Blue Line

CLOSE TO HOME – Staying Together

March 31, 2016  By Rod Willems

797 words – MR

How to stay together without killing each other

by Rod Willems

In researching this article, I wasn’t encouraged when the first web site I encountered advertised, “Divorce rates $1,100. Don’t break the bank!” Not exactly what I intended.


Great marriages are hard work but marriage is the largest human relational investment. In Willard Harley’s Book, , the author compares marriage to a bank account. At the outset, spouses get to start with a high credit balance in their accounts. For every thoughtful act or gesture of love, credit is added to the account. Over time, conflicts build, life challenges hit, time together erodes, distance sets in – the balance is depleted. It’s very tough to make things work when the resources are drained.

Marriages can work, even if you may sometimes feel like killing each other – metaphorically speaking, I hope. Stay at it and make it work. It’s worth the effort.

{Communication is key}

Talk less, listen more. “Most people don’t communicate, we just take turns talking,” one author observed. It’s tempting to concentrate on comebacks rather than hearing what your partner is saying.

I have watched in amazement as police officers listen to reports and witnesses, remember details and collect information. You are capable of it. Use your listening skills for your life partner’s sake. It works on the job and it works even better for the one you love.

Be honest. In policing, there are things that need to remain unsaid, even to our spouses, but that is operational information. Holding back, keeping secrets and covering up messes, even when we think we are doing it to keep from hurting them, ultimately will come back and exact a very high cost.

Dishonesty and lack of trust is almost as devastating to a spouse as a sexual affair. Honest people don’t need good memories.

Keep investing. For many years, my wife and I would spend an hour together two mornings a week over a coffee and bagel at Tim Hortons. I know, lame date, but great connection time! It was how we stayed connected. We kept our credit in our account up just by talking stuff through together. Find what works for you.

{Conflict resolution is critical}

Life can often look like one big mess of unresolvable conflicts. Most of us hate conflict, but you can’t go around it. You have to work through it.

Clean up messes quickly: I often use the analogy of a garbage can. We all have one. We drag it around with us and when difficult issues hit, we try to stuff them into the garbage can to be dealt with later, preferably never. Eventually the can gets full. Often, the lid blows off, and that is not pretty. When things come up, deal with them. Clear them off.

Fight fair: Yes, we all fight. You’re not the only ones. The rule of thumb is one issue per fight. Sometimes, when losing an argument, it’s tempting to bring in reinforcement by raising a past conflict, especially if it wasn’t resolved. That’s not fair, and it’s not at all productive. Bring a second issue into the conflict and the complexity of resolution doubles. Deal with one issue. Clear it off. Never bring it back to a fight.

Own your responsibility: How often do we hear someone say, “I’m guilty.” Shocking to hear, isn’t it? It’s always someone else’s fault, right? Nope, especially in a marriage. If you did it, step up and own it.

Attack the issue, not the person: Do the words, “You always…” or “You never…” sound familiar? “You” language creates defensiveness. Identify the problem. “When this happens… this is how it affects me.” Give yourselves a chance to at least enter the conflict with some objectivity.

Stay with it: Resolving conflicts can take a lot of hard effort and certainly commitment to each other, but if you stay at it, you build resilience.

{Seek support}

One of the biggest lies we face in life is that we need to do it on our own. We were never meant to. All of us need support. We all need “corner people.” They will be honest with us and stick with us, even at our worst. Admitting that we need help and support may not sound “strong” but it is both strong and smart. You are protecting your most important relational investment.

Find a small circle of trusted people who will be honest with you; even brutally honest. Go outside the circle if more resources are needed. If you have a chaplain or spiritual advisor, talk to them. If you need more help, see a professional.

Almost everything is fixable. If you stay with it, and keep investing, you’ll make it work.

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