Your spouse messed up so why do you feel guilty?

Let’s say that you just found out you’re spouse has done something wrong and it’s pretty drastic. He or she has cheated or went against his word on something you both agreed upon. You are deeply pained. What is her reaction and where does it take you and your relationship?

You address the issue with your spouse and he/she could have one of two reactions. First, he could admit to his error and you can both begin the process of healing. It’s not easy to do but you are thankful that he sees his place in the matter and is willing to take responsibility. The other path he could take is this; turning the tables. Where once you were angry because he did something wrong, you suddenly feel guilty. You’re not sure why this is but before you know it, you find yourself apologizing and working to sooth his now upset emotional state. Later, you think, “what just happened?”

Like a crying child caught with chocolate brownie all over her face, your spouse has turned the tide of blame away from her (where it belongs) and on to you. By making you angry and confused, she transfers the blame. Her threats of leaving or other behaviors frighten you and you relent. You are now the one apologizing and asking her to be happy again. What have you done? Accepted the responsibility for something that is clearly not your fault.

Well, maybe you are doing something. No one is perfect. Think about it and listen to what she tells you. Later, when you are calm, consider what she says and work to make necessary changes. We all could be better spouses. However, this does not mean you should take the blame for something that is clearly her fault. While your lack of attention towards her may be the reason she had an affair, you did not choose the affair. She chose to do what she did and no amount of blaming can change this. Promise to do better. Promise to be a more attentive spouse, but do not carry the burden that says you are the cause of the infraction.

What’s going on with your spouse? Well, he/she is selfish and childish. He can’t handle the negative feelings that go along with guilt so he “flips the script” and suddenly he’s the victim because you brought the subject up. You are hurting him. Why would you do this? This shows immaturity and a lack of character on his/her part and this behavior can be very detrimental to the marriage.

What else is happening? Your spouse is angry with himself and suddenly you are the object of his anger. While anger can be a natural expression of guilt, it isn’t necessarily a healthy one as an angry mind is often a clouded mind. By choosing anger, he isn’t choosing the best method to solve the problem and fix what should be fixed. Instead, he blows up, blames you and hopes you’ll just forget about it because the experience he just caused was so uncomfortable. Don’t dismiss it. Don’t forget about it. Misbehavior on the part of your husband or wife at this level could be a sign that you need counseling. If he continues to transfer the burden of guilt on to you, you’ll eventually get tired and calloused towards his behavior. Rather than growing closer, you are growing apart.

There is one area where you are at fault here. You allowed this to happen. When you know you are right (and you better be abundantly sure on this) stand your ground and force him or her to accept their responsibility. Otherwise, you’ll continue to be a parent wiping the chocolate brownie off the face of a guilty child.

Stop Doing Love Wrong

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“I love you but I’m not IN love with you.”

This phrase has come into my office on more than one occasion in the past month which caused me to put some thought into its meaning. I hadn’t thought about it much but the spouses who had heard it know its weight all too well.

It is often the closing bell on a relationship as a cheating spouse comes clean. Or it is an indicator that the spark that was once there is now gone. The problem is that we often equate love with feeling and when the feeling is gone then the love must be gone. Unfortunately, this is a short-sighted vision of the love that a man and woman are to have for one another.

In his book, The Social Animal, author David Brooks says that love is a collection of behaviors that lead to feelings. The apostle Paul said it well also when in 1 Corinthians 13 he lists all the things that love DOES. It is patient, kind, loves truth, protects, hope, trusts and perseveres.

Paul also writes that there are things love does NOT do. It does not envy boast, act proud, dishonor or seek its own interests. It is not easily angered, does not delight in evil, and keeps no record of wrong.

In watching what little TV I do, there’s plenty of what people say is love but is not. On one home makeover, all the wife could talk about was her apartment, her house and what she wanted to do. She had her husband actually sharing a closet with the dog. All she wanted to do was seek her desires and wore this like she was some sort of suffragette. His needs were second and possibly third after the dog’s.

I also see spouses who continually bring up the past, lose their temper and continually dishonor the person they are supposed to love. Not in love anymore? I wonder why. You’re doing love wrong.

Love has a positive polarity in the things it DOES and it has a negative polarity in the things it DOES NOT do. What do the negative and positive sides of a magnet do? They attract. Maximize the positives and keep away from the negatives and your feelings of love will return. Wait for the feelings to come without doing anything and you’ll be stranded with no one to love.

Love must be tended to and grown like the living thing that it is. When people say, “I love you but I’m not in love with you” what they mean is that they desire to have the feelings of love but the passion is missing. It may be missing because they’re doing love wrong as I discussed above, or it may be missing because they have traded the pursuits of this life for the holy matrimony they promised on their wedding day. The departure from a happy vivacious couple is so slow and so gradual that neither spouse sees it coming until they wake up one morning in an empty shell of a relationship.

Your marriage cannot survive on the notion that you live together and that’s enough. You must enjoy one another’s company, have mutual dreams and meet each other’s needs. Start today.