Do you dismiss your hurt feelings in your marriage, thinking that time will heal?
Imagine putting 5 raw potatoes into a draw string bag and carrying the bag everywhere you go. During mealtimes, when you are at work, the bag must not leave you and you even need to sleep with it. You can take a peep at the potatoes and move them around in the bag. But you are not allowed to remove them from the bag.
After some time, you will probably notice a stench coming out of the bag. People around you will also alert you to the foul smell coming from the bag you are carrying.
Now, what would you do? Would you dump the entire bag, with the rotten potatoes, into the garbage bin?
Perhaps merely thinking of this scenario is enough to make you feel nauseated?
But what if I tell you this is an analogy for what happens when married couples accumulate their emotional hurts and wounds in marriage?
When wounded, most people slap on a band-aid that provides superficial relief in the short-term.
But as the offenses stack up and nothing is done to clear the air, some couples reach a tipping point and throw the baby out with the bath water. They end up at the family court or lawyer’s office.
Does your marriage have to end in this way?
Dealing with pain
Ponder the various hurts you may have accumulated in your marriage life. She criticised you in front of your family members. He forgot your wedding anniversary. She neglected your needs in favour of your newborn child. She compared you with her colleague’s husband. He did not help with chores around the house.
It is a laundry list of hurts – intentional or unintentional.
While there are serious issues such as adultery, spousal violence, addictions, or abandonment that often inflict enormous pain and require professional help, my focus in this article is on the common mistakes and choices that everyday couples make.
When a hurt occurs in our marriage, it is not uncommon for us to ignore or nurse the hurt or hold onto it with resentment or thoughts of revenge.
We often think burying the pain will somehow make it go away or secretly wish time will heal all emotional wounds. The unfortunate truth is, it does not.
Recognise that you and your spouse will say or do things that will offend each other during your life together.
What happens when hurts are not attended to
- When we leave conflicts unresolved and hurts unhealed, these may drive a wedge in the relationship. Avoidance will gradually lead us into an unhealthy zone, sometimes even resulting in “emotional divorce,” where one or both spouses check out emotionally from the marriage.
- You may not opt for divorce because of the children, cultural or religious convictions. But the relational and emotional disconnect between you and your spouse can widen, opening the door to increasing risks, such as an extramarital affair.
- Marriage does not exist in a vacuum, and the effects of these unresolved hurts can spill over to those who are closely related to us. Children are often the victims who suffer the ill effects of a troubled marriage.
Without forgiveness, it is almost impossible to cultivate a good marriage.
What can couples do?
- Recognise that you and your spouse will say or do things that will offend and hurt each other during your life together.
- Realise that both of you are equally responsible for the marital pain even though you may think you are the victim of your spouse’s insensitivity or unkindness.
- Be willing to make time to talk about the offenses and hurts instead of denying or dismissing hurt feelings.
- Develop a sensitivity to your spouse’s hurt feelings and learn to understand your own. This means discovering the causes of the hurt – unintentional or intentional. When we separate the problem from the person or view hurtful actions not as personal attacks but as a result of past baggage, it can make it easier to forgive.
- Extend forgiveness. The closer we are in a relationship, the more opportunities for hurt, thus forgiveness is a crucial element in a marriage. Without it, it is almost impossible to cultivate a good marriage. Remember that forgiveness benefits the forgiver much more than the one being forgiven. Nursing an offence will eat you from the inside and undermine your marriage, but by forgiving, you can experience a sense of profound peace.
- Nursing an offence and can often cause bitterness, and eat you up from the inside. Seek professional help if your emotional wounds run deep, and you are unable to heal on your own as a couple.
What can you do if your spouse is not willing or ready to address the relational hurts?
- Acknowledge your hurts and start your own healing journey
You may feel frustrated or disappointed if your spouse thinks there is nothing wrong with the marriage and you are the one having issues. Or he is closed to the idea of talking about your marriage. You wonder if it is possible to move the marriage in the right direction in this instance.
If this is true in your case, it is needful for you to pursue your own healing. As you work on yourself, you develop emotional and psychological resilience. And when you learn new ways and strategies to resolve marital conflicts, at best, your spouse may join you in this healing journey.
- Reach out to trusted mentors, friends or professionals for support
Going it alone can sometimes be daunting if there is a stockpile of grievances and resentment. Talking to and receiving encouragement from trusted friends and mentors can go a long way to facilitate your healing.
Every marriage relationship has its fair share of mistakes and selfishness that result in emotional wounds. It does not matter how much you love each other or how long you have been married, petty arguments and conflicts are inevitable. It is critical that you and your spouse acknowledge the hurts, past and present, instead of sweeping them under the rug. And be willing to make time to heal the hurts so that together you can rediscover the love and care you once felt for each other.
© 2022 Focus on the Family Singapore. All rights reserved.
If you are in a troubled marriage that includes abuse, addictions or violence, please seek professional help as soon as possible.
Swee Fen is an ordinary woman who desires to inspire others to make an extra-ordinary impact through her family life and life skills workshops, counselling training sessions and writing. You may connect with her at [email protected].
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