You met the one. Dating was exciting. Getting engaged filled you with hope. You planned and survived a wedding. You may have children, young or grown. Early in your relationship, you imagined a future filled with the bliss you felt when you first met.
But something went wrong. You feel wounded, resentful, not fully trusting. You fight too frequently. Too often, you go to bed angry or sad.
You don’t feel taken care of by your partner, and your partner doesn’t feel cared for by you. When you are angry, one of you ignores the other instead of reaching forward and kissing. Or one of you jumps to incorrect conclusions instead of being curious or saying I’m sorry.
You wonder what happened. How did the magic of your connection go awry?
One of the keys to a happy marriage is understanding our relationship more completely by exploring our feelings. Our feelings are quick to let us know when something seems wrong. We could be feeling any of the following emotions or others.
Each of these feelings tells us something. It may tell us about an underlying wound. It may say to us that something we are doing isn’t working.
One of us could be:
- Jumping to conclusions
- Not listening
- Not apologizing
- Not explaining something that left our partner confused or hurt
- Not empathizing
These actions show that we are not connecting to our partner in a healthy and productive way. Each of these actions is a step down a dangerous relational path. Each of these actions means that we don’t yet know how to create a happy marriage. They show that we don’t yet understand the keys to a happy marriage.
Often, our wounds affect how we respond to relational challenges. Understanding the places we carry hurt is also one of the keys to a happy marriage.
“It is not the differences between us that cause the problem,
but the challenge of how those differences make us feel
and how we respond to those feelings.
This shows up in every aspect of our relationships.”Jennifer Lehr, LMFT
Debbie and Zander’s Story
Debbie and Zander have been married for 11 years. Debbie is an earnest person. Zanders is much more happy-go-lucky and takes things more lightly. For him, life is a party. For Debbie, life is a serious endeavor. Those differences may seem slight at first glance, but they are at the root of some of their conflicts.
Debbie needs to know that what she says matters to others. She often feels like Zander does not hear her. Debbie will share information with him, ask him not to tell anyone else, and lo and behold, it pops out in a conversation. Or she’ll ask him to do something, and he’ll forget. Whatever the case, Debbie feels that Zander isn’t listening and isn’t paying attention to what she is saying or asking.
Debbie felt like an invisible child growing up. This is a hot area for her. Nobody asked her what she wanted or what she felt. That wound is still inside and is quick to activate.
Zander, on the other hand, is pretty relaxed and cavalier. He doesn’t take things that seriously. He doesn’t realize that Debbie’s requests are important to her. So they don’t sink in. Consequently, he forgets what she asked of him.
When Debbie tells Zander in a tone suggesting he did something wrong and forgot something she asked for yet again, Zander gets his back up and accuses Debbie of always having to be right. Zander hates feeling like he is being blamed. He hates feeling like he is being told he in the wrong. Zander has a wound around not being right.
Zander had been in a previous relationship with a lot of volatility. To him, it always felt like his partner was right, and he was wrong. She had to have the last word. She could not tell him that maybe they both were correct but seeing things from different perspectives. In her mind, his light-heartedness was often him being inconsiderate. She would berate him, he would feel misunderstood, and they would fight.
Consequently, Zander’s predominant feeling that gets triggered when struggling with Debbie is a sense of resentment and anger. Her suggestion that he did something wrong triggers all of this unhealed emotion. If you asked Zander what was wrong, he would say that he is sick and tired of being blamed, of not being allowed to be right. He is tired of her being right and him being wrong. This is the lens he sees through. He isn’t seeing her pain or that this is not about right and wrong. He doesn’t get that the solution is about understanding her wound and being sensitive to it.
Debbie’s predominant feeling that gets triggered when she is in a conflict with Zander is disappointment. All of a sudden, she feels alone and as if her expressed requests do not matter. If you asked Debbie what was wrong, she would say that she doesn’t feel heard. She doesn’t feel as if she matters to Zander. Debbie would say that she needs him to listen to her. Consequently, she jumps to the conclusion that Zander doesn’t care.
Debbie also doesn’t fully understand Zander’s way of being, how he moves through life differently than her. She might choose to not share everything with Zander since he has trouble keeping information to himself. While this might make her feel lonely initially, Debbie could decide that she didn’t need to share everything with him. She could decide that she will be okay without requiring him to hear everything she has to say.
These differences are what are known as non-negotiable differences. Neither of these people is going to be able to change their character structure. But they can develop a better understanding of themselves and each other. They can choose to know that each does hold the best intentions for their partner in their hearts despite how it feels. They can choose to be curious about their partner’s reaction (and their own) rather than assume the worst.
They can ask questions rather than accuse. They can reassure each other rather than feel suspicious.
As they learn to use more productive ways of connecting and communicating, their wounds will heal, and that knowing permeates through their relationship, these triggers will cool down. Each partner will be less reactive and more understanding of each other’s needs, wounds, and characters. They will have begun the task of understanding the keys to a happy marriage.
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