Emotional pain left over from the past is powerful.
And it’s especially damaging when it resides inside a marriage relationship. I’ve seen couples married 5 years, or 35 years, struggling to get past hurts that happened years and/or decades earlier. Pain and resentment, like rotting garbage, pile up year after year, offense after offense, and grow into a stinking, smoldering, nasty infection that makes the marriage into a miserable mountain of pain, rather than the joy it’s meant to be.
The problem is not the emotional pain. We all experience pain like that. It’s part of life. The problem is not even that the pain happened in the first place. We all make mistakes, bad choices, and sin against other people. That’s part of life, too. The problem is that the emotional pain, when it happens, is typically never adequately dealt with.
When I say, “dealt with” I mean truly, completely dealt with.
There are many, many people who say they’ve “dealt with” offenses and hurts that have happened in their marriage, but they haven’t. What they did was wait until the pain simmered down a bit, until they finally began talking to their spouse again simply because they had to in order to live, and then went on with life. Because things went back to “normal,” it felt like the situation was dealt with. But it hadn’t. What happened was this: the pain went underground, where it simmered and stewed and festered, like boil… until it was ready to explode.
That’s typically when I meet these couples. They are either about to blow, or already have. They are a miserable, devastated mess and come to my wife and I for help.
You don’t want to be that couple… so what can you do to avoid it?
You need to learn how to TRULY deal with the emotional pain as it occurs. Both you and your spouse need to commit to doing so. Here’s the biblical pattern for how you do it, taken from Matthew chapter 18.
- The offended person needs to lovingly bring up the offense.
- The offender needs to truly listen, humbly accepting responsibility for his/her part in the issue.
- The offender needs to repent (express genuine sorrow and truly commit to adjusting his/her behavior in future situations).
- The hurt person needs to forgive the offender.
No part of that process is easy, on either side. But it has to be done – over, and over, and over, throughout the course of your marriage. If you don’t here’s what happens…
- Each offense is thrown into a “deal with it later” pile.
- The next offense is piled on top… and the next, and the next, and the next.
- After a while, even the smallest offense becomes very painful emotionally, because of the weight of the entire, unresolved pile.
- It’s a stinking pile of garbage that has to be dealt with, one at a time.
To get over that kind of emotional pain… that’s exactly what you need to do… deal with each offense, one at a time.
It sounds like a laborious process, because it is. It’s pretty much the first thing we do in our marriage intensive counseling, so that we can start with a “clean slate” and move into the primary issues the couple is facing, effectively.
My hope is that Christian couples will learn how to do this for themselves, unpacking the emotional pain that lodges in their soul and in the soul of their spouse, day, by day, by day. It’s the biblical way… the only way, to truly deal with the power of emotional pain.
If you’d like to know more, I’d love to correspond with you.