If You Can’t Get Over How They’ve Hurt You… (Part 1)

We all dream of a marriage where there’s lots of fun, good connection, deep understanding, frequent sex, abundant money, perfect kids, beautiful rainbows, and dancing unicorns.

But marriage can be as much a battleground as a playground at times because spouses will hurt each other from time to time. You can’t live with someone, day in and day out, and not…

  • Get your feelings hurt.
  • Feel devalued.
  • Be misunderstood.
  • Feel put down.
  • Be taken for granted.

Before we look at how to get past the hurt, we need to understand it.

UNINTENTIONAL HURT.

Most of the time, spouses hurt one another unintentionally. They don’t mean to inflict harm on one another. It just happens…like stubbing your toe or stepping on a Lego.

Most unintentional hurt comes from three basic differences between spouses:

Family of Origin.

We tend to underestimate how much our upbringing contributes to our marital hurt. For instance:

  • If you were raised in a family where raised voices were a sign of unacceptable anger, but your spouse was raised in a family where raised voices were a sign of lively discussion…you’re going to get your feelings hurt.
  • If you were raised in a family where both spouses jumped in to keep the house clean, but your spouse was raised in a family where one spouse was responsible for the house and the other for the outside…you’re going to get your feelings hurt.

Personality.

It’s funny how the personality we fell in love with often winds up being the personality we’re frustrated with. For instance:

  • If your personality is to be very structured and planned, but your spouse’s personality is to be very free-wheeling and spontaneous…you’re going to see your spouse as inconsiderate and hurtful at times.
  • If your personality is to be very private with most things, but your spouse’s personality is to be very open with most things…you’re going to butt heads and feel some hurt.

Stressors.

Both you and your spouse deal with different pressures and stressors in life. These pressures and stressors can easily leak out in your interactions with one another, causing unintentional hurts.

  • If your boss has been on your case with one demand after another, a request for help from your spouse might cause you to react with an icy, do-it-yourself tone of voice…leaving your spouse wounded.
  • If you’ve spent the day with kids clamoring for your attention and climbing all over you, your spouse’s sexual advance may be met with a cold, back-off-before-you-lose-that-hand kind of response…leaving your spouse rejected and hurt.

All of these are unintentional hurts, but they need to be talked through and worked out.

But what if the hurt is intentional?

INTENTIONAL HURT.

There may be times when spouses will hurt each other intentionally. Where unintentional hurt is like stubbing your toe, intentional hurt is like sticking out your foot to trip each other.

Intentional hurt typically occurs when we’re…

Trying to Defend Ourselves.

If we are feeling attacked, our automatic response is often to defend ourselves. For instance, if your spouse comes at you and wants to know why you haven’t unloaded the dishwasher, your first reaction might be to say “I’m sorry.” If they continue to press, your defensiveness goes up and you begin to make excuses for why you didn’t unload the dishwasher. But if your spouse continues to press, you might lash out in anger and say something like, “I’m not your servant! If you weren’t so busy staring at your phone you could do it yourself!” Though it was said in the heat of the moment, this was an intentional hurt inflicted on your spouse.

Trying to Get Even.

If our spouse has hurt us in some way (intentionally or unintentionally) we might react in such a way as to hurt them back. This is often done in a very passive-aggressive way.  For instance, suppose you’ve asked your spouse repeatedly to let you know when they’re on their way home from work, but they never seem to remember. You might try to get even by: not preparing dinner, going out with your friends and not letting them know when you’ll be back, or not picking up the phone when they’re trying to get in touch with you. These are all passive-aggressive attempts to get even with your spouse.

Trying to Get Our Needs Met…Apart From Our Spouse.

This category can involve getting involved in habits or hobbies our spouse does not enjoy. But mostly this refers to emotional and/or sexual infidelity. It’s when a spouse seeks to meet an emotional or sexual need with someone other than their spouse. Spouses who have done this will tell you they never intended it to happen. This can make it sound like the hurt they inflicted with their infidelity was unintentional. But somewhere they made an intentional choice to step outside of the marriage, making it an intentional hurt. (Note: we will have more to say on infidelity in a later post.)

As I said at the beginning of this post, spouses will hurt each other from time to time. Hopefully, it’s more unintentional than intentional, but it will happen. The quicker we can recognize when and why this happens, the easier it will be to fix and avoid it in the future.

But sometimes the hurt (big or small) will stick with us. We take it personally…to a fault. The hurt cuts so deep we can’t seem to forget it or get over it.

When this happens, what can we do? I don’t want to hurt your feelings, but this post is already too long. So, you’ll need to check out the next Normal Marriage post to find out!

If You’re Struggling with Your Sexual Relationship…

Sex can easily become an issue in marriage. Here are some of the things spouses tell me in my counseling office…

  • “My spouse wants sex all the time!”
  • “My spouse is just not interested in sex. “
  • “I’m not sure about some of the things my spouse wants to do sexually.”
  • “My spouse never wants to try anything new sexually.”
  • “Our sex life was good until the kids came along, but now…”
  • “I thought we would be having more sex after the kids left home.”

I usually save the punch line for these posts until the end of the post, but let’s just go ahead and get it out of the way upfront…

If you’re struggling with your sexual relationship…you’re not alone.

WHY DO WE STRUGGLE?

Despite what media would have you believe, sex does not always come naturally. It’s common to have some issues to work through when it comes to our sexual relationship.

Here are some of the things we have to work through when it comes to our sex life…

Past experiences.

These can include how you were raised, the things you were told (or not told) about sex, and past sexual experiences. These all contribute to how you feel about sex and how you approach sex…especially if these things were negative.

Gender differences.

Despite striving for equality in life and the workplace, men and women are undeniably different. Gender differences include hormonal differences, anatomical differences, and differing societal messages.

Personality.

Sex is extremely personal, so it makes sense that our personality is integral to our views of and our approach to sex. Personality plays a role in whether you’re conservative or adventurous, modest or confident, quiet or vocal…you get the idea.

Stage of Life.

When you’re young newlyweds, you have all kinds of time and energy for sex. But as time goes on, work, kids, and home become more of a drain on your time and energy…and thus your sex life. If spouses have not made their sex life a priority during the hectic stages of life, it will be revealed during the empty-nest stage of life. And later in life, health and medical issues can interfere with your sex life.

WHAT CAN WE DO ABOUT IT?

I know…this seems like a rather depressing picture. But there’s hope. Your sex life is like your career, your finances, or anything else in life. If you ignore it, it deteriorates. But if you give it care, attention, and work, your sex life can continue to improve.

Every couple’s sexual relationship is unique and specific. But there are three things every couple can do to improve their sexual relationship…

Be tenacious about meeting your spouse’s needs.

Your spouse has needs, both sexually and non-sexually, and their needs are valid, even if you can’t personally relate to them. Just because you can’t relate to your spouse’s needs, doesn’t mean those needs are unimportant, or that you should ignore them. Unless your spouse’s needs are abusive or immoral, you need to do your best to meet those needs. It will leave them feeling better about themselves and you.

Take responsibility for your own pleasure.

This statement could be easily misunderstood, so let me explain what I mean by “take responsibility for your own pleasure.” I’m not talking about selfishly demanding what you want sexually. Nor am I suggesting that if your spouse is not meeting your sexual needs, you can go and get your sexual needs met apart from your spouse. What I’m talking about is being lovingly honest and openly communicating your sexual needs and desires to your spouse. Yes, I know this can be awkward and uncomfortable, but if you can get completely naked with your spouse and engage in the gymnastics of sex, then surely you can learn to talk openly about it. Besides, your spouse is not a mind reader, and they have no idea what it’s like to be you in your body. So talk to them about what feels good, what you want, and when you want it.

Keep working at playing.

Your sexual relationship is not something you can put on autopilot. You and your spouse are constantly changing. Your needs and desires change, the demands of life change, and your health continues to change. Because of these things, you must continue to work at improving your sexual relationship…for both you and your spouse.

If you struggle in your sexual relationship with your spouse, you’re not alone. But, whether your sexual relationship with your spouse is magical or mechanical, the two of you can always work together to make things better. And that’s your “homework!”

Things I Would Tell My Newly Married Self

I have done a lot of premarital counseling, and I’ve found it to be both enjoyable and frustrating. Enjoyable, because you get the opportunity to walk with a couple and to speak into their present and future lives. Frustrating, because many of these couples have no frame of reference for what you’re telling them…and they’re often too “in love” to hear it anyway.

Engaged couples mean well and they want to have the best marriage possible. It’s just that the excitement of becoming Mr. and Mrs. makes it hard from them to really imagine the feelings and frustrations they will face down the road. The light in their fiancé’s eyes blinds them to the issues that are there. The blood that rushes to their head (and other places) keeps them from hearing things they need to hear.

Remember when you first realized that marriage wasn’t what you thought it would be? Maybe it was the first time you realized those quirky parts of your spouse’s personality weren’t going to change like you thought/hoped they would. Perhaps it was when you discovered that their approach to money felt less like pulling together and more like tug-of-war. Maybe it was when you realized the sexual tension and excitement you felt during the honeymoon phase had morphed into a dull predictability that was just a notch above doing the laundry.

We’ve all encountered things in marriage and found ourselves thinking, “I wish someone had told me about this.” So I’ve thought about it, and here are some things I would tell my newly married self:

  • You don’t need to be right all the time…even if you think you are.
  • Dirty clothes go in the hamper, not on the floor beside the hamper.
  • Just because they say they’re fine, doesn’t mean they are.
  • “I wish we were closer” probably means something different to them than it does for you.
  • When they say, “There’s nothing in this house to eat,” it doesn’t they want to go get groceries.
  • They can criticize their parents. You cannot!
  • People’s standards for cleanliness vary greatly.
  • Just because their personality is different from yours doesn’t mean they are brain damaged.
  • Your sex life will occasionally ebb and flow, but it will always take work.
  • If you don’t look at them, you’re not really listening to them.
  • It’s ok to disagree on how to raise children. They will grow up anyway.
  • Compromise is not surrender.
  • It won’t hurt you to watch what they like to watch. (I’m still learning this one.)
  • The more you’re willing to release, the more you’re able to receive.
  • When you say, “Where do you want to eat,” and they say, “Anywhere’s fine,” DON’T BELIEVE IT!

These are just a few of the things I would tell my newly married self. I’ll bet you could add to the list. What would you tell your newly married self? Leave your ideas in the comments and let’s see how many of these we can collect…for all those people who don’t know what they’re getting into!