My husband and I recently saw “Creed III” in the theaters. It was enjoyable and matched a similar pattern to the Rocky films (don’t worry, I won’t give spoilers). You know the pattern – a boxer having an internal crisis ends up working it out in the boxing ring.
That’s how I felt in affair recovery. Like I was in a constant battle. I mean literally – everything was a battle. The smallest things sparked a silly argument that turned into a huge fight. Can you relate? I remember being triggered by the things he’d say, how he’d say them, and what he didn’t say. He was the same – he was triggered by my tone, the look on my face, and the questions I’d ask. It was constant. And, it was exhausting.
In these “Rocky” franchise movies, I noticed that the actual boxing match wasn’t really about boxing at all. What was happening in the ring was really about something else (this new “Creed” movie is similar – again, no spoilers, I promise!). Take Rocky IV for instance (by far, the best, in my humble opinion). What these two boxers represented as they beat one another to a pulp, was the United States vs. the Soviet Union. It represented the tension between the two countries and how it didn’t have to be that way. Ultimately, it wasn’t about either boxer in the ring – it was a fight for the dominance of a country, and even peace.
Let’s take this to our own “fights” in the boxing ring. When we are in conflict with our spouse, how often is it really about the thing we think we are fighting about? What is really going on underneath?
Let me give you an example: Let’s say that my husband came to me and asked me, literally for the 5th time, what our plans were this Saturday. I, after sighing heavily, say, “Do you ever listen to me? I’ve told you four times already and you’re asking again? You NEVER listen!” He then shoots back, “Yes I do! You’re overreacting. I remember part of what you said, but I can’t remember everything. Give me a break. I’m busy, too, you know!” Then let’s say I shoot back examples that are seared in my PTSD brain of other times he “didn’t listen” with lengthy detail. Then, he gets defensive and tells me that he’s “never doing the right thing with me” “he was only trying to make sure he was prepared to do what I wanted to do Saturday” and “this is the thanks he gets.” And on, and on, and on. You get the picture.
How do we stop this boxing match before it gets to the level of Rocky IV? Taking this example, let me walk you through a strategy that helps us find what the underlying issue is and how we can be a team and tackle it together.
- Before you lace up your gloves, STOP. Together, identify what the actual issue is that you are about to fight over. In this case, the actual issue is that he is not retaining the information I’m sharing with him. And, I do not assume he’s doing this purposefully or that it’s a character flaw he has. It’s a problem to be solved.
- Then, together, tackle THAT issue. In the situation above, we’d brainstorm ways to ensure that calendar items that he needs to know about are recorded in a place where we both have access. Perhaps we get a physical calendar and we both use it to write down activities in which we are both participating. Or, we share a Google calendar. In other words, we solve the problem of “information retention” by strategizing a way that we can both be part of the solution.
- In this scenario, the key is to make the PROBLEM the problem and not the person. My husband wasn’t the issue – the problem was the lack of retention. Making him the problem is what puts us in the boxing ring every single time.
- Finally, we need to consider what’s living underneath that urge to be passive-aggressive, snarky, or harsh with our words. Most likely it’s hurt and the trauma that is imprinted on us. We are easily triggered, and therefore easily bothered by things that can be solved outside of the boxing ring. Part of our healing journey (and his) is to continue to work on ourselves so that we can step into a strategy like this in times of conflict.
I know how hard this strategy can be when our emotions are running high – and, chances are, emotionally, we may struggle to stop and actually team up with our husband. But, consider this: if we have chosen to stay and heal our marriage then we have chosen to partner with our spouse . . . to be a team in that effort. So, we tackle all of it together.