You Don’t Understand the Impact

Be Prepared for Relationship Complexities

I know one couple that struggled with their marriage for over 15 years. They were about to get a divorce. They got to the point where they were willing to try anything.

For one weekend, they watched a DVD series on marriage. When they heard something that struck them, they paused to talk about it. They would ask each other, “Do you feel that way?”

When they finally realized the impact of their behavior on each other, they were able to see it from the other’s viewpoint. They started to take responsibility for their actions and started to work to change.

Their marriage changed in one weekend. They were finally willing to really listen to each other.

There is a change that happens when couples start to understand how their own actions impact their spouse. It might be that they start to understand their spouse’s filters and how things are misunderstood. It might be that they put down their defensiveness and try to see things through their spouse’s perception.

The pattern that I’ve seen is that people start out blaming, which leads their partner to be defensive. Some of that is the poor communication habit of criticism and blame. Learning new communication skills can help. When someone is able to speak with “I statements” instead of “you statements” the conversation starts to progress.

Once the poor communication habits start to decline, people are able to be softer and turn to their feelings and emotional triggers.

Once that happens, couples start to see the impact that they have on each other and how they are tearing down their relationship.

I’ve had this happen in my own marriage. My wife and I recently each received a bag of chocolates as a gift. I took both bags of chocolate and put them next to our bed (that’s where we keep chocolate). I finished my bag of chocolate before my wife finished hers. I didn’t think anything of it, and I opened her bag and took a piece. When she saw what I had done, she was upset.

There was a time in my marriage when I would have become defensive and told her that it’s only chocolate and we can buy more. I know from experience that this doesn’t go over very well. It leads to more escalation and, eventually, withdrawal.

I’m older and wiser these days. Instead, I asked her what caused her to be upset. She said that she felt I wasn’t respecting her. To her, it wasn’t about chocolate, it was about respect. I immediately apologized and told her that she was right.

I don’t want my wife to feel disrespected. Through a lot of practice, we’ve been better at understanding the impact of our actions on each other. Trust me, this has taken a lot of work to get to this point.

Do you see the pattern here? Michelle and I have been able to recognize our own conflict patterns. We know what doesn’t work. We know what leads to escalation. Now, we are quicker to focus on the impact on one another. We get to the deeper issues faster. When we focus on the hurt feelings, we are able to repair our connection much faster. We enjoy being more connected to each other.

How can we as mentors help couples through this process?

Part of it is going back to the motivation to change the poor behaviors. You can ask the couple questions. What would happen if you worked on less blaming and criticism? What would be the value to the relationship if you changed? Would there be less fighting? Would you have more fun together? Would you feel more connected?

Once the couple decides to change, then you can work on actions that decrease poor communication and actions that build positive momentum.

Most people won’t agree with how their spouse interprets something. We’re not saying that they don’t have the right to their own interpretation. It’s about understanding the impact, regardless of how much you agree with it.

Tips for Marriage Mentors:

  • Don’t take sides – The issue usually isn’t the issue. For example, it may not be about taking someone’s chocolates. It’s about respect. Your job as a mentor isn’t to decide the solution. Your job is to help the couple to be able to communicate the impact on one another. Why does that action decrease their connection?
  • Stick to the impact – Instead of focusing on solving the issue, focus on the impact to their connection. How does each person feel about the action? Is there a deeper emotional trigger?
  • Three steps forward, two steps back – Couples often start to connect and feel good about progress they have made. Then, they will slip and fall back into old patterns. They become discouraged. This “fall back” is a normal part of the process. We often explain that change is about learning from our mistakes and thinking about what we could have done differently to change the outcome.


Christian Mentoring Ideas

This series is about what makes marriage mentoring complex. As a marriage mentor, if you understand the types of challenges that you will see, it helps to not feel overwhelmed. We want to prepare you for common challenges.

Other posts in this series on relationship complexities that mentors will see:

Someone Doesn’t Want Help

This Is About That

A Behavior, by Itself, Isn’t That Harmful

There Are Multiple Behaviors to Change