Karen's Side: I Tune Him Out
When John and I married, it was a dream come true for both of us. After both suffering from failed first marriages, we felt God had given us a second chance. We knew enough not to expect our lives to be perfect, but we certainly didn't expect to be miserable.
Yet just four months into our marriage, our past relationship struggles started popping up, which caused a lot of misunderstandings. It seemed we were arguing daily.
The situation reached a crisis one Saturday while we were driving home from shopping. John had been talking about something and I felt myself tune out.
When John pulled into our driveway and turned off the car, he said, "Karen, I'm trying to talk to you and you haven't heard a word I've said."
I told him I was sorry, then said, "I got distracted, but I heard part of what you said. Please start over. You have my full attention now."
But instead of starting over, John became frustrated and said, "I might as well wander off somewhere and disappear. You probably wouldn't even notice." Then he got out of the car and walked away angrily.
I was stunned and wasn't sure what to do. I felt hurt and angry. And I was tired of arguing constantly.
John's Side: She Won't Listen
That Saturday was the last straw. When Karen talks to me, I stop what I'm doing and listen to her. But she doesn't do that for me. Why is it so difficult for her to respect me by listening?
After I got out of the car, I went to our bedroom and sat on the bed, feeling lost and frustrated. The only thing I knew to do was to pray, "God, why is this happening?"
When Karen feels frustrated because of a stressful day at work, she comes home and withdraws—tunes the world out. That hurts me, especially when I want to connect with her.
Sometimes I can speak for several minutes before I realize Karen hasn't heard a word I've said. So when she did it again that Saturday, I felt abandoned and angry.
What John and Karen Did:
Karen wanted to work things out with John before their marriage fell apart. She sat in the car and asked God what to do. She felt a clear answer: Talk to John.
Karen went into their bedroom. When John saw her, he apologized for becoming angry. "I explained that some situations with Karen trigger bad memories for me," John says.
"That's when I realized what our problem was," says Karen. "We kept replaying bad mental tapes from our past relationships. We were bringing them into our marriage and they were crushing us. The old tapes represented old hurts that replayed in the present when triggered by certain situations, words, or actions."
Both John and Karen had grown up in alcoholic homes where verbal abuse caused them to feel abandoned. Their previous difficult marriages had only added to their insecurities.
"I learned to survive by tuning out during my parents' fights and years later by ignoring insults from my first husband," says Karen. "When John became angry, I'd retreat even more. It was a cycle that kept repeating itself."
John's method of survival was the opposite. He'd learned to stand firm and speak out.
As John and Karen talked about their feelings, they agreed not to stuff the messages on the old tapes but to discuss and pray about them. Instead of agreeing to disagree, they determined to uncover the problems and resolve them as they arose.
"Occasionally John has been critical of my decision making, especially if the results turn out badly," says Karen. "When I told him how that made me feel inadequate, he promised to be more supportive and trusting. We'd started a journey toward wholeness in our marriage."
To remind them of the hope they shared, they wrote out a Scripture verse and taped it to their bathroom mirror: "Those who hope in the Lord will renew their strength. They will soar on wings like eagles; they will run and not grow weary, they will walk and not be faint" (Isaiah 40:31).
They also sought Christian counseling, where they learned a communication game. The listener would describe the feelings and meaning of the speaker. If understood correctly, the speaker would say, "Bull's-eye." Then they'd reverse roles.
They also wrote a "Marriage Statement" to remind them of their first love in Christ and their commitment to each other:
- We recognize that Christ is the foundation of our marriage.
- We promise to pray for each other and study Scripture together daily.
- We agree to weekly meetings to discuss decisions, money matters, or anything that affects our future.
- We agree to confront any old tapes—and to erase them.
- We agree to take times out if a discussion becomes heated.
- We agree to sit down later, pray over the problem, and discuss it.
- We will count our blessings—making new tapes along the way.
John now says, "Over the years we've shared the good, the bad, and the outrageous. God turned our weaknesses into strengths. We've matured together in our faith and grown as individuals."
Karen agrees, "By being flexible and transparent, we've been able to set an example that's influenced our friends and family. They understand some of the obstacles we've overcome and that our victory is found in the faith, love, and hope we share in Christ. Those tapes now play new messages—ones that are joyful. I'm blessed when I hear John say, 'Karen, I love you more today than yesterday.'"
If you have a creative solution to a common marriage problem—or know a couple who does—let us know. We pay for each story that's featured in this column. Send the couple's name, phone number, and a short description of their problem and solution to:
Work It Out
465 Gundersen Drive
Carol Stream, Illinois 60188
Copyright © 2003 by the author or Christianity Today/Marriage Partnership magazine. Click here for reprint information on Marriage Partnership.