Living in a Glass House
As a pastor, do you feel like you lead a see-through life, almost like living in a glass house or a fishbowl? Your marriage, in particular, is under scrutiny, but you’re so busy helping your congregation that your own marital relationship may experience challenge.
Most people who work in leadership positions that involve their family, experience fear over failing to set an example, frustrations over lack of personal time with their spouse, guilt over unmet marital responsibilities, and uncertainty over what sustains a healthy marriage.
So let’s look at a huge issue that is often visible (and audible) to those who live outside your fishbowl.
Even as pastors and counselors, we are not exempt from idealism that shaped our hopes as we grew up with images of a fairy-tale marriage. The story instructed us to believe that marriage was simply a continuation of the fairy tale, a shadowy world were everything was always okay because these two were somehow, magically, perfectly matched. Somewhere along the way, we developed the idea that “happily ever after” more or less happened automatically after we got married. Of course the prince and his princess bride never disagreed, or fought, or cried, or stomped out of the house. But anyone who has had a long-term significant other knows that really, the biggest leap of imagination was that this beautiful couple lived “happily ever after.”
Conflicts and Arguments
First remember that differences of opinion are an absolute staple of any marriage, whether we like it or not. The ability to resolve those differences is therefore critical to the success of any relationship. While the phrase “conflict resolution” may arouse bad memories, do realize that for couples skilled at resolving differences, the sheer number of conflicts is minimized and damaging escalation is largely eliminated. And fortunately, it is a skill, something that you can make a choice to learn. Healthy marriages have some sort of conflict resolution plan in place with the couple willing and able to use it when conflict erupts.
Even though I love a good argument—when I include anger and tears, hostility and disrespect, sarcasm or silence—I am left feeling miserable. But on a more important point, arguing is one of the least effective ways of resolving conflict.
As Emotions Increase…
Central to understanding the ineffectiveness of arguing is to recognize one of the most foundational principles of personality psychology—that as emotions increase—the ability to think clearly decreases. Ouch. Learning to personally acknowledge, understand and fix this in my own life has represented a lot of work. I often remember my mother stating with exasperation, “Elizabeth, you would argue with a fence post.” Worse was when as an adult I harmed the relationships with those I loved because of my angry, argumentative tongue.
The trick, whether you are argumentative or not, is to work toward resolution of conflict when you are not in an emotionally aroused state. If it’s important enough to solve, it’s important enough to approach it from an objective, calm focused state. As you can expect, being able to back off a hot topic and approach it later requires practice and a good bit of self-discipline.
You can imagine my surprise when, on our lovely fall honeymoon trip riding the train from Alabama to Alberta, Darren got out a piece of paper and casually suggested that we work on a conflict-resolution plan. My first reaction was “Ick. This isn’t a romance topic for a honeymoon.” But, as he gently persevered in sharing its importance, we outlined a half page with stages, steps, and bullet points on our personal process. Now, when I think back to our honeymoon, in one of those peculiar tricks that memory plays, I can hear the clickety-clack of the train as it sped through the glorious colors of fall and still feel the almost tangible love that shimmered between us as we created an insurance plan for our future.
3 Compatibility Tips to create calm in your fishbowl:
- Be committed to changing those things about yourself that will harm your close relationships
- Create a conflict insurance plan that you both agree to work on and follow (it may need to include steps for what you do when the conflict begins in public as well as what you do when it begins in privacy)
- Practice, laugh at your mistakes, practice, hug, and recognize it is a long term process of improvement
To your forever ending,