Good Morning, Friends!
This is Susan, one of Leslie’s coaches. I will be regularly answering some of the questions that readers send in. I’ve been on the coaching team for over a year now and have trained with Leslie for many years prior.
Outside of my work here, I am raising a teenage boy and parenting him through his senior year of high school. I know many of you can relate; senior year is full of activities, meetings, responsibilities, future planning and ceremonies. I can easily get overwhelmed with all that is expected of me in each area of my life. For me, taking the time to gain clarity and plotting things out on my calendar can help tremendously with my feelings of overwhelm.
Parenting is just one part of my life that I need to make time for. I have learned that caring for myself well sometimes looks like getting clear about all of the opportunities available to me in a day, week, month, or the year. That allows me to reflect and make choices rather than reacting to all of the “shoulds” that come my way. Bringing a sense of clarity feels like kindness to me. This reader’s question might be better answered by obtaining a sense of clarity as well.
Question: I’m nervous as this is my first time asking a question (it's complex, but I'll try to simplify). My husband and I will be married 21 years in July, we're a ‘blended' family (I was widowed, he divorced). There are so many good things he does, but… I have trouble discerning if I'm being overly sensitive or if these are valid points of concern.
Initially, we were seriously destructive, and I was going to leave him. Then I read your books and began to take a stand (not always the right way), and things have improved, but… there are behaviors that crop up periodically that REALLY bother me. I don't know if it's me? Am I just being overly sensitive? Am I crazy and just nit-picking? I know I'm at least half the problem in our marriage, but maybe it really is me? And a more grounded, confident woman wouldn't take offense? I don't know! When I voice my concerns to him about a certain behavior, it typically goes like this: I mention it bothers me. He responds either in a way we argue, I say things I regret and pull out all of his past wrong behavior and he finally agrees he's repeating old behaviors, OR… he agrees with me right from the start and promises he'll change. And things get really good for a while and he is the perfect husband. And I begin to think I was just overly sensitive because of my past (which is what he tells me, OFTEN). I know I need to change. I just don't know if my concern with our ‘marital issues' are all in my imagination or if they're valid. I just don't know!
Coach Susan’s Answer: Thank you for challenging yourself to ask for help. I appreciate your question. Most marriages are complex. Part of the challenge in making change is getting clarity and discerning what is most needed in order to help. I hope I can bring some clarity to you by posing a few questions and giving you some things to think more about.
First of all, your points of concern are always worth consideration. While it may be true that you are a sensitive person, you have value nonetheless. Imagine if you had a 3rd degree burn on your hand and you pulled away when your spouse reached out. Maybe you didn’t respond the way he wanted you to. Should he be offended that you didn’t hold his hand? What if he complained that you were being too sensitive? That would be silly because it would be normal to be sensitive if your skin was burned! Judging your sensitivity and becoming reactionary are not productive. It is wise for you to accept the truth of what is, you are sensitive, in order to manage sensitivity well and use it for your benefit.
Your statement, “we were seriously destructive, and I was going to leave him”, seems important and leaves me with many questions. What were the patterns of behavior that were destructive? It sounds like maybe both of you were destructive. What changes did you engage in that led to the improvement? What about the relationship improved? Are the old patterns of behavior the same as the ones that crop up periodically to bother you?
It would be helpful for you to use more words to define “wrong behaviors”. Rather than judging them, use discernment to determine if the behaviors are harmful or bothersome. What are the specific behaviors? How do the behaviors affect you and the relationship? In a marriage, we will be disappointed at times and we will be bothered by our spouses. We must learn to bear with one another’s idiosyncrasies and trials. This does not mean we should collude with destructive behavior or abuse.
To further help you with discernment, when we are looking at “marital issues”, it can be helpful to determine if the marriage is difficult, disappointing or destructive. The proper help for each can vary greatly. I will provide you with some basic information about each in the following paragraphs.
A difficult marriage is one where there is a challenge or many stressors to contend with. You mentioned that you have a blended family, which can fall into the category of a difficult marriage challenge. Some other examples of difficult marital circumstances might be extended family or former spouse issues, health challenges, financial problems, relocations, and differences in histories or habits. These difficulties can be bothersome and create conflict. If conflict is not handled well, it can cause a rupture in the relationship and it may become destructive. If partners can learn to manage strong emotions and disagreements with loving-kindness and respect, the difficult relationship won’t move into the destructive category.
In a disappointing marriage, there is a loss of expectations based on what you thought the marriage or your spouse would be like. When your expectations are not met in the relationship, you may feel bothered by certain behaviors or lack of behavior because you were planning on something different. Disappointment in a marriage does not always lead to devastation, although it can. Accepting reality and learning how to manage feelings of disappointment, can help prevent individuals from making choices that could create devastation in the relationship. Some patterns of behavior, which someone may use to avoid dealing with their disappointment but are unhealthy and will cause a marriage to become destructive are: excessive alcohol and/or drug use, over spending, adultery, watching pornography, stonewalling, contemptuous words, abusive criticism, chronic addictions or lying.
When one partner is involved in destructive behaviors, there is a pattern of harm that does not allow the marriage to be healthy until the destructive behaviors are dealt with. You didn’t say specifically what the behaviors were that “bother” you or that you wonder if you are being overly sensitive towards. But when you use the word “bothered” it leads me to imagine some low-grade annoyances. Destructive behaviors are more than annoyances, but I wonder whether or not you are in tune with the degree of emotion you are feeling. As you have thought about my questions I hope you have gained some clarity as to what type of problem you may be facing. This will help you decide what help you need in order to support yourself and allow your feelings to dissipate.
You said, “I know I am at least half the problem in our marriage, but maybe it really is me?” Since you stated you are not grounded or confident in who you are, I would certainly recommend working on those areas. If you are taking offense because your husband’s behaviors are destructive to you or the marriage, pay attention. How are you going to guard your own heart and steward your own mind during these times? You can’t change his destructiveness… not even 50% of it. Each person in the marriage is 100% responsible for their own behavior.
Change is hard and it will not happen perfectly. In fact, no person is perfect or will be perfect on this earth besides Jesus Christ. You mention your husband starts to change and then slips back into old behaviors. When you give him some feedback such as, “Hey, you’re doing it again.” Or “You’re raising your voice again and that scares me.” What happens? Does he listen? Does he get control over himself? Or is this when he calls you too sensitive or tells you you’re holding onto memories of past relationship hurts?
If someone genuinely wants to change immature and sinful behaviors, understand there will be set backs and slip ups. Give each other grace as you train yourselves to interact with each other in more effective ways. When he starts to change his ways, do you think he truly wants to change, or is just appeasing you in the moment?
Finally, how you communicate what you feel, think and want is as important as how you listen to what is being communicated. I have found that using kind, respectful words and bringing a sense of curiosity to both speaking and listening can help keep things more positive and productive. Curiosity can lead to more clarity.
Beloved readers, share ways you work on gaining clarity so that you can decide how to deal with the problems in your life?
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