Back in 1954 the US and Canada agreed to a project called the DEW line. This was a series of radar installations along the 69th parallel that would give advance notice of a Soviet strike on North America. Fortunately, the system was not put to the test.
Human relationships are not impervious to ballistic missile attacks. Unfortunately, many marriages and business partnership are destroyed through ignorance and disregard of the danger signs.
A man sat in my office and lamented, “I had no idea she was having an affair. She doesn’t want to see a therapist, she just wants a divorce!” This man’s story is duplicated many times over. I have heard the words many times: “I didn’t see it coming.” “I thought we had a good marriage. What happened?” “What went wrong?”
Let me suggest some early warning signals.
“Ouch, That Hurt”
There is good advice in the statement: “Beware of the little foxes. The little foxes that spoil the vine.” We have all been hit with the little jabs: “That was certainly a thoughtless comment.” “How could you be so naïve?” “Are you missing some cards in your deck?” “Why can’t you get good marks like…?” These kinds of comments place a small emotional barrier in a person’s life.
The Fog of Fear
When hurt is left unaddressed it usually results in a growing fear. We are left in a place of uncertainty and doubt not knowing where we stand in relationship to the person who made the comments or acted inappropriately. Fear leads us down multiple paths of potential outcome and increases our search for “a way out.”
Anger, the Red Light on the Dash
Anger is a slow burning fuse connected to a very destructive bomb. Anger is like the light on the dash that indicates something is wrong. Anger is not the problem, it simply indicates that there is a problem. Anger is usually our response to a basic human violation. To be dishonored, disrespected, marginalized or denigrated is a violation of our person. When our value or identity is trampled on, or even mildly disregarded, there is a corresponding anger that rises within us. This is the Creator’s way of helping us identify how we have been wronged. Stored, unresolved or repressed anger can lead to depression or explosive outbursts. Don’t ignore the red light! Take time to discover and resolve the real problem.
Or is it? The more we harbor the hurt and replay its affects in our life, the more we become like the person who hurt us. Our focus on the hurt morphs us into the character we despise. The cry for justice can place impossible expectations on those who are closest to us. We become the judge of their motives and the evaluator of their words. Unresolved hurt can cause the circle of our friendship to narrow. People just don’t like being around us.
The Defensive Game
“I was wrong!” The three most difficult words to say. After spending considerable time with a couple and seeing very little progress, I turned to the husband and said,” Do you see any ways that you contribute to the breakdown in your marriage?” After a short silence he responded: “I know that I am not perfect, but I believe that once my wife gets her problems sorted out, things will be okay.” It is easy to see the fault of another person but difficult to see our own. Hurt that has been allowed to fester, increases the blind spots in our own life. We magnify the wrong of the other person and minimize our own wrongs.
The Blame Game
Blame traps me in a perilous cycle of victimhood. It leaves me in a constant state of powerlessness. Any recognition of wrong on the part of the offender never matches the enormity of the pain and emotional upheaval that I have suffered. Victimhood blinds me to the sincerity of any restorative action on the part of the offender.
Is There Light at The End of the Tunnel?
One man said, “Of course there is.” Only to discover that the light was a train.
Friends, there is light at the end of the tunnel. Your situation is not hopeless.
- Keep short accounts—don’t bury things, put them on the table. Where you have buried something, acknowledge your wrong in placing more value on your self-protection than the growth of your relationship.
- Ask questions for clarification— “When you said . . . what did you mean?”
- Remember, you have control over your own words, attitudes and actions, No one has the power to make you think, feel, speak or act contrary to your convictions.
- Be willing to own where your own words were wrong, actions were wrong, or attitude was wrong. This must be done without blaming people or circumstances for the choices you have made.
And above all, don’t be afraid to ask for help. Whatever you do, don’t be like the little boy who prayed, “Lord, if you can’t make me a better boy, don’t worry about it. I’m having a real good time like I am.”