“There’s just so much sewage under our bridge, I think you’ll agree this marriage is dead!”
He had read my blog the week before: “Don’t Murder Your Marriage or Wreck Your Relationships.”
And in that context, his next sentence will make sense: “I may have murdered it or wrecked it myself. But it sure seems that it cannot be resurrected.”
I’m a big believer that (outside of abuse or unusual circumstances), any relationship can be healed. But there is one big prerequisite… And that is that apart from a miracle from God (which I also believe in…), both people have to become a part of the healing process.
“So if there was a way, because there is a way, would you both be willing to roll up your sleeves, dive in over your head into unfamiliar territory, and heal your marriage?”
I saw what I normally see when I say these kinds of things to couples. A perplexed expression that appears to be a brain struggle between what all has gone down and a tiny spark of hope.
“I would truly love to believe that was possible. I mean that sincerely. But we have no idea where to start, and we’ve tried a lot of things.”
I bet you understand exactly what he was saying. Many couples who have been together for any period of time find themselves in this position.
Although the divorce rate in the US is steady at this moment, divorces for people 40 and above are on a strong rise. Over 750,000 couples divorce every year.
Fewer couples than ever in our history are choosing marriage. Although the vast majority say it’s to avoid being one of the statistics, that is not ultimately the answer.
The answer is in:
- Attending to the relationship immediately when challenges arise. Yes, even the small ones.
- Getting help when independent option (books, talking it through, etc.) are not producing the desired results
- Rolling up your sleeves and doing the work when things get really difficult. The kind of work that I will be sharing over the next few weeks. (Instead of leaving the partner, keeping the problem and finding yourself in a similar situation in the next relationship).
Here are the five things that will resurrect any relationship where two people are not only willing to, but committed and deeply devoted to, making the relationship more fulfilling and richer than it has ever been.
I. CHANGE THE ATMOSPHERE AND CULTURE OF YOUR RELATIONSHIP (AND YOUR HOME)
II. JOIN HANDS AND BECOME PARTNERS … HEALING PARTNERS
III. DREAM TOGETHER ABOUT THE RELATIONSHIP YOU WANT, LISTEN WITH YOUR MICKEY MOUSE YEARS ON, AND TAKE THE BARRICADE OFF YOUR HEART.
IV. TAKE RESPONSIBILITY FOR WHO YOU ARE IN THE RELATIONSHIP AND TAKE MASSIVE IMMEDIATE ACTION TO CORRECT AND/OR IMPROVE IT
V. DEVOTE 30 TO 40 MINUTES EACH EVENING FOR HEALTHY COMMUNICATION, AND GRATITUDE FOR PROGRESS
Because none of these steps are quick and easy solutions, and probably don’t mean what you think… I will devote a week to each of them this week and over the next four weeks.
Before you find yourself thinking: “That’s just too much work. If it requires all of that, it wasn’t meant to be. Or it’s not worth it!”
Let me encourage you with this: If you failed to do regular maintenance on your vehicle for four or five years and your engine failed … you would have to either have the engine replaced, or perhaps trade it in. It would require some time (and lots of money) either way.
But you wouldn’t likely just abandon it on the side of the road. Why would you abandon a relationship that you once treasured, just because you failed to do the regular maintenance? I promise you … it CAN be resurrected!
I will begin today with the atmosphere and culture of your relationship, which will intertwine with the culture of your home.
I. CHANGE THE ATMOSPHERE AND CULTURE OF YOUR RELATIONSHIP (AND YOUR HOME)
Much is being said and written about the culture of a company. How much more important is the culture of our homes?
Five signs of poor company culture:
- Lack of two-way, healthy communication
- Rules are rigid and difficult to follow
- Relationships are strained and there are no means of conflict resolution in place
- Employee turn over is high
What about the culture in your marriage/relationships? Is there:
- Lack of healthy communication?
- Expectations that are unspoken and difficult to fulfill?
- Relationship strain with no means of healthy conflict resolution?
- Do you have a history of leaving, instead of working through relationship issues?
The atmosphere and culture of your home environment (as well as your work environment, and the environment/culture in your friendships) actually informs your brain how to “be” in your relationships.
I have a great example, from a teenager that I have been working with. She was very suicidal when her parents brought her to me.
We took the urgent action needed to keep her from harming herself, and then begin to work on the roots of her depression and anxiety.
In crisis mode, she had made a comment that I tucked away for a later time. She had said, “I just hate being at home. I would rather be at my best friend’s home any time then in our house.“
Of course, part of that is just being a teenager. I did not miss that she called her friend’s home a “home,” but labeled hers a “house.” I knew it a later time, I would revisit that statement.
After the crisis, and some great work on her part (and significant progress was made) we were preparing to do a family session. I thought it would be a good time to revisit what she had said. I asked her if she had visited her friend’s home lately, and with a beaming and bright smile she said she had.
I asked her what was different about the atmosphere or the culture in that home from hers. By her expression, I knew she had not yet considered that.
She started slowly, saying some interesting things. Together, we made note of several things, from a very long list, that we might address in the family session:
- Their atmosphere was light, uplifting and encouraging. (Opposed to her house that felt heavy, sour and argumentative).
- There was laughter and fun conversation throughout their home. (Opposed to barking voices, arguing and snapping in her house).
- There were open and honest conversations and a sense of working together to for resolutions (Opposed to lectures, ignoring one another and constant arguing at her house).
I coached her into understanding that painting her friend’s home as ideal would probably not be very helpful. She agreed.
I asked if she was aware she called her friend’s home a “home” and her home a “house”? She was totally unaware, and tearful when I pointed it out. We agreed that she would refer to her “house” as a “home.”
I helped her formulate her desires into positive, specific behavior change requests for the family session. The session was very productive (after a small rodeo to rope and tie the denial, justifications and excuses.) LOL!
Interestingly enough, she had visited her friends home prior to the family session and made some additional notes, and had written some additional positive, specific behavior change requests.
She began her requests with great wisdom: I would like to share my view of what would make our “house” a “home.” She drew the family in, and they all gave their input on turning their “house” into a “home.”
Ultimately, they rewrote the culture of their home.
The great work she did helped me to outline how to encourage couples and families to revamp and revitalize the culture and atmosphere in their relationships and homes.
These are the questions and areas that I recommended to the couple who thought their marriage was dead. Hopefully you will examine them yourself!
1. WHAT TONES OF VOICE ARE PREVALENT IN YOUR HOME?
Yes! Tone matters. A lot as a matter of fact!
Certainly, what we say matters. This piece of ancient wisdom informs us how important our words are.
If anyone can control his tongue, it proves that he has perfect control over himself in every other way.
We can make a large horse turn around and go wherever we want by means of a small bit in his mouth. And a tiny rudder makes a huge ship turn wherever the pilot wants it to go, even though the winds are strong.
So also the tongue is a small thing, but what enormous damage it can do. A great forest can be set on fire by one tiny spark. And the tongue is a flame of fire that poisons every part of the body.
And the tongue can turn our whole lives into a blazing flame of destruction and disaster. Men/women have trained, or can train, every kind of animal or bird that lives and every kind of reptile and fish, but no human being can tame the tongue.
It is always ready to pour out its deadly poison. Surely this is not right!
Not to diminish the importance of our words … but to highlight the importance of tone. Tone has even greater impact than words on relationships. If words can create a blazing flames of destruction and disaster … what devastation can our tones cause?
This research says that anything other than uplifting tones in a marriage create a 74% greater risk of divorce. This research, conducted at the University of Utah and the University of Southern California also showed that tone was a greater predictor of marital success and/or failure then the opinions of counseling professionals.
You can evaluate AND CHANGE the tones of voice prevalent in your home.
Here is small check list to determine if changes need to be made. If any of these occur more than twice a day on average, place a check mark by the item.
- Condescending tones
- Eye rolling
- Mumbling to one’s self
- Angry statements
- Outbursts of anger
- Raised voices
Three or more of these indicated significant need for a revamping of your family culture.
How on earth do you do that?
Together, as a couple, honestly discuss the culture of the home with no blaming, no percentage assigning (well you’re the cause of at least 80% of this). In addition, no justifying, explaining or denying.
Then begin sharing what you would like the tone of your home to be. Come up with at least three descriptors. Then make a fun plan for implementing.
For example, the couple I mentioned with “too much sewage under their bridge” came devoted to working diligently on resurrecting their marraige.
In addressing the new tone they desired to be the hallmark of the culture of their home, these are the three descriptors they chose:
Their implementation plan was to sit with their kids, and for each family member to choose the voice of a great person, great cartoon character, or someone else to imitate for the entire weekend.
The husband chose the voice and fun tone of Donald Duck. She chose the tone and voice of Anna, the optimist, from the movie Frozen.
It was challenging since every word spoken was supposedly to be in character. But they both said it made them amazingly aware of the tone in their home.
What is the tone in your home? Does it help you resurrect your marriage? Or put it 74% at risk?
Decide on your three descriptors of the tone you desire… And have fun taking on a character for the weekend.
Your marriage is worth whatever it takes to resurrect it!
2. IS THE OVERALL CONTENT AND ATTITUDE OF CONVERSATION AND COMMUNUCATION UP LIFTING OR DISCOURAGING?
Most of us communicate at home just the way our Owner’s Manual set us up to communicate.
What is an Owner’s Manual? It’s how you behave, what you do, what you believe. And all of that was installed (by your parents and early caregivers) securely on your hard drive by the time you were seven or eight years old.
If there was snapping, harsh words, arguments, criticism in your home growing up… That is likely how you will communicate in your home (unless you choose to do otherwise, which I would love to help you do…).
However, your tone, words and attitudes are thrown into a blender with the type of communication and tones of conversation that your partner experienced and had installed in their Owner’s Manual.
If their home was filled with laughter, kind words, inspiring and encouraging communication … They will likely begin communicating like that in the home.
Put those two histories in a blender, and voila! You have a mixture of both. Which might be great or might be terribly negative. It might be kind, or terribly mean. Rarely is it neutral.
What we don’t realize is that the more discouraging words spoken, the more it eats away at the love, respect and admiration in the relationship. That might not seem awful if only a few discouraging words are spoken daily … but each interaction eats away at the love.
“Discouraging words” it’s just a catchphrase for things such as:
- Accusatory comments
- Pointing out faults
- Disrespectful disagreement
- Demeaning words
- Speaking doubt over your partner
Research around “discouraging words” is profoundly illuminating. It shows that when “discouraging words” are spoken throughout the day on a consistent basis, the couple is 90% more likely to end up divorced.
Similar studies indicate that all relationships with a theme of “discouraging words” are likely to either end dramatically or fade away (bleed out).
The reasons given for the power of discouraging words are:
- They devalue
- They make one the “judge” and the other lesser
None of us likes either of those feelings.
Whatever the nature of the words being spoken in your home, you can change them! And my hope and prayer for you is that you will. For your sake, for your partner’s sake. And for the sake of the relationship.
I do several things to coach couples through initiating this change in words spoken (from discouraging to inspiring or uplifting):
- Make a zero negativity contract.
- Write a letter to the other about the kinds of words that they would like to have spoken to them, followed by the kinds of words they would like to speak to their partner with.
- Read those out loud. They are often very moving sessions.
- Commit to one another to speak to one another as requested, and to guard against any “discouraging words.”
- Set up a 30 to 45 minute check in daily to ask the other:
- “How am I doing with the tone and the words I am speaking to you with?”
- “How uplifting are my words?”
- While listening, the other simply reflects, and thanks the other for sharing.
- Then they switch roles. Those kinds of check ins when handled with emotional maturity and relationship maturity, breathe life back into a dead marriage.
Usually we speak discouraging words when we ourselves are discouraged, and it begins a spiral down word in each of us … as well as in the relationship.
However, erasing the discouraging word based communication and beginning an uplifting communication system breathes hope and life back into any marriage.
Do the exercise above with your partner. You will be amazed at how effective it is!
It takes being present, intentional and determined. But you can do it, and you can see the miracle!
3. IS YOUR HOME … AND ARE YOU …INVITING, WELCOMING AND WARM?
One of the best ways to assess this is to ask yourself this question:
When my spouse comes home from work, from grocery shopping, or from any occasion or chore… How do I usually greet them?
Do you create an inviting and warm welcome? Do you greet them with a smile and a true curiosity: “How was work (chore or shopping,etc)?” (With an uplifting tone?)
Or do your eyes never leave the sport you are watching?
And when they have been grocery shopping, and you know there is a car to be unloaded, do you get up to help?
Or ignore it? Or do you grunt about waiting until half time when asked?
Moment to moment, we are either inviting our partner in, welcoming them into our life and into relationship with us, and warmly inviting them closer.… Or NOT! Do not let yours be a “NOT!”
I am aware that when your marriage is in ICU, it’s not always easy to be welcoming, to be warm, to be inviting.
However, when we become intentional about that, and do it consistently, it re-creates and restores love.
How can you be inviting? Walk toward your spouse with open arms and a warm smile.
How can you be warm? By looking them in the eye and saying something sweet, kind and affirming.
How can you be welcoming? By inviting them to come and sit with you. By being helpful with any tasks they are completing. So you can have time together. By expressing gratitude, and telling them how much you enjoy their presence.
Anyone confronted by sincere inviting and warm welcomes will melt eventually.
Lay down the past, and step into inviting, welcoming, and extending warmth. Once the marriage has resurrected, old challenges can be addressed and healed.
Don’t bury your marriage or your relationships. Call them back to life. The resurrection will be powerful.
4. IS YOUR HOME SAFE?
When I ask couples this question, they all begin to tell me about their fire alarms, carbon monoxide detectors, security cameras, etc. When they finish I ask the question again:
Is your home safe?
One of the things that can resurrect almost any situation is to make your environment safe.
Of course, I want it to be safe from fires and carbon monoxide and intruders.
But it’s even more important to keep it safe emotionally.
Drs. Harville and Helen Hendrix have put together a program that has gone global. It is called “Safe ConversationsÔ.”
Their slogan is this:
“Safe conversations empower you to talk without criticism, listen without judgment, and connect beyond differences.”
In addition they say:
- Any relationship can be transformed
- Conversations have the power to change the brain
- Joy filled relationships are possible
Basically, it’s an entire new way of communicating. You can get more information by clicking here.
It basically teaches a safe way to share, by using gratitude, reflection, validation and empathy.
When we feel safe in a relationship, we can share our secrets, dream together, share our true feelings and open our hearts.
Without that safety, walls build.
I encourage couples to ask themselves if they feel “safe” in the relationship. Usually couples respond that they feel safe in some ways and unsafe in others.
For all marriages, but especially for marriages and relationships that need to be raised from the dead, a safe environment is absolutely crucial.
I ask couples to write some notes about what would make them feel safe, or safer. And to write some desired behaviors from the other that would create that safety.
Then I have them share those in a session. One person shares at a time and the other reflects what they are hearing.
I have the person sharing say: “These are the things that would make me feel safe/safer.”
But with no criticism or judgment, the other partner reflects and validates.
With the couple that came to me, worried that their marriage was dead, this exercise was a real turning point.
She began to share with him what would make her feel safe/safer:
- If he would be cautious to keep personal things she shared between them.
- If he would be willing to hear her feelings and attempt to understand them.
- If he would use a tender voice when they experienced disagreements.
- If he would limit any names that he called her to endearing names.
- If he would sit with her until the conversation was over, or ask for a break if he needed one.
Then I had him say this sentence to her: “I deeply desire for you to feel safe in our relationship. I will make note of all of these things, because even though they might be difficult for me, you deserve to feel safe.”
When he said those words to her, the tenderness I had not seen her display toward him previously was apparent. He too was moved by the tenderness.
When it was his turn, he folded his paper, and looked at her with great compassion, and said: “I am aware now that I have made this relationship a very unsafe place for you. I would feel safe just seeing that tenderness that I just experienced. That’s all I need to feel safe. So, the work is up to me. I did the murdering of our marriage. And I will resurrect it and make our relationship safe.“
It was a tender moment. The miracle occurred. The relationship resurrected.
Is your relationship safe? If not, do the same exercise with your partner. You will see your resurrection.
Next week I’ll be back with the second thing you must do to resurrect your marriage. But don’t wait until then to get started.
Hopefully you he’ll have already experienced your resurrection. But stay with me. You can follow the next few weeks in order to help others!
Resurrection as possible. Breathe life back into something that was dead by changing the culture of your relationship and home! It sets up your miracle!