Three Marriage Monsters and the Secrets for Defeating Them

3 Marriage Monsters and the Secrets for Defeating Them - #staymarriedPeople, it’s back. That wretched insomnia that propelled me to start writing for #staymarried in the first place has crept back into my life. I cannot sleep! I lay awake thinking and remembering and imagining and planning and regretting and not sleeping. It’s pretty ridiculous.

Don’t feel bad for me, though. I’ve found myself a dealer and now I BINGE… on Netflix shows in the middle of the night. Don’t judge. I know you do it, too. Right now I’m hooked on Dexter. There’s something about a serial killer who is really a good guy because he only murders other serial killers that I find so much more relaxing than my real life. Yeesh! Maybe that should be the start of my next therapy session…

Anyway, I was thinking the other night about the shows I was hooked on pre-Dexter and I realize that a lot of them have something in common. It seems I am drawn lately to shows where the “good guy” is actually a pretty bad guy. You know the ones: Breaking Bad, Mad Men, House of Cards… The main characters are definitely not guys I would want to be friends with. These men are pathological liars on their best days and narcissistic psychopaths on their worst.

Still, I find myself rooting for these “bad guys” and hoping they don’t get caught for their law-breaking, secret-keeping shenanigans. I wonder if it’s because I know there is darkness in me. I mean, I’m no meth-dealing philandering methodical murderer, but I’m no Doris Day either. There are parts of my life and parts of my personality that I wish weren’t there. I have quirky habits and a few vices I would love to be rid of. There are parts of me that, hard as I may try to push them down, somehow rise to the surface with a Wolverine-like fury.

Dexter calls the part of him that propels him to kill his “Dark Passenger.” He spends most episodes of the show trying to hide his Dark Passenger from those around him for his own safety as well as theirs. His monster-like behavior is pretty extreme, but when I take an honest look, I think we all have our own monsters that creep into our marriages with the potential to destroy them.

Three Marriage Monsters and the Secrets for Defeating Them

Monster #1: The Hulk {Uncontrolled Anger & Harsh Arguments}

We hear time and time again about couples getting into crazy fights and heated arguments “about nothing.” Once either of you gets riled up and defensive, it is very difficult to back down from that. Heart rates go up, voices are raised, and harsh things get said that are hard to take back. You may even have a chance to step away from the argument and ask yourself, “What is this even about? Was this fight worth it?”

Defeat The Hulk with: Tone and Timing

We’ve learned that tone and timing are everything. Dr. John Gottman and his team of researchers have found that a conversation will typically end on the same note it began. So, rather than coming to Tony with my voice raised and my attitude in attack-mode, I try my best to be mindful of my tone of voice (the gentler, the better) and the appropriate timing (not when he’s falling asleep or busy making dinner for all of us). It is perfectly alright to bring up something that is bothering me, but it will go much better if I bring it up in a way that gives him the benefit of the doubt and allows us both time to have a relatively uninterrupted conversation about it. Uninterrupted conversations are hard to come by with three kids aged four and under, but we try our best. Sometimes that means we’re communicating over email and that’s ok for this crazy season of our lives.

"If most of your arguments start softly, your marriage is likely to be stable and happy" - Dr. John Gottman quote from 3 Marriage Monsters and the Secrets for Defeating Them - #staymarried

Monster #2: The Two-Faced Monster {Keeping Secrets}

Most people think that keeping small secrets is pretty harmless. You may not want to disclose that your ex sent you a kind but inappropriate text. Maybe you don’t want to say exactly how much money you just spent online shopping. It’s possible that keeping those small secrets will help avoid unnecessary arguments. The problem with keeping secrets from each other is that those tiny hidden facts create huge invisible wedges between you and your spouse. Secrets divide, they cause us not to trust each other, and without trust our relationships suffer. The more secrets you keep, the less opportunity you have for real intimacy since intimacy requires vulnerability and transparency.

"The more secrets you keep, the less opportunity you have for intimacy." - Michelle Peterson quote from 3 Marriage Monsters and the Secrets for Defeating Them - #staymarried

Defeat The Two-Faced Monster with: Purposeful Transparency

Tony and I have had some of our most devastating fights after a secret one of us was keeping gets revealed. It is an awful feeling to know your spouse doesn’t trust you enough to be completely honest. So, for us, full disclosure is a must. We have access to each others email accounts, all social media, bank accounts and credit cards. Not only that, but we try to have check-ins now and then by asking each other, “Is there anything on your mind lately that you haven’t shared with me?” We try to create a safe place for each other to be honest so that we can continue to build trust in our marriage. We call it our “Safety-net Attitude” and it is something we both strive to maintain for each other.

"When your spouse makes a mistake or offends you, you have the opportunity either to be self-righteous or a safety net." quote from 3 Marriage Monsters and the Secrets for Defeating Them - #staymarried

Monster #3: The Me Monster {Selfishness}

Often we get married because we’ve met someone who makes us feel great. We think they are great and we will always be great together. Then suddenly out of nowhere, they don’t like the way we fold the towels or how we might want to spend our money. It is easy and all too common to think to yourself that your partner is encroaching on the way you want to live your life. You might even feel like you are not getting “your needs met.” Having been raised by a single-mom, compromise and working together was pretty foreign to me. But, even when both husband and wife come from homes that stayed intact, it’s easy to let this Me Monster loose on your marriage. (Thank you, Brian Regan, for naming it.)

"Marriage, actually, isn't about the self at all. It is about giving all of yourself to someone else at all costs." - 3 Marriage Monsters and the Secrets for Defeating Them - #staymarried

Defeat the Me Monster with: Generosity

Marriage, actually, isn’t about the self at all. It is about giving all of yourself to someone else, at all costs. It sounds crazy, but Tony and I have found the most happiness when we are giving to each other, giving to our family, and giving to our marriage instead of trying to see what we can get out of it. When I find myself frustrated that I’m not getting what I want, it serves as a great reminder to check myself for what I’ve put into our marriage lately. Have I sacrificed? Have I done something out of the ordinary just for my husband? Have I been kind and thoughtful? Have I been encouraging? There is always more that I can give, and in the giving, there is fulfillment and happiness.

There are many more monsters than the three above that are clamoring to get out and wreak havoc on my marriage– stubbornness, defensiveness, and self-righteousness just to name a few. Tony is not unaware of these monsters, and he’s got a few of his own – like the Pre-7 a.m. Grouch. Some have said that if a person can’t handle you at your worst, then they don’t deserve your best. I disagree. I think loving someone means that we want to give our best – to our marriage and to our spouse. Let’s be honest about the darkness inside of us so that we can successfully defeat it over and over again. We can’t allow these monsters to kill our dreams to #staymarried.

The #staymarried blog was created to offer hope, stories, and resources for couples who want to stay married.

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Thank you for reading, sharing, and being a part of this #staymarried community!

~ Michelle

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