As Jeff turned his car into the neighborhood after another long dreary, commute, his already tense neck and shoulders drew even tighter as he envisioned walking in the door and having to deal with his wife, Sandy. “It will be another long night of hearing her litany of criticisms, all the things I’m not doing that I should be doing, and all the ways I’m not being the dad I should be,” he thought. “She’ll go on and on about her day, not missing a single solitary, inane detail about God knows what. And she’ll probably rehash yesterday’s argument over how I didn’t load the dishwasher correctly. I can’t believe this is what my life has come to! I knock myself out from sunup to sundown at a job I don’t even like, and I never hear any appreciation from her for all the things I do for her and our family. All she does is complain, complain, complain.”
Jeff and Sandy’s story may be painfully familiar. Life can be difficult at times, and it can put stress on a marriage, and even good ones have to resist falling prey to the lies that suck the hope right out of your relationships.
If you reread Jeff’s thoughts above, he’s pretty much accepted them as fact, when in reality, they are just his perceptions. And yes, they are real perceptions, and his feelings about his relationship with his wife are equally real.
In many cases where one or both partners have lost hope in the goodness and fulfillment of their relationship, it’s because lies have crept in to steal the joy they once shared. Here are three big lies that find their way into your thoughts, and more importantly, the truths that will set you free from the grip of the lies.
Lie #1: Things won’t change.
I call this the future lie. When the momentum is going in a bad direction and has been for some time, this lie is easy to buy. Change happens all around us, every day. It’s nearly impossible not to change, because change is part of life. While it does take work and intentionality to reverse the negative momentum, it can and does happen.
Think about this- if you make one change, even a small one, your partner will have to change, because you went off the familiar script.
Truth #1: Things won’t always be this way.
Yes, the present truth may be that things are tough in the moment or in this season, and it will not always be this way. You won’t let it remain so. You will do something to soothe or heal the pain, in some way or another, at some point. Situations change, people change, life is about change. Let the change of seasons remind you that things will not always be the same. You may need to repeat this truth to yourself often to stay centered and not allow the lie to steal your hope.
Lie #2: Too much has happened.
I call this the past lie. Many people in my counseling office feel as if the weight of their past, with its sorrows, hurts and disappointments is too much to overcome. Their residual crud has blocked out the memory of the goodness that was equally a part of their relationship story, and when they remember, they forget the good and fixate on the bad. Because we’re human, what we focus on gets bigger, and there’s no escaping that reality. The challenge is to let go of what’s happened, and it’s much easier said than done for most. Just as a pattern of forgetfulness of all the good has set in, a new pattern of forgetfulness of the bad can be created with some effort.
Truth #2: I can find a way to let go and keep my past from ambushing my present.
This is a hard truth for many people to accept. The frequently surfacing pain from a less than stellar childhood experience, or the difficulties you faced as a couple during a tough time in your relationship may seem like it’s nearly impossible to shake. It can happen, because many have done so. Likely we all know of someone who has a sad and even horrific mark on their lives, and yet they have found a way to not allow it to define them or their marriage. Couples overcome infidelity, couples let go of hurtful memories, couples move past mistakes to grow and heal. It does happen, and it can happen to anyone who wants to see it happen.
Lie #3: We can’t fix it- we’ve tried everything!
I call this the present lie. We’re stuck and we can’t do anything about it! This is a helpless feeling for those caught in this lie. Lots of concerted effort and energy gets invested by both parties in improving the relationship, and for some reason it just doesn’t pay off. If a partner was frustrated before, the frustration is even greater when their efforts to make the relationship better or to reconnect with their spouse fails to hit the mark and produce the results they hoped for. This sounds like the definition of “stuck” to me, seemingly unable to move forward in any positive way.
Truth #3: Just because you’ve tried everything you can think of, doesn’t mean you tried everything.
I stole this line from a heroine of mine, fellow therapist Michelle Weiner-Davis, a leader in the relationship repair field. I invite you to check her out at DivorceBusting.com. Oftentimes a visit to the right counselor can produce a solution or two rather quickly that helps get the couple unstuck and on the way to healing, as one brighter day is followed by more brighter and more fulfilling days. If YouTube has taught us anything, it’s that we don’t know it all. There are a lot of great relationship resource out there that you may not yet know about.
Did you know that the human subconscious mind cannot distinguish the difference between a truth and a lie? It merely takes in information, and we assign it value. What I love about truth is it will win out. Sometimes I just wish it would be self-evident a little more quickly! A lot of what I lead clients to do in the process of counseling is to be willing to examine their thoughts, and “clean their think tank”. It’s amazing how many lies get in there, and we aren’t aware until our life choices become painful.
So, if you’re reading any of these three lies and feel like if you’d have more hope if you got out of your marriage, consider this. Linda Waite, a University of Chicago researcher, discovered that 80% of people who rated their marriages “unhappy” in a national survey, when asked five years later, ranked it “happier.” Of the couples that rated their marriages “miserable” (2%), about 77% rated them as “very happy” five years later.
It’s true there’s no way to predict your future, but you can pretty well predict with a high degree of certainty what will happen if you keep doing what you’ve been doing. Try something different and give it a shot. Hang in there. Squash the lies by cleaning your think tank and focusing on the truths. See what happens.
Rev. Greg Griffin is a Board Certified Pastoral Counselor and Forgiveness Coach in private practice in Marietta, GA. His specialty is relationship repair and rescue- helping partners, spouses, and parents and their adolescents. He’s also the author of Dungeon Times Survival Guide, and Vital Faith.