Each week the trash truck hauls off the debris you accumulate in your home and most of us rarely if ever think about it again. (Perhaps we should!) Your marriage has accumulated debris too. Some try to stuff it or ignore it. Others try to dump it on their spouse. But your spouse is not your garbage can. What do you do with the trash your marriage has accumulated?
You each brought old stuff into the marriage that irritates and wounds each other and limits the intimacy and connection between you. You misunderstand each other and your old hurtful ways of coping come out and hurt each other again. You’re certain your spouse fails you, and you fail your spouse.
If you don’t deal with such marriage debris it will begin to stink like an overflowing trash can. It may already be stinking. Neither stuffing it nor dumping it on your spouse will work. So what can you do to deal with the trash your marriage accumulates?
Safety vs. Dumping
You want your marriage to be safe. It should be safe. Having to walk on eggshells in your own home is exhausting and toxic. When you were dating you kept your trash hidden, but that doesn’t last long once you get married. Now no one else knows you as well as your spouse, warts and all. Home should be a place where you can be yourself, where you can be seen and known.
But I’ve talked with some spouses who believe their husband or wife should just “take” whatever they dish out. They expect their spouse to be the container for all their bad stuff. “I’m just emotional; he knows that.” “I’m not hiding anything. I tell her when I fall into porn.” Once they “let it out” they don’t feel responsible any longer. That’s not safety; that’s dumping.
Dumping puts a burden on your spouse that’s destructive. If you’re looking to your spouse to deal with your trash you’re not being transparent; you’re being immature and manipulative.
Some people will hear that as a call to bury problems, ignore hurts, and keep their emotions and problems to themselves. Far from it. Developing a healthy relationship requires you to invite your spouse into the deepest places of your heart. It also requires you take responsibility for the impact you have on others, and that you deal with your stuff.
What’s it Like to be Married to Me?
95% of people who reach out to me about marriage problems place the blame on their spouse. And some marriages are toxic. But it’s so refreshing when someone says something like, “I keep hurting my spouse, and that’s devastating to me. I need some help to change me so I can be the person God needs me to be to my spouse.”
This is not about gathering condemnation on yourself or wallowing in self-contempt. Instead, it’s looking at the only part of the marriage you can really do anything about; yourself. It’s owning your stuff and making the choices you can make. There are good things you bring to the marriage and also things God needs to change in you if you are to be successful. That’s why I believe every marriage is primarily a laboratory in which to learn to love well.
Intentionally get out of your own head long enough to imagine the world through your spouse’s eyes. What’s it like to be married to you? Are you expecting your spouse to read your mind, or to meet all your needs? Is your old baggage leaking out in how you treat them? If you were your spouse, would you want to come closer to you?
Your Spouse’s Garbage
Yes, your spouse has “stuff” too. What they brought to the marriage from their family of origin and their past experiences impacts their style of relating. Their default ways of handling issues may be stuffing it, exploding, trying to manipulate, or falling apart, and that affects you.
Dealing with the trash your marriage has accumulated means you start with looking at your own stuff, but you don’t ignore your spouse’s stuff. You address their bad behavior if needed. You are curious about your spouse’s old wounds. In a healthy marriage you express how your spouse’s “junk” affects you and work with your spouse in a process of change.
Dealing with Your Garbage
So how do you deal with the trash your marriage has accumulated without dumping it on your spouse? A few key ideas.
Own Your Stuff. Take some time to answer the question, What’s it like to be married to me? No excuses, no blaming your spouse, and no condemnation; this is just you and God being honest. Ask God to show you how He sees you. What old junk did you bring into the marriage? This is not about blaming yourself; some of your bad behavior may be from old wounds you’ve accumulated yourself. Most of us have to keep being reminded to look in the mirror.
Apologize. When you see how your junk has negatively impacted your spouse, apologize specifically. This is NOT enough in itself, but you cannot move forward until you take this step. Don’t blame your spouse for your reactions or bad behavior; own it and apologize.
Change. Here’s where the rubber meets the road. This is not white-knuckling it, simply saying “I’ll do better.” Getting honest about your own stuff can be painful, and now comes the ongoing work of actually becoming a different person.
Yes, in order to have a successful marriage you will have to become different. You will have to get under the surface of the junk in your soul and let Jesus into the places you’ve wanted to keep Him out of. You’ll have to deal with your old traumas and learn new mindsets and skills. You will have to engage in an ongoing process of transformation from the inside out. It may be very uncomfortable. You are likely to need some outside help. But there’s no other way.
Ongoing Garbage Pickup
You may need some help to work through the old trash your marriage has accumulated. That’s part of what I’m privileged to help couples do in coaching. If things aren’t going well find someone who can give you input; a marriage counselor, a trained pastor, an older godly couple.
And you will need to also develop rhythms of housecleaning in your marriage to keep new trash from accumulating. That’s what we’ll talk about next time.
Your Turn: How have you been dealing with the trash your marriage has accumulated in? Have you been ignoring it? Dumping it on your spouse? Leave a comment below.
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