In a way this is sort of cute, but it can get nasty and they can push things until they explode and then the issue isn’t video games (or whatever), but the fact they are hurting each other in a fight or avoiding each other altogether.
Take the above words “Play Video Games” and replace it with:
work in the shop
work on his race car
and you end up with the same pattern: she complains; he resists. I’m pretty sure this pattern has gone on for thousands of years across all cultures, times and eras.
She’s thinking: I can’t believe he doesn’t grow up. I can’t believe he can’t see that I do everything around here and he’s taking advantage of me. I can’t believe he won’t change this. If he doesn’t take my ideas to heart, he must not love me or even want to be with me. It’s so simple. I don’t feel he hears anything I say. Why am I even here? He’s taking advantage of me. Everything has to be his way. He’s such a control freak.
He’s thinking: I can’t believe she won’t just relax. She can’t enjoy life. Everything is work and has to be her way. I can’t even relax in my own home. I’m an adult and don’t need another mom. I’m already working hard and she doesn’t appreciate it. She treats me like I’m 2. At least when I’m doing _____ I don’t have to worry about her unhappiness. Nothing makes her happy. I’m a piece of crap. Why did she marry me anyway? I can’t do anything right. She used to be fun. I have to relax somehow. Everything has to be her way. She’s such a control freak.
You can see how these attitudes can slip couples into complete avoidance of each other or a pretty hostile environment where mean things are being said and thought or even where they slip into physical altercations and before you know it someone’s had to call the police. Oh, boy.
Here’s a very curious fact: The average divorce is at 7.2 years.
Here’s a very curious fact number 2: Men take a little longer (on average) to grow up than women.
Here’s a very sad fact number 3) They divorce just about the time he’s starting to reach her maturity level.
Here’s an encouraging thought: With a little guidance from a guy like myself who has a little savvy the couple could have risen above this problem, learned to figure it out, come to a meeting of the minds, learn to handle their differences with a little more tact, figured out how to work as a team to reduce their hostility and learn to solve their problems together. Love is patient, after all! I wouldn’t say 7.2 years is very patient.
Still, I wouldn’t say playing video games four hours after work or even more every day is a very mature thing to do. I can see why it is really irritating and it very well may slow down your husband’s development as an adult. But your blowing up about it or cutting your husband out of your heart or your harboring resentments isn’t exactly helping the situation either and keeps you from being all you can be as a person and as a couple. It can seem like a log jam and you can’t get unstuck.
Careful. Divorce seems like the easy solution, but it creates a whole new set of problems on top of the ones we’ve got and no one’s learned anything. You say, to justify divorce, “I don’t want my kids thinking fighting like this is normal” and then you divorce and teach your kids there’s no way you can work things out and to run from your problems. Then you marry someone else and you still hadn’t learned to work through your problems and the communication issues start up again. Oh, and your new spouse can’t stand your kids. And you only see your kids half the time. And they don’t want to come home (What’s home? Your house or your X’s? Neither.). Great. Either way we’ve got a bunch of people losing.
Most of us didn’t grow up learning how to handle negative emotion. Either mom and dad fought all the time, or they never discussed anything of substance or one person dominated and the other shut down. Those are the three major patterns that don’t work and all of them lead to hurt in the home and often to eventual divorce. Maybe it’d be better to figure out the one way, the only way that really leads to marital contentment and that would be for both parties to be able to say what they need to say without animosity and where both parties feel like they are being heard.
‘Cuz here’s the deal: Neither of you are dumb! If one of you was dumb, you wouldn’t have gotten married. The whole advantage of marriage (well one of them at least) is two heads are better than one. We’ve got a built in checks and balance system here. You don’t know everything. Your spouse doesn’t know everything. So you compare notes. Then you make a decision based on your collective wisdom.
You say you can’t do that? That’s where we come in.
But hang on a second here: Sometimes it’s not just a question of technique or personality or style or gender difference. Sometimes there’s an elephant in the room. Sometimes there’s unresolved hurt or ongoing hurt lurking in the corner driving the anger. Sometimes there’s hurt from the past before the two of you got together that keeps rising to the surface. Sometimes the couple doesn’t spend any time together so when they do they have a chip on their shoulder because they are lonely and resentful they are on the back burner. Sometimes the couple isn’t connecting sexually and the indifference that creates is driving sour moods. Sometimes a person is too committed to work or their children or a hobby or another friend or the church or a cause or exercising or video games or that stupid phone or Facebook or ? leaves the other spouse feeling they are in last place and you know what? They’re sick of playing second fiddle. Sometimes both of them are just flat out selfish! Sometimes both of them think or one of them does, at least, that we can’t disagree and if we disagree we have to talk until we agree or we wear each other out, and then, of course, one of them will have to give up their position to make peace and then we have a loser and if one of us loses we both lose because we are in this together. Sometimes a really bad habit like porn or alcohol or drugs or gambling or ? is driving the anger. Sometimes fighting is just a stupid bad habit and neither of them know any better! Sometimes the issue we’re fighting about isn’t even the issue and there’s something else entirely going on! YIKES!
These are all things we can work on. You can’t fight in my office! The calmness and respect actually changes people! If we can be calm in Bing’s office, maybe we could do this at home?! This is what we do. Fighting isn’t the way to go. Divorce only adds to your problems and freezes any hope of rising above your problems and learning from your mistakes and becoming better people.
Finding a way to resolve your differences without bodies in the ditch would be a better route.
Maybe my title is “Marriage Therapist.” Formally my license is “Marriage and Family Therapist.” I had to be licensed in order for me to be a mentor and a listener and a guide. In real life I’m a husband of 39 years (Love it! Love her!), a father of four, a grandfather of 3, a business owner, completed my PhD, a former pastor, youth director and camp director. I’ve even mowed lawn to make ends meet when I had a couple of little kids at home and was between jobs. I’ve had a few triumphs and some setbacks, figured out a few things and other times I’ve sought out help because I had no idea how to find my way out. Along the way I paid attention and learned a thing or two. I read a bunch and have talked to thousands of people, single and married, divorced and cohabiting. I haven’t heard it all, but I know what works and what will kick you in the butt. I’m a great listener and guide and a relationship guy and can give you an unbiased opinion, a reference point, a reality check, a cautionary red flag or a pat on the back.
You might be single, but everything in your life screams relationships and how you feel is the direct result of how you’ve handled those relationships and how they’ve treated you and your future is the sum total of the choices you’ve made to date and the choices you will be making regarding the relationships you are in or will be in. You have relationships with your boy or girl friends, your parents and friends, your siblings and coworkers, your intellect and society, God and your future, your past and your present, your dreams and failures, your hopes and disappointments, your successes and your pain. How you relate to all these things influences the trajectory of your life. You can’t control certain things. Other things you can control. It’s wisdom to know the difference and having a reference point from an unbiased third party can be a real encouragement, help you make peace with the past and/or figure out where to go from here.
Frankly, I can save you a lot of grief. I can point you in the right direction or help you weigh your options or assist you in looking at the pros and cons of a decision or an impulse or a temptation or a longing or a frustration. I can help you make peace with past mistakes or learn to let go of the hurt of others.
It’s nice to get an unbiased point of view. I’m not in your sphere of influence. I go home to my wife at night. I have my own family, my own interests, my own life. I know the consequences of this decision and that action. I’ve seen it thousands of times. I’m not afraid to share it. I’m a great listener, but I’m candid, too. I’m not mean about it. Forthright. Refreshing, actually.
Your friends are nice, but maybe too nice. Their experience is limited. They like you and don’t want to hurt you. Rare is the friend that will actually tell you like it is and even if they do, they are so close you may doubt their wisdom in the matter. Family is the same way. They love you (well…most of the time) and don’t want you to be hurt, but often are too kind or even, sadly, too critical, making it difficult to take their direction (demands?) seriously. Getting a different point of view from the outside from someone who isn’t in the mix, but has guided myriads of others, can be a boon and a real encouragement.
And look, a lot of us have mucked up our dating relationships or maybe there’s been previous relationship hurt or someone’s cheated on you or you’ve cheated on someone or porn or alcohol or video games or whatever is just too interesting and your conscience is kicking into gear, but you’re just not sure what to do about it, or you notice you aren’t too motivated to do anything or your boss is driving you crazy and otherwise you like your job or your mom is on your case or you can’t seem to get out of debt or you can’t sleep or you sleep too much or you wonder if this or that choice is the best option or you can’t seem to let go of past hurts or you wonder if you keep doing _____ what will be the consequences or you just want to get a bunch of crap out of your head. Or maybe you are just sick of being single and wonder if there’s a reason and is there anything you can do to be proactive about that without being overly needy, if you get my drift.
And you don’t have to be nervous about coming in. Really. A lot of people have told me they were scared to “go to counseling.” Or they are “just not the type to open up.” And then about two minutes into it they are off and telling me stuff they’ve never told anyone before and they can’t believe they waited this long or what a relief it is to actually have someone listen to them and track with them and understand them and when can we set up our next appointment?
But don’t take my word for it. Give us a call and try it on for size.
You may have never heard of him, because his heyday is largely over, but my girlfriend at the time (now my wife!) attended his Christian seminar back in 1973. He was all the rage and was filling up stadiums with 10,000 to 20,000 seminar attendees for week long workshops (2 hours every night) explaining his take on the truths of the Scriptures visually using hand drawings on an overhead to help people grasp his points. I learned a lot from him that week, but remember feeling so guilty that his material quickly faded for me. But I didn’t forget the way he illustrated things and I often use a dry eraser board in my office to help my clients visualize things. Actually, I recently wondered what happened to him, because he went from being a rock star on the Christian circuit to falling off the radar.
Well, what’d you know? He’d been busy perping on young women he’d recruit from his workshops to come help at his headquarters. He’s also used the principles he’s taught (the crux of his material was submission to authority, which, of course, included “the girls” being under his authority) to thoroughly justify his own self-aggrandizement and spiritually abused those who worked under him. I just found out the reason his wildly successful workshops disappeared is because he barely survived a sexual scandal from his brother in the late 1970’s who was his right-hand man and had molested a scary number of single staff women in their northern Michigan retreat center complete with porn paid with Institute monies and Bill Gothard had done absolutely nothing about it. His self-picked board didn’t do anything about it either, and Gothard largely lost his creed with local churches, who had demanded accountability (authority without accountability is tyranny). So he switched his emphasis to homeschooling materials, a largely independent group, that enabled him to continue his lifestyle undetected. I wasn’t even aware of that scandal at the time. I’m just learning all of this now (you can check out the latest here).
My point in all of this? Mr. Gothard had promoted himself as a Christian teacher to the masses and it turns out he’s a charlatan and he’s left a trail of tears instead. Jesus said, “they will know you are Christians by your love” but sadly, too often to count, we could say in our day, “they will know you are Christian’s by your hypocrisy.” How tragic is that? I don’t think any of us expect the Church to be perfect, but using Christian doctrine and position to beat up on the innocent is a little hard to take. It’s no wonder people throw out the baby with the bath water in frustration. Those in the wake of this kind of hurt struggle with thinking what in the world is reality? One’s beliefs about God go pretty deep in the soul and to have some leader touch you inappropriately (as of March 8, 2014, 34 women had come forward to say Gothard had been inappropriate with them. One of these reported genitalia touching. The rest of them were sexually harassed as well as spiritually abused.) and use the Bible to motivate you by guilt for their own purposes, plays with your brain and you wonder if you are going crazy sometimes. People lose their faith over these things. People lose their morals over these things. People lose their marriages and their relationships and their dignity. No wonder (The web site reporting this has some first person accounts of Gothard’s abuse, that are amazingly filled with the healing of God and grace in their lives. They are wonderful examples of healing in the face of evil. You can check them out here.).
I teasingly tell engaged couples, you don’t want to get married until you’ve had a pretty big disagreement with your fiance and you were able to work it through. In the same way, you shouldn’t be a counselor unless you’ve recovered from some hurt. One of the main jobs of a counselor is to help people heal from hurt of whatever kind. Getting hurt from the people who are supposed to set an example for you can play with your brain.
Without going into details, let’s just say there’s more than one reason why I’m not a pastor anymore. The biggest reason was I was at the tail end of my viability as a minister. I looked around my denomination in the state of Iowa at the time and there were only two ministers over the age of 50: one a pastor in the largest church in the state and the other a pastor in the smallest (17 attenders on Sunday morning). I could see the hand writing on the wall. The evangelical church mostly wanted pastors in their 30’s and 40’s. Refreshingly, the church we now attend has kept their pastors for 20 years or even longer and they have been able to build a pretty solid reputation in the community, But that is the exception. Whatever you might complain about the Catholic or large Protestant denominations, at least they take care of their pastors for life. Not so in the evangelical wing. I had four kids at the time I left the ministry, was in my forties and had about one more go around and that would be it. But the situation I was in was floundering, so my chances of being enthusiastically hired somewhere else were slim to none.
And then there was the other reason, which I won’t go into at all, but just to say, it’s been thirty years and I don’t even think about it much unless my kids are around and we start to banter about the past somehow. Actually, I’m very thankful: I got a new career out of the deal, helping others going through hurt, and come out the other side with their dignity and, hopefully, their faith and marriages intact. Not an easy assignment, but one that’s a little easier if your guide on the journey has been down that road before and come out a better person. I supposed that’s a bit presumptuous for me to say, but I learned the message of why Christ died on the cross is twofold: He deals with the evil in your heart and He deals with the evil others have done to you. I’d known about the former prior to being a pastor. I had to become a pastor to learn to deal with the second.
If you are going to be a counselor you have to be able to help both the perpetrator and the victim, the one who hurt and the hurting, the sinned and the sinned against. It’s a lot easier helping those who are on the receiving end than it is the one who dishes it out. The reason people dish it out is because they are pretty selfish and self-deluded in their thinking (By the way, that would be all of us: “all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God*) and I, for one, aren’t mean enough sometimes to beat their stupidity out of their brains. Sometimes, though, the one who hurts others is pretty repentant and open to new ways of thinking and acting and there is joy to behold. But overall, I’d much rather have Job as a client than Ahab, if you know what I mean. Still, even though we pride ourselves we aren’t like “those people” we all have our own sin that’s caused us to hurt others. You can’t become a whole person until you can grasp how you’ve left your own trail of tears. Self-delusion would be a universal trait.
But hurt plays with your brain, too (By the way,that would be all of us, also. Jesus died for the sins against you just like he died for the sins you committed against Him! “Come onto me all who are weary and heavy laden and I will give you rest” and “By his wounds we are healed.”**). And if you aren’t careful you can use the crap you go through (whether from parents, lovers, spouses, children, ministers, bosses or colleagues, Christians or not) to hurt others. You’ve heard the saying: “hurt people, hurt people”? If you have been a victim of someone elses stupidity and selfishness, you are only a step away from doing the same thing. It’s easy to get all self-righteous about it, but the Deceiver has a pretty good track record recruiting from the downtrodden. Just talk to people who populate our jails. You can believe most have endured some pretty sad abuse, but it didn’t lead them down the paths of righteousness. Hmmmm.
Hurt or sin, either one, lies to your heart and the deceit is pretty easy to believe, and to have a faithful counselor help you think differently can be a welcome relief! Of course, you can find a counselor out there who will gleefully help you denounce your faith and God and, for that matter, your husband or wife or mother or father, and reject it all as hogwash. But that won’t be of much comfort for long. Revenge and resentment as motivators only work in R-rated movies. You are going to want to find a way to not let other people’s craziness become your own. Being delivered would be the way to go. Rescued? Redeemed? We all could use a little of that.
Give us a call.
*Romans 3:23. For a summary statement of how all of us have turned to our own way against God see Romans 3:9-18.
** Matthew 11:28-30 and Isaiah 53:4-5. This is one of the major themes of the Bible. Israel’s deliverance from slavery in Egypt is the prime example.
Some folk come to see me too late to save things. It’s a pretty crazy time. You have no say. Your spouse is going to do what your spouse is going to do. Her mind is made up. He won’t listen to reason. You plead. You cry. You get angry. You yell. You stomp around. You quietly acquiesce. You give up. You withdraw. You try with resolve. You want to tell everyone. You may even try to get your family members, kids, parents, friends, on your side. You try being angry. You try being nice. You try to do those things your spouse complained you’d never do.
You feel like you are going crazy. You feel alone. You feel guilty for the failure. The failure of it all haunts you. Your mind becomes a put-down machine, nagging you for your ineptitude, your short-sightedness, your selfishness, your inability to do anything. You feel guilty for feeling guilty.
You panic. You could easily do something stupid. You may even do something stupid. You may do a lot of stupid things. Maybe that’s why your spouse is leaving you. Old habits die hard. You quit doing stupid things. It doesn’t matter. You spouse says it’s too little too late. It’s seems fake.
And the pain. The pain doesn’t seem to go away. Most couples hurt each other more during the divorce process itself than they ever did while they were married. You can’t split children. You can’t split a dream. You can’t split a future. You can’t split a life together. So everything hurts. Everything. Everything said or not said. Ill-will is assumed and imputed. Whatever you do is wrong. Whatever you do or say is used against you to beat you up.
And then there’s those moments when your spouse is nice to you and you start to be hopeful again. Back and forth. On and off. Up and down. And then, BOOM! Cold as ice. You get more papers from your spouse’s attorney. The cold stare. The indifference. The selfishness. How could anyone be so cold? How could I not have seen this coming? How did I end up with a person who would rip out my heart so willingly, even gleefully?
Here’s the deal: When you go through a divorce you enter the land of craziness, loneliness and failure. You can’t really complain to anyone: family, friends, you children. You don’t want to drive them away, but you need to talk things through so you keep your bearings and make wise decisions going forward. We’re not lawyers, but we’ve seen these kinds of things numerous times and can help you through the process emotionally. We can be a sounding board. We can be someone objective. Nonjudgmental. Encouraging. Supportive. A little reality check. A little reassurance.
And, you never know. There might be an advantage having someone give you a different perspective, a different way of doing or thinking things. You can use this as an opportunity to grow and change and become a better person. Sometimes things even turn around. Not everyone who files or threatens divorce actually ends up divorcing. And if both end up wanting to work things out we know the things that have to take place in order to reconcile: to rebuild commitment and trust. To reduce fighting and increase meaningful communication. To reconnect. To heal and forgive.
One of the students asked if she and her cohabiting boyfriend would benefit from seeing a marriage counselor as she had previously thought there was no help available to them from traditional marriage therapists. I assured her I would be happy to see them. I’m sure most of colleagues would agree.
I empathize with many cohabiting couples as the most common factor driving them is they often grew up in broken families and don’t want to end up like their parents. They think by checking out the other person first hand while living together gives them a heads-up on whether this is the right person or not. I understand that fear, but the method doesn’t work, because cohabiting couples are much more likely to have more hurt than married couples. By moving in together without marriage they are increasing the possibility they will break up in the future, because cohabiting relationships, by definition, are insecure and insecurity causes people to act in insecure ways (lashing out, freaking out, shutting down, withdrawing, feeling controlled, feeling ignored), none of which encourages people to relax and enjoy the roses.
Some couples may be reluctant to see a marital therapist, fearing the therapist will guilt trip the couple into doing something they don’t want to do or aren’t ready to do. This was even the argument from one of my colleagues when I taught my Thriving Couples Model at a marriage and family conference. He or she said my model was based on people who agreed with me, because only people who agreed with me would come to see me. I based my model on years of marital therapy for thousands of couples, who came to see me long before I ever started blogging about marriage and cohabitation. All people had before the blog (I started the blog in 2009) was my yellow page ad, which said that I was a marriage therapist and helped couples deal with various issues. Actually, the blog has helped couples who totally disagree with me come to see me, married or not. They like the fact I have an opinion and will tell it too them straight, that I’m not just going to sit there and say, “You poor thing.” They also like I may give them a different point of view than they had considered before, which can be very beneficial.
I had one cohabiting couple who asked me to talk with them about sexuality, because of their problems in that area. This had come up after several sessions on other topics. I said, “You know I have a different point of view than both of you on that topic, right?” “No, no,” he assured me, “that’s why we came to see you in the first place. We wanted a different perspective.” Good for them.
Cohabiting couples have the same issues as married couples, only worse! For example, married people can have commitment issues, even though they are married, because one or the other or both make threats (sometime repeated threats!) to divorce. It’ll be very hard for either of them to give their hearts to the other if they fear one or the other will be leaving! In cohabiting couples, the fear of leaving is compounded, not only because there’s a threats of breaking up (a very common problem of cohabiting couples), but also because there’s no vow of staying! It’s the same problem, but from an added whole different angle. The cohabiting partners saying to each other they will be committed is not enough. Saying marriage is just a piece of paper and our commitment and love will endure is not enough. You can tell each other these kinds of things till you are blue in the face, and even have children with each other, but this doesn’t make you married until you willfully and publicly declare your vows to each other on your wedding day and a new family is born. Otherwise you are just playing house and when it’s nap time your friend will have to go home for his nap. It’s not your car till you pay for it and you sign on the dotted line. It’s just a piece of paper, but now it’s your car. To take the car without the piece of paper is stealing. It’s not your car. Cohabiting is stealing. It’s not marriage till you sacrifice your very life, the rest of your life, for both of your sake.
This lack of a wedding date creates all kinds of problems and makes normal, everyday problems, critical and nearly anything can escalate into a fight or misunderstanding. Cohabiting couples are much more insecure and impatient and testy and short with each other. It’s one thing to test drive a car. It’s another thing altogether to drive the car off the lot without paying for it and never come back!
Here’s another example: You know how many times I’ve worried in 38 years of marriage that my wife is going to leave me? Zero. That’s right. Zero. You know how often cohabiting couple worry about that? Most of them worry about it all the time. How come you won’t marry me? I’m not pretty enough or skinny enough or rich enough or good enough or whatever enough? What’s the matter with me? What’s the matter with you? Why won’t you commit to me? What’s holding you back? Why are there all these issues? Everything is an issue. And you say you aren’t worried about it? What’s the deal with that? Are you just using me? You too good for me? You judging me? You see? On either side of this problem there’s worries. Worry, worry, worry.
One of the main reasons cohabiting couples have issues is because the commitment problem stares them in the face every day. It’s pretty hard to do wise couple things, when insecurity is constantly unsettled. So the couples fight or withdraw or one fights and the other withdraws or they both fight and they both withdraw. Now they don’t want to marry because they fight or withdraw too much! But the reason they are fighting and withdrawing is because they feel insecure about the future and on and on we go. Nevertheless I’ve found many of these kinds of couples can benefit from learning how to handle their differences and to communicate in kinder ways. And when we’ve gone through that material it often gives them the courage and confidence they need to get married.
That’s actually a pretty nice thing for me…when I get a wedding invitation from former clients who were cohabiting. I take that as the most extreme form of thank you note! Thank you, Dr. Wall, for helping us reach the confidence where we can give ourselves wholeheartedly to each other til death us do part.
By the way…I don’t go to those weddings! I’m thrilled for them, but I figure it’d be weird to have them introduce me as their therapist.