My heart was stretched recently as I’ve watched a couple, dating for the past three years, experience a most painful breakup. Both care for each other immensely, and yet they are unsure of whether or not they can really make the relationship work.
Too much baggage
Kelly and James have already gone through one divorce earlier in their lives. Now in their mid-thirties, both with two children, they truly love each other. Kelly is a vivacious, fun-loving woman, active in the community and her church and professionally savvy. She wants this relationship to work and is heartbroken with the breakup.
James too is suffering with the breakup. Having experienced a painful divorce several years earlier, he thought he had met the woman of his dreams. James works as the maintenance man for a local school district, and loves being around the youth as much as taking pride in keeping the school running.
This is not the first breakup for James and Kelly. “We go through this every few months it seems,” James said sourly during a counselling session. “She gets mad at me for something and then pushes away.” “What happens when you two have a fight?” I asked.
“Same thing each time,” he shared. “She gets so angry with me, and I’ve got to admit that I get angry with her.”
“Yes,” I continued. “But it must be more than that. You can feel angry with each other and not break up.”
“You’d think so,” he said wryly. “But not with Kelly. She just gets so filled with hate and anger that it is all she sees in the relationship. So, she pushes away and says she has to think things over. Silence for days...I’m really getting tired of this.”
Don’t focus on the negative
I shared with James about how one of the most tragic mistakes a couple can make is to only see the negatives of the relationship during a fight. It is like having blinkers on, seeing only the painful aspects of the relationship and forgetting all the good. It takes skill and insight to “remember” the forgotten parts of the person with whom they fell in love.
The hurt become hurtful
It is also very common for people who are filled with hurt to become hurtful. It is like they are so filled up with unresolved hurt that an easy conversation can quickly turn into a heated fight because of the pent-up pain. We discussed some strategies for talking to Kelly and changing their patterns of interacting.
1. We must take responsibility for our hurt
Hurt cannot be ignored. Like an infection that leads to a spike in temperature, inflammation, aches and pains, hurt is a symptom of distress. Unruly emotions are often a companion to those experiencing relational distress.
David, the psalmist, struggling emotionally, shares: “Have mercy on me, Lord, for I am in distress. My sight is blurred because of my tears. My body and soul are withering away. I am dying from grief; my years are shortened by sadness. Misery has drained my strength; I’m wasting away from within.” Psalm 31: 9-10.
2. Share emotions effectively
There is a way to share emotions effectively. Blurting out unruly hurt is not an effective approach. We must be responsible in how, when and where we share our emotions. We must manage our emotions and share from a place of self-control. James and Kelly commonly got into heated battles, blew apart and then missed the good parts of their relationship.
Don’t try to solve problems when in the midst of heated emotions. Allow cooler heads to prevail before tackling a thorny problem. Don’t forget the trusted “time out.”
3. Take responsibility for your part in the crisis
While it is tempting to rehearse how you’ve been wronged, this only seems to amplify troubling emotions. Anger tends to perpetuate itself, and studies now show that indulging in anger seems to heighten your anger.
Focus on remedying your part in the struggle.
4. Be gracious
Your mate is usually not trying to hurt you. They are ‘hurt-full’, and thus become hurtful. If you can listen to their hurt and, more important, seek to soothe their painful emotions, you will renew your connection to them and help them work through their troubling feelings. Listen with grace, showing kindness and compassion.
5. Be in prayer about your relationship
God is faithful to show us the hidden things in our hearts if we prayerfully ask for wisdom and direction. Seek to understand yourself as well as your mate. As you settle emotionally, you’ll be in a better position to help your mate settle as well.
Dr David Hawkins is the director of The Marriage Recovery Centre and has been helping couples in crisis restore their relationships for over 30 years www.marriagerecoverycenter.com