating Cassandra was based upon something from his childhood. He had just completed making a number of commitments that we believed would begin to create the marriage that they both wanted: a God-centered marriage. He was committed to being held accountable to the changes in weekly accountability follow up coaching calls.
When it was Cassandra’s chance to make commitments that would help them, she said, “I truthfully don’t believe I need to change anything. I need to see if he is really going to change before I put myself out there to make any changes.” According to her, he had a history of not being willing to make change and she was having a hard time believing he was actually going to begin making the changes to which he had committed.
Every spouse experiences this frustration at some point in the marriage.
Franklin was so tired of her complaining. “I work 10-12 hours a day and when I get home I have to take care of the chores around the house. By the time I get to finally rest, she’s griping at me to spend time with her romantically and it feels like another chore.”
When he and Jamie came in for their Marriage Intensive, it was true that she wanted more emotional and physical connection with him. She wanted to date and to travel as they did earlier in their twenty-five year long marriage. She worked from home and took care of most of her chores and connecting with friends before he returned from work. “I feel like everything is more important to him than me.”
Setting Up A Life With No Thought About Relationship
We have been impressed with the incredible research that has come out of the Gottman Institute about relationships. We buy into one of his key theories: The health of the relationship can be determined by the small and larger interactions between spouses as one “bids” for the connection of the other and the other responds by either moving toward, away or against.
No Attempts To Connect
During the course of the relationship, there are many daily attempts to connect made by each spouse. The absence of attempts to connect usually means the relationship is in an unhealthy state.
We are frequently asked about why couples divorce. Our usual answer is focused on what couples do within their marriage that eventually leads to them living separate lives in the same home. The reasons commonly blamed for divorce, such as infidelity and financial issues, are really symptoms of the marital challenges already experienced in the marriage.
“I hate divorce,” says [God….He] says, “I hate the violent dismembering of the ‘one flesh’ of marriage.” So watch yourselves. Don’t let your guard down. Don’t cheat. Malachi 2:16 (MSG)