|Things That Muddle Marriages
by Chuck Roberts, MA, LPC
It stands out as one of the ugliest days of my life. I recall it in vivid detail, and I feel the wash of shame whenever I do. Susanne and I were in the early stages of our "really bad year." Our marriage was not going well, and on this particular day it was at its worst. We'd gotten up early on a Saturday morning to join friends on a workday at a home we often used for retreats. We weren't even out of town before we started in on each other. This day it was a no holds barred fight. I found myself screaming at my wife in ways I'd never imagined I'd speak to her, and shudder to think about now. And she shouted right back at me.
What had gone wrong? Why was a marriage we'd thought was good suddenly crumbling down around us? Dan Allender, in his book The Intimate Mystery, identifies three things that "muddle" marriages: past baggage, contempt for differences, and failure to grow. Allender says that courtship is typically a time of great deception, that is, that we withhold parts of ourselves, especially things in our stories for which we feel shame, and we tend to offer what we hope will win the heart of the one we're dating. Yet after we're married the baggage finds its way to its owner, and the unsuspecting spouse must also pay the freight.
Allender suggests that we also display contempt for differences, some that have to do with personal preferences, and some that have to do with gender differences, things that men and women see and experience differently. Rather than valuing the differences for the ways they enrich our lives, we tend to hold to our preferences as "the right way." Finally, Allender points out that many marriages suffer from a failure to grow. Our marriages don't improve just because we get older, we must be purposeful in growing the marriage and as individuals.
Susanne and I were guilty of all three. We had baggage, some of which we'd kept hidden, and some that, frankly, we didn't think of as baggage, but affected the way we related. We'd grown contemptuous of our differences, and we'd coasted along in our relationship, rarely giving thought to how we could grow it. Thankfully, God healed our marriage through wise counseling and a good community of friends who walked with us through the ugliness. This led to repentance and a deeper commitment to God, both individually and as a couple.
If you're struggling, whether in your marriage or individually, we at the Center for Biblical Counseling would like to journey with you toward healing and wholeness.
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