“If your spouse is distressed because of what you do, you are no longer acting in love.”
Mark’s eyes narrow to slits. His anger has turned his normally pale complexion into the hues of an angry sunset.
Ashley’s tear-smudged eye makeup makes her eyes resemble a raccoon’s. Her blood-drained face appears even more pallid against the contrast of her pink-splotched neck.
“I’m tired of having this same conversation over and over,” Ashley says.
“You’re tired of it?! Lord knows I’m tired of it,” Mark counters. “Why can’t you get off my back?”
Gripping the doorknob with one hand, Mark roughly puts his cap on with the other. To Ashley he says, “I don’t care how you feel! I’ve worked hard all week and deserve at least one night to myself. I’m meeting Cliff and we’re going to go to the ballgame. Don’t wait up. I’ll be home late.”
The slamming door as he leaves provides a final punctuation.
Ashley is left open-mouthed with formed words unspoken. Her shoulders sag as she sighs, “What’s the use?”
Even though the description of the scenario above is brief, it is full of very important information; information that holds the potential of helping us navigate a difficult passage of marriage.
Let me point out five things that I detect.
1. Ashley is tired.
Look at the physical signs: Her face is drained of color. Her shoulders sag. She sighs.
Listen to her words: “I’m tired.” “What’s the use?”
Undoubtedly she is physically drained from the current argument. The flood of tears that has left her face streaked with makeup indicates she expended a great amount of energy.
The aftereffect of having received a shot of adrenalin to her system has left her weak. Her blood sugar has probably become skewed. And the additional cortisol in her body is wreaking havoc.
As significant as her physical fatigue is, it is her emotional fatigue that is the most dangerous. When we become emotionally drained it opens the door for hopelessness, despair, and depression to move in.
Ashley is on the verge of giving up. She is ready to commit marital suicide.
It is almost impossible to get a person who has given up to engage in any effort to repair the relationship. It’s like the words of the country song, “There’s nothing cold as ashes after the fire’s gone out.”
2. This is not a new argument.
Mark and Ashley have met on this bridge before, trying to cross but going in opposite directions. There is probably nothing either of them can say that has not been said before. If so, this has become a circular argument, going round and round accomplishing nothing.
It is very exasperating to do the same thing over and over but never achieving the desired outcome.
One, or both of them, is not hearing the other. Not hearing in the sense of not understanding the meaning and the emotion behind the words.
Too often we zero in only on the words in a message. But that is often a less than adequate expression of what we have in our heart. Why has Hallmark been so successful all these years? Because they put into words the things we feel.
When all we “hear” are our partner’s words, we might be missing an important message.
3. Mark is insensitive to Ashley.
Although in the point above I mention we don’t need to zero in only on the words in a message, I think it is difficult to misinterpret Mark’s words, “I don’t care how you feel.”
Mark is not clueless. He is fully aware of how much his behavior distresses Ashley. Yet he insists on doing it anyway.
“I’m going to do it. I don’t care what you say.”
If someone is engaging in a behavior or activity that they are certain distresses their spouse, what kind of spirit does that say they have?
If your spouse is distressed because of what you do, you are no longer acting in love.
4. Mark has framed this situation in terms of what he views as his “rights.”
Did you hear Mark’s justification for his behavior? “I deserve…..”
He has some sort of mental tally sheet that he maintains. When he adds things up he feels he’s been shortchanged.
In Mark’s mind the balance tilts in his favor and he should be rewarded for what he’s done. He’s become fixated on what he views as his fair share of contributions to the marriage. His reasoning is, “Because I’ve done so much, I deserve…..”
Other words that can clue you in that someone is in this mode of thinking are, “I demand…..” “I have a right…..”
5. Mark has regressed.
Regression is a return to an earlier stage of life as a means of escaping present anxieties. This often happens when we are upset, angry, or frustrated. The level we usually go back to is some point in childhood.
This explains why grown people can look, act, and sound like children sometimes.
Mark’s slamming the door is something you’d expect a thirteen year old to do.
“I can do whatever I want to,” is the boastful statement of a six year old trying to push against parental control.
How can couples navigate this difficult passage?
Let’s try to answer an important question. What should you expect from your spouse? I googled to see what kind of answers there were out there to this question. It seems everyone has an opinion on this topic. There are even varying versions of a Marriage Bill of Rights.
I always try to simplify things whenever possible. I believe what should be expected from our spouses is to be treated with respect. When mutual respect is present in a relationship, peace and harmony are sure to be found.
It’s easy to see that Mark is not treating Ashley with respect. As a matter of fact there is ample evidence that he is treating her with disrespect.
As soon as you start speaking about your “rights” in your marriage, you are approaching from the wrong position. When there is mutual respect, people don’t place demands on each other.
In marriage it is important to remember it’s not all about you. We don’t always get our way or get what we want. Out of respect for our spouse we sometimes acquiesce to their wants and needs.
The points in this article may seem contradictory to those in my previous post “Life is difficult enough as it is.” And that is what makes this one of the most difficult passages of marriage to navigate. We have to find a balance between having our needs met and meeting the needs of our spouse.
One should never allow themselves to be treated like a slave. But we are to have the attitude of a servant.
If everyone uses the rudder of respect, they will successfully manage their boat through this passage.