The two things that corrode a relationship
There’s nothing like the turnover of the year for stimulating lifestyle re-evaluation. How can we make the Christmas spirit of ‘peace and joy’ a practical reality throughout the year? When we reflect on our life, two things stand out as needing a reset: resentment and stress. Both of these undermine our relationship.
If there is one thing that destroys our joy, it is chronic resentment. It accumulates like a hidden cancer and, if unchecked, can crush our interior peace and erode our intimacy as a couple.
When resentment becomes chronic in our marriage, we find ourselves arguing about the unimportant. We ‘dig in’ on some principle and make what should be a minor issue the test case for everything the other does wrong.
Resentment distorts our perspective like psychological cataracts: it makes everything about the other seem dark and gloomy. It impairs our vision and mutes our joy. It makes us more easily triggered because it preconditions us to negative interpretation of events. When resentful, minor things can ‘set us off’ making our spouse believe they can’t do anything right.
Chronic resentment is toxic. If there is one thing we don’t want to be carrying into the new year, this is surely one of them.
If we were stressed going into 2020, the circumstances of the global pandemic made it worse for most of us. Sustained stress impacts our health in many ways, elevating cortisol, disrupting sleep and suppressing immunity.
It also undermines our capacity for intimacy. Stress makes us self-focussed, keeping us in a constant state of vigilance and pre-occupied with our worries. It makes us short-tempered and/or controlling.
Soon we start to view anything that requires our attention or energy as an additional stress. The people we love become burdens on us rather than sources of delight … and they can sense it. Out of love for us they will keep their distance, while we keep our distance out of self-preservation.
Chronic stress is recognised as a serious physical health issue, but it is also a devastating relationship-killer.
Resentment fixates on the past and stress is pre-occupied with an unknown future. Yet joy and peace can only be encountered in the present moment. A good way to break these negative patterns is to apply a personal ‘perspective check’ whenever we feel the tension rising.
Drawing on SmartLoving’s ‘Stop-Reflect-Connect’ process, this involves firstly taking time out from the situation (stop). Having paused we then use the following questions to reflect on our situation:
- How important is this issue? Will I think it’s important in a year, on my deathbed, before God?
- What’s most important to me? What are the deeper values I seek in my life that are at play here? What choices do I have that honour my values?
These questions help us maintain perspective. They direct us to better choices for the present situation by contextualising it with the reality of our history and balancing that with the demands of the future.
A few moment’s reflection is often all it takes to redirect a thought process that is heading in a negative direction. Left unchecked, the outcome is likely to be an unpleasant interaction with blame, denial or avoidance. Done prayerfully it can be a powerful way of aligning our hearts with God’s desires for us.
This simple practice helps us make choices to connect rather than blame or avoid. It gives us a practical way to disrupt our toxic, default relationship patterns. So, let us live less as slaves to resentment and stress this year. And may joy and peace fill the gaps they leave.
Francine & Byron Pirola are the co-authors of SmartLoving www.smartloving.org