My kids like to watch a TV show called Oscar’s Oasis. It features Oscar, a little gecko, who is always fighting a trio of predators over the same object. The conflict comes because they want different things, e.g., the predator group wants an umbrella to serve as a satellite but Oscar is trying to use it for shade. Another episode shows Popy, the leader of the predators, attempting to protect and save a tire full of soda cans, Oscar is trying to sneak one or two for consumption. A third example shows Popy displaying three beautiful flowers for decoration; Oscar tries to steal it to use for wooing a female gecko.
Marriage can be like that, too, when we’re both assuming we want similar things but missing the actual desire of our spouse’s heart and/or motives. When we bump up against problems, it’s important to have skills to communicate and resolve concerns with each other so we can continue to function on the same team rather than feel pitted against one another.
In Dr. John Gottman’s book, the Seven Principles for Making Marriage Work, he teaches us how to sort out our grievances into two tidy camps: Perpetual or Solvable problems.
Perpetual problems are ones that remain; even as the couple ages, their problems do not. For example, Amy grew up in a large family and they were taught to be savers and frugal. She married a man who was raised in a home where gift giving was the way they showed love; so he felt most at home at a shopping mall. These problems will continue to exist perpetually unless the couple talks through it and completely understands each other and makes plans together to achieve a new behavior that will satisfy them both.
Solvable problems aren’t consistent, they’re things that come up that the couple can work on together and have resolution without recurrence. Perhaps the wife has been needed by church members to plan and put on the Christmas program for the year. Things might start sliding at home that directly impact her husband, but they can work together and by mid-December, those problems will be in the past.
Meme retrieved from http://www.ldsliving.com/Top-40-Conference-Memes/s/75467
An important element of solving either kind of problem is forgiveness. I grew up in a home, as I mentioned in earlier posts, where the four horsemen had their own stalls. As a child I felt flooded often and felt the need to retaliate and lash out to be heard. If someone owed an apology, we’d give it eventually, but first we had to make the person suffer with mean looks and demeaning comments and then over time, restore the camaraderie.
My husband taught me to freely forgive. I was completely unprepared for how beautiful it can be. He would apologize and that would vindicate my pride and I would hold it over him and he gently taught that there was no need for me to still be angry if I would forgive him. He says, “I forgive you, of course,” whenever he hears an apology, and he’s sincere! I learned to say the same thing, to say, “you’re right, I’m wrong, I shouldn’t have done that.”
Photo credit: hang_in_there / Foter / CC BY
This past summer my sister had a grievance with me and she took me aside to “chat” and started laying into me. I hadn’t experienced that kind of confrontation in over a decade. So my response of, “you’re, right, Hannah, I shouldn’t have done that, I’m sorry” completely shook her. Her eyes widened and her head went back three full inches while her eye brows shot up into her hairline. She literally didn’t know what to say. She quickly recovered and repeated her grievance and I apologized again. We were interrupted, but it was comical for me to see my sister react that way. She ended up calling me a few months later to apologize for her behavior, and I met her with our, “I forgive you, of course,” and she said, “No, you’re supposed to make me grovel and be in pain and suffer first – I have to suffer!” and I taught her what forgiveness means and looks like and she just wept.
The power of forgiveness allows our hearts to not shrivel or be stifled in mortality but to expand and allow more of Christ’s light in. In Gottman’s book he has the spouse receiving the apology say, “thank you,” we’d always (eventually) said, “that’s okay.” We teach and practice the forgiving response so we can be familiar and comfortable with what’s happening – a repentance and an immediate forgiveness. This one principle has probably blessed me the very most in our marriage because making mistakes becomes safe, being wrong is okay, and accepting someone else when they’re in that spot is appropriate.
Especially in our marriages, we need to practice problem solving and forgiveness along the way. Doing this allows us to continue to choose happiness and to progress; it’s how we continue to choose each other.