Marriage Mondays: Taking the "D" Word Off the TableBy Shawndrarussell
Most couples I have talked to have used the "d" word in fights at some point (all regretting it and carrying guilt about using it), and it does damage that lasts far longer than the fight ever could. Saying "divorce" to your partner makes them lose trust, retreat within themselves, open up less, and just generally build up more walls to protect themselves just in case that "d" word becomes an action instead of just a threat. I can't recall Gary ever bringing up divorce in any of our fights, but I know I did. In some strange way, I think I thought it would be motivating for him to be a better husband, do more around the house, be more romantic, whatever. But instead, it made him shut down more and cause more fights. It was an ugly cycle that would arise about 3 or 4 times a year as we navigated through the early years of trying to build a life together.
When I brought up my idea to take the "d" word off the table, we were not in a fight and were getting along great. But, I had been thinking a lot about our marriage after reading The Five Love Languages by Gary Chapman, and I knew that since Gary's main love language was praise aka verbal, so hearing the "D" word being brought up even if it was just in anger would be extremely hurtful to him, even though Gary knew I didn't mean it (at least, I hope he did).
When I said I would never again use the "d" word, Gary's face literally lit up. He looked so happy I almost cried knowing that every time I had said that word in the past, it had hurt him so badly. His relief was instantaneous, and he gave me a huge hug and kiss. Since then, I have never used the word and we have been happier than ever before. We are more of a team, work through any issues quicker, and he contributes more to helping us run a more efficient, organized household (which was all I ever wanted!). That old saying "you catch more bees with honey than vinegar" is so true. I learned the hard way that praise, thank yous, kindness, and loving behavior get more accomplished than nagging, badgering, or harsh words (with the harshest of all being the "d" word!) ever could.
HE SAID: Simple fact--couples fight. No secret right? I'm sure though, that most people can relate to having said something so awful to their partner that the regret and guilt linger, only to spring up at another time and cause another confrontation. As a guy, I have a pretty high threshold for name calling and insults; but when the threat of divorce is thrown about in the midst of an argument, something changes within the relationship. All of a sudden, trust and security are shaken. Defenses heighten. Fuses become shorter. Communication falters. Normally, the threat of a divorce is used in an attempt to motivate a certain kind of behavior and force the thought of "what would I do without my wife/husband?" In reality, it drives a wedge that is very hard to forgive. I can handle all of the "you need to do more around the house" and "I wish you were more romantic to me" comments. Those are fixable problems. I can correct those without feeling nagged or obligated. Threatening divorce is more than an insult, especially when used in a trivial argument. It cuts right to the core, and the fear/tension of losing someone you vowed to spend the rest of your life with grows. If it only causes more problems, then why say it? Why not take that option off the table?
Don't get me wrong; there are justifiable reasons for couples to divorce: adultery and physical abuse come to mind. However, if you do not have those issues, there really is not too much that you cannot work out together. I would encourage any married couple to have this conversation about eliminating the divorce threat from their marriage. A weight will be lifted if the talk is sincere. Without the guilt, remorse, and fears that are associated with getting a divorce, you could refocus that energy to refortify your relationship. The process is not immediate, but the initial relief is powerful. Think of it this way: what if your goal was to be a star in the movie business, but you are too worried about the low success rate and fears of "not making it?" Now, what if someone guaranteed you that you could not fail, that there was nothing that you could really do that would prevent you from succeeding? How hard would you try then? Taking away the threat and fear of divorce frees you much in the same way, only instead of a movie career, you are striving for a more loving and fruitful marriage. Instead of handcuffing your partner with a threat, encourage them with a promise of commitment and love.
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