1. Own My Part
When I’m hurt, it’s difficult to own my part. I want someone else to change. In my marriage, I want my wife to change.
Jesus says to look to yourself first. What’s the plank in your own eye? What are you responsible for?
As mentors, we try to shift the focus away from blame and onto to owning your own part. We’ll ask, “What part are you responsible for?”
Maybe it’s only a small part of an argument, but let’s focus on that first.
I have found that when I come to my wife and admit that I own part of a disagreement, it’s a much softer start and seems to go better.
“I realize I’m hurting you in some way. I don’t really understand how, but I don’t want to hurt you. Please help me to understand how it is I’m hurting you. I would like for us to work on understanding each other and finding healthier behaviors.”
That approach seems to open up more understanding rather than defensiveness and counter-attacks.
2. Put Down the Ledger
In I Corinthians 13 it says “Love… keeps no record of wrongs.”
When we work with couples, we talk about keeping a record of wrongs. It’s tempting to keep a running ledger of who is ahead or behind.
In our head, we write up all the positive and negative things our spouse does. “You do this or you didn’t do this.” Then, we keep score.
Guess what? We usually win.
When we win (in our heads anyway), we start to focus on what is “right” or “fair.” It ends up that we minimize our partner. We tally up our own good deeds and ignore or dismiss our partner’s good deeds.
I’m not saying that the actual behavior doesn’t need to be talked through. For example, household chores are a common area of conflict. A couple may need to talk through who is responsible for what chore. They may need to manage their disagreement.
The issue here is hanging onto the score. The ledger builds up resentment. The resentment causes distance. Are you keeping score or not?
3. Understand the Intent
The challenge is that we judge others by their actions and we judge ourselves by our intent. So, their intent may be good, but we interpret it negatively. We say, “You’re trying to hurt me.”
When we do something that hurts someone, we think, “Yeah, but I didn’t intend to hurt you. Since my intent isn’t bad, therefore the action isn’t bad.”
I speaking with a couple and this small shift made a huge difference. They had fallen into the trap of judging their partner’s intent by their actions. The result was a number of misunderstandings that were driving them apart.
In our meeting, one of them complained about what the other one was doing. I asked, “What was your intent? Did you mean to hurt them?” The answer was, “No, I didn’t intend that at all. I was just trying to express myself.”
They started to get that their intent wasn’t to harm one another, rather is was misunderstanding in the actions. They were able to work towards understanding each other’s intent. They came to have a better appreciation of each other.
The shift in focus is instead of jumping to conclusions it is working to understand. This is a much healthier attitude.