“What are the most frequent ways you see people murder their marriages?“ The host of the broadcast took me by surprise with that poignant question. It was like a real blow to my gut.
I took a deep breath and responded with: “WOW! What a loaded question!“
He responded wisely by remarking, “I don’t know about your practice, but in mine, people tend to just take what is said with a ‘ho-hum’ attitude regarding their marriage … unless you punch them in the gut with striking words.“
I chuckled as I told him that was exactly the experience I had it when he said the words “murder their marriages!”
I began by telling him that I thought sometimes the greatest weapons of destruction are the things that people are unwilling to do as much or more than acts of emotional violence.
I also shared that the greatest personal destruction I see in relationships are not always choices that are murderous to the relationship, like affairs, physical violence, incarcerations, etc.
The greatest distraction I see is when someone in a relationship knows what disturbs, hurts and/or wounds the other, and continues those behaviors regardless.
To his point of speaking distressing words to get their attention, I mentioned: “I often tell people that continuing to do hurtful things, while knowing they are damaging and destructive, is a very cruel act. Like watching their partner bleed out, knowing they will fade away… And continuing to do it anyway.”
It’s like passive aggressive murder.
Because I’ve known him since graduate school, and he knows that my mission is about finding solutions and doing healing in relationships… He told me he knew that this would have to be a two-part interview, because I could not possibly identify the problems without offering healing solutions.
He read my mind, or perhaps my pensive expression gave away my struggle.
Here are those things that bleed out relationships. Whether marriages, friendships, extended family or coworkers. (Tune in next week on how to turn this all around!)
One of the ways that couples (or anyone in any kind of relationship) create “bleeding out“ scenarios is with negativity.
Dr. John Gottman, who has done the greatest research on marital satisfaction in the past 25 years, has shown the real power in this concept.
We used to think that finances, in-laws, blending families and those sorts of things were the greatest problems with marital satisfaction. Of course those are all important issues to address.
But his research has clearly shown that marital satisfaction is directly tied to the number of negative comments and interactions between a couple.
It is quite normal in our current culture to speak to people in surly, sour tones. In his research, these tones, whether they are about one another (or the relationship) or not… they create a slow “bleed out” to the relationship.
Many times, when I share this with couples, they retort that they are so glad that there’s not much of that in their relationship. At least until I give them the checklist. Here is a short version of what I give them.
Negativity that undermines and bleeds out relationships consist of things such as:
- Negative talk around current news items
- Opinions about political issues that are controversy
- Complaining about workplace situation
- Focusing more on news, sports or other media than what the other is saying
- Rolling eyes
- Sighs of disgust
- Critical comments
- You always…
- You never…
- Pointing out mistakes (even minor things, like you dripped that on the floor)
- Neighborhood gossip
- Church gossip
- Friend group gossip
- Jumping into addressing issues without an appointment
- Not listening
The list goes on.
I recently challenged a couple to a zero negativity commitment until their next appointment. I defined that zero negativity meant only verbalizing things that were positive, requests for help, encouraging or uplifting. All to be done using TREKy talk.
TREKy talk is:
Telling the truth
They both agreed to the contract and thought it would be good to bring them closer together.
The next day, I received a text saying: “I guess we need an appointment because we’re not doing very well following this contract. We will be over our heads by the time our next appointment comes.“
Indeed it is a challenge, because it has become a habit and a way of living.
Please armor yourself with the understanding that negativity is an act of initiating the ““bleeding out”” to any relationship.
Dr. John Gottman found that there is a magic number. Couples who have one negative interaction for every five positive interactions are 90% more likely to remain married.
But the opposite is also true. Those who have a greater ratio of negatives to positives (2 to 5 negatives or more for every five interactions) are 90% more likely to become divorced.
The same is true for all relationships. Parent/child, friend to friend, any relationship. Keep your interactions to one negative or less for every five positive interactions if you desire a long and healthy relationship with the other.
Will you take the zero negativity challenge?
2. LACK OF PRESENCE AND QUALITY TIME
This is another slow “bleed out” to the relationship. Any relationship.
Research has linked this to all media (computer, cell phone, TV, social media, etc) and “keeping up with the Joneses.”
Media, whether cell phones, television, YouTube, Facebook, I-messages, emails … Are definitely time killers. Yes! They murder our time and inadvertently wreck relationships and murder marriages.
We are so busy with “busyness”, fake connections online, and keeping up with the Joneses … that we have little to no time left over for the relationships that we say are most important to us.
I had a couple in my office last week and she was commenting: “He is so distracted with work, which often involves his computer in one hand and cell phone in the other, sitting in front of the television … that he is ‘deaf dumb and blind’ to his wife and kids.”
Of course, he vehemently denied it.
The next weekend, he had already asked her three times when he was supposed to pick the kids up from a party they were attending. As was typical, computer on his lap, cell phone in his hand, and television blaring.
Out of curiosity, she set her cell phone up on a shelf just behind him and clicked record on her video.
Sure enough, two more times in the following eight minutes, he asked what time he was supposed to pick up the kids. She answered each time, and when he asked the third time… She grabbed her phone, hit play on the video and handed it to him and said: “The same answer I’ve been given given you multiple times, and so here is the recording so you can listen to it instead of asking again!”
They were both laughing as he proclaimed: “Busted!“
This is not uncommon and is a perfect example of allowing a relationship to bleed out.
I asked him if there was anything he could do to take at least an evening or two weekly to be present while away from work. And to do the same at least one day on the weekend.
He agreed to do so for the following week.
Sheepishly, he admitted that it was difficult, but that he enjoyed his wife and kids more than he had in a long time.
He also admitted to her, that he had fallen prey to having two BMWs in the garage because all the neighbors had them. And having his kids in so many activities, because all the other kids in the neighborhood were doing the same.
I suggested he sit the kids down and find out what they really desired. He was surprised to hear his 11-year-old son say, “Dad, sometimes I just want a day off. I don’t want to play on two soccer teams. Can I just choose one?“
Later he shared with his wife and I that not only was he causing his marriage to bleed out, but he was “bleeding out” his kids’ childhoods too.
What a great and honorable move on his part to create a sense of presence and quality time together with his wife and kids.
What about you. What can you do to truly be present with and spend quality time with the people and relationships that are truly important to you?
3. TAKING THE OTHER FOR GRANTED
Actually, better said … A lack of gratitude.
Lack of gratitude fuels taking others for granted.
I’ve heard it said that when you replace expectation for appreciation, relationships become rich.
Recently, I was working with a couple whose relationship had “lost its passionate edge” according to them. These are my favorite kinds of couples to work with, because things are not horrible, but they love one another so much that they take note of things not being as they both wish.
And it is important enough to do something about it!
After listening to their story, which was so sweet, I could see that expectation of what the other should or should not had become a damp cloth on their passion.
I gave them a simple homework assignment. I instructed, “This would not be sustainable long-term, but for one week, express gratitude/appreciation for everything you note that the partner is doing that is good… No matter how small.”
They looked a little perplexed so I explained: “If you see her taking your empty bottle water to the trash, just quickly say,“Thanks so much for getting that for me!”
Or if he mows the lawn, and it’s already a chore he’s agreed to, go ahead and tell him: “Thanks! The yard looks so nice!”
I said if you are together, there should certainly be 3 to 4 expressions of gratitude and appreciation every hour! They accepted the challenget.
When they returned the following week, he commented, “I think we got our ‘passionate edge’ back. With an emphasis on the passionate part!” Just returning to expressing gratitude got the mission accomplished!
Years ago, when I began to understand this concept, I made a personal commitment to myself to do my best when I was not alone to express 2 to 3 gratitude an hour.
I told one of my good friends I had made that commitment for myself, and she said: “Girl! You have lost your mind!”
Even though she loved the idea, her challenge made it an even greater commitment for me. The power in this small thing cannot be understated!
Whether your relationship is perfect, or on the brink of falling apart, I would like to challenge you to express 2 to 3 gratitude an hour when you are together.
And occasionally, one via text, email or a quick call when you’re not together!
Gratitude is the superglue to rich, strong connections in relationships.
4. NO HEALING PARTNERSHIP
Research clearly reveals that our issues and wounds come up in relationship. (When we are out of relationship, they go dormant).
I believe this is one of the reasons that people remain in relationships but have totally separate lives. I don’t believe it’s a healthy model, because it denies personal growth. However, it keeps issues and wounds dormant.
The reason I believe the understanding of healing partnerships is so crucial to every person, whether married or not … is that I believe it’s the greatest spiritual means of healing and connection. Inadvertently, whether intentional or unintentional, we will tap into and erupt the wounds of others. If we are versed in healing partnerships, we will realize that.
Rather than making critical comments like:
- He’s just an angry man
- She’s just over the top
- He is just an iceman
- She is overly sensitive
We are aware we’ve tapped into a wound or an issue. Likely not even one that we caused. Yet something we did or said brought it forward.
At that moment we have two choices:
- Pouring salt in the wound by saying things like I listed above
- Or choosing a moment of healing
What is a moment of healing? Instead of reacting, feel compassion and say something like this: “Hey, I see somethings going on with you. I would love to understand what I did or said to initiate this reaction? Can we talk? What can I do to help?”
TO NOT DO SO IS TO BEGIN THE BLEED OUT OF THE RELATIONSHIP.
Study healing partnership. (If you are unfamiliar with this concept, click this link to read more and find more here). Become a great healing partner. It will take any relationship out of ICU and turn it to a thriving, rich relationship.
5. POOR INVESTMENT HABITS
Relationships require regular, rich investments.
If you had an investment account with $100 in it, that had a $10 a month service charge … Failure to invest with leave you $10 in the hole by the 11th month.
Why on earth would we think that our relationships do not require investment to stay out of the red (bleeding out)?
- Investment of love
- Investment of care
- Investment of quality time
- Investment of presence
- Investment of pursuit
- Investment of enrichment
- Investment of good communication habits
- Investment of listening
- Investment of understanding
- Investment of discovering and meeting the other’s needs
- Investment of whatever it takes
Failure to invest will leave your relationships “bleeding out” and in the red.
In a fun sort of way, after presenting this sort of information, I often say to clients:
“All of your sins of practicing murderous deeds or failing to invest in the past are forgiven. Your slate is clean. I hope you will not return with red marks on your account, indicating that you are “bleeding out” your relationship.”
Relationships are meant to be rich and loving … a safe place where we can grow together, as we grow powerful relationships.
Are you able to be honest with yourself and assess whether these are things you are doing? And committed enough to make changes to nurturing your relationships?
I believe you do not desire to murder your marriage or ruin/wreck your relationships. Be honest with yourself, and courageous enough to stop these murderous, destructive choices and habits.
Join me next week as I share the five things you can do to heal any damage in any relationship.
You deserve rich, healthy and vibrant relationships!