Marriage is a minefield of emotional bombs, ready to blast you into pieces at the slightest misstep.
You can survive and even thrive in marriage if you learn how to navigate through the hidden-bomb places that exist in all of us.
My wife and I discovered these hidden emotional bombs right away, though we couldn’t at the time articulate what was going on. She would ask me to do something, and I would blow up at her. I would choose to stay out late, and she wouldn’t talk to me for a day. We’ve been married for 21 years, and most of that time has been spent repairing damage and digging up potential future damage. I don’t think ours is the typical story. We both come from broken homes. We married way too young and had zero idea of what the hell we were doing, but everybody has hidden hurts that make their way into marriage.
Hidden bombs can be defined as any past experiences, good or bad, that imprint themselves on our subconscious. The feelings that resulted from those experiences become the basis for how we respond to any similar future experience.
As a marrying pastor, I have seen numerous couples become totally unravelled, to the point of giving up, just because they didn’t understand that their battle wasn’t with each other. It was with the way they expected each other to behave based on past experiences. I give them some tools to help in communication, and things tend to get better. I’m not all that interested in “better” marriages, though. I want to see marriages that thrive and create generations. I believe that strong marriages create strong families, and strong families change the world.
Since it’s not enough just to sidestep potential blowups, we have to totally change the way we respond to and communicate with each other. Before we can tackle the titanical task of communication, we have to start with somewhat of a clean slate. Here are a few places to start:
Realize you’re not at war
How many hours have we wasted trying to win battles with each other? Stop it! We are not enemies in marriage but rather partners with shared vision and goals. Have an agreement with each other to call “timeout” when things become adversarial. Go have sex. Eat an apple. Remember that you want good things for each other. You said “I do” to someone you love, not a terrorist.
Agree to disagree
Since you aren’t enemies, it’s OK to resolve that you aren’t going to agree on everything. Unless it’s a huge hill that determines the future of your family’s existence and identity, let it go. My wife wants things in our home to be functional. I want them to be beautiful and inspiring. Rarely are both things possible. The day-in and day-out running of our home falls on my wife. She’s the CEO. I resolve to let things be more functional than beautiful. Done.
Shut up and listen
I have to confess that listening is hard for me. I just want to solve problems and fix what’s broken. But my wife is not a child. She is a strong, totally capable woman that doesn’t always want me to fix things. When we have conversations, I make myself listen to every word she is saying. I’ll even ask the question, “Do you want me to fix or listen?” She doesn’t need a hero; she needs a husband, a partner. She’ll let me know when I need to strap on a tool belt and go to work.
Get help #counselingdoesntsuck
Mediation has been the best thing for our marriage. Sitting in a room, being forced to listen to each other, and having someone translate what it is you are saying is priceless. Think of it as an investment in your future. You’ll hire a personal trainer to help with physical fitness, a CPA to help with finances. Why not a therapist to help you understand you’re being selfish and unreasonable? It’s not rocket science. When something is broken that we can’t fix, we get help.
I believe these four things can help you, as they’ve helped me, in your marriage. These are a way to get you started in the direction of “marital bomb disposal.” It’s just the beginning, though. It’s NOT a quick fix. It takes time, energy, and patience. But a solid foundation from which to tackle the big stuff will make all the difference. The vision for my future looks like my wife and I sitting in rocking chairs, probably wearing adult diapers, watching our great-grandchildren terrorize their parents. That’s worth the effort.