By Dr. David B. Hawkins, Crosswalk.com
Editor's Note: Do you need relationship advice from Dr. David Hawkins, best-selling author of When Pleasing Others is Hurting You and Dealing with the CrazyMakers in Your Life? Send your questions to [email protected] to be answered in his new advice column.
You’ve had a fight and all you can think about is how angry and hurt you are. Gone are the feelings of love and compassion. Distant are the feelings of affection.
Your hurt and your emotional pain are all you can think about. To make matters worse, your pain falls right into an old story you’ve told yourself dozens of times.
“He’s just selfish and...”
“She never has cared about my feelings…”
“Things never go my way…”
‘Everything gets blamed on me…”
And so you are stuck in your story—your narrative, with bits and pieces of truths co-mingled with bits of pieces of exaggeration.
What should we do with these stories we tell ourselves? The answer is to remember—yes, you’ve got to flip things around in your mind and remember why you are with your mate. Hard to do but certainly not impossible.
“I’m so upset with him,” a woman told me recently. “I don’t want to talk to him and certainly don’t want to be with him.”
“What happened?” I asked the woman, married for over 20 years to the man with whom she was so disappointed and angry.
“He ruined another birthday of mine,” she said. “Seems like he ruins some major event every year. Last year he forgot about Valentine’s Day. This year he bought gifts for my birthday that he knows I would never like. Plus, he was busy and didn’t really make the day special.”
“Is it really true that he ruins a major event every year?” I asked.
“Yes,” she said emphatically. “I don’t know why he has to do it, but he does. Actually, I believe he knows he is giving a half-effort and doesn’t really care that he is hurting me.”
This woman had a story, a narrative already developed. This event fit neatly into her narrative, leading her to feeling very discouraged. I wondered about the accuracy of what she was saying, but clearly this was her narrative. I strongly suspected he would share a very different version of the story and would be talking to him to determine his truth. But, would she listen? Would she leave a little room to see things differently?
Let’s talk briefly about her narrative---the sense she makes out of a situation and the story she tells herself about it. This woman had created a narrative to help her make sense out of her mate making a mess out of her birthday. Unfortunately, it was largely speculation and would only serve her building resentment.
What she did was not unusual. We all create narratives to help us make sense out of our world. Unfortunately, most of the time these narratives are skewed and often don’t help us recover and move on with our lives. In this case her narrative caused her to feel even more resentful and perpetuate the fight she was having with her mate.
“What do you want to do with these feelings?” I asked the woman, nudging her to consider doing something positive, moving their relationship in a healing, positive direction.
“What can I do?” she said. “I believe what I believe and that’s all there is to it.”
“That actually isn’t all there is to it,” I said clearly. “You actually can question yourself. You can doubt yourself, examine your beliefs and perhaps talk to him at greater length, listening carefully to his truth, without judgment. You can create more room for even greater truth to emerge.”
Let me share with you a bit more about what she can do and how you can do to let go of judgments that hurt you and keep you stuck. Some ways to challenge the stories you tell yourself include:
First, write out what you believe to be true. Simply writing out your story can help you gain just a bit of distance from your personal drama. Try to be objective, writing facts as well as feelings. Step back from the issue and write in even greater detail than when you first considered the situation.
Second, doubt yourself. Flip things around in your mind. Don’t get stuck on one version of the truth. Consider that you might be completely wrong. Empathize with your mate, considering their feelings and how the world might appear to them.
Third, listen carefully to your mate. Ask your mate for information. Hold space as you listen without prejudice. Validate their point of view. How might you look to them? How might you be completely wrong? What are some other ways of viewing the situation? Play with different possibilities.
Fourth, share your perceptions with a trusted friend. Tune into someone with wisdom. As Solomon advises, “Pay attention and turn your ear to the sayings of the wise; apply your heart to what I teach, for it is pleasing when you keep them in your heart and have all of them ready on your lips.” (Proverbs 22: 17-18) Tell a trusted friend the truth and invite them to challenge you.
Finally, considering some other possibilities, be willing to admit you were wrong and change your story. After doubting yourself, listening to your mate and seeking wise counsel, loosen up. Prepare to let go of the narrative you’ve been telling yourself. Write a different story, if appropriate, and seek reconnection with your mate based on this new wisdom. Be solution-focused, forward moving. Start over and establish a renewed connection based on a different story.
Resentment is based on rehearsing the same story again and again, running the same thoughts over in our minds. Resentment is based on rigid thinking and a lack of fluidity in our personality. Don’t allow yourself to slip into bitterness. If you would like further help changing your narrative, we are here for you. Please send responses to me at [email protected] and read more about The Marriage Recovery Center on our website and learn about our Personal and Marriage Intensives as well as our newly formed Subscription Group, Thrive, for women struggling from emotional abuse.
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