When my wife and I were going through marriage problems, the last thing that I wanted to hear was love is a choice. I would have responded, “Well, I’m not feeling it.”
This is often the sentiment that we hear from struggling couples when we meet with them for the first time. What they are experiencing is something that isn’t working. They blame, criticize, defend, stonewall, dismiss, etc. They do all of the actions that are causing their relationship to spiral down.
Yet, once we listen to their complaints, we often ask them, “What would you like your relationship to be?”
Some people aren’t sure, they just want the pain to stop. Others know that they want something that they used to have. They want a relationship that works.
Creating Connection When You’re Not Feeling It
Couples want connection. They may call it a better relationship. They may say they want the fighting to stop. Perhaps they say they want they want to know that we are in it together.
At the end of the day, they want connection. They want to know that their partner is there for them.
This is where the choice part comes in. It’s going to take some work and it’s going to take making some new choices. I’ll often say, “I recognize that you might not feel like it, but are you willing to choose some new behaviors in order to create that connection?”
Connection comes from choosing to increase positive interactions and decreasing negative interactions. Increase the behaviors that create connection and decrease the behaviors that destroy. More good, less bad.
Sometimes, we need to explain that ignoring issues only creates temporary connection, at the expense of the future relationship.
I’ve written about 4 Steps to Introduce Positive Interactions previously.
Love is a Choice and it Creates a Positive Spiral
When our partners treat us poorly, it’s easy to be triggered and treat them poorly in return. Suddenly, we’re trading insults and criticism. The arguments escalate.
This is a negative spiral. We ask couples to define their negative spiral. What are the early warning signs? Where does it end up? How can you recognize the spiral and stop it?
Conversely, we can start a positive spiral. When we are intentional about doing positive things, it makes it easier for our partners to react in a positive manner. This starts a positive spiral that helps us to feel valued, safe and connected.
Putting On and Putting Off
In Ephesians 4 the Bible talks about putting off and putting on. Through God’s help, we trade our poor behaviors for healthy behaviors.
In Ephesians it says to (NIV version):
- Put off your old self and put on the new self (vs 22)
- Put off falsehood and speak truthfully (vs 25)
- Put off unwholesome talk and build others up (vs 29)
- Get rid of bitterness, rage, anger, brawling, slander and any form of malice and instead be kind, compassionate and forgiving. (vs 31-32)
In other words, we trade negative interactions for positive interactions.
When we talk with couples, we ask them to identify their negative interactions. We also ask them to think through what would be better responses. What should they put off and what should they put on?