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Minor Loss Matters in Marriage

minor loss in mariage

 

Our boys, ages five and three, love riding with the windows down in the back seats. A couple weeks ago on the way home from church we saw a toy launch out of the back seat and onto a busy street. With our kids it’s certainly within the realm of possibilities that he threw the toy just because it would be cool to watch. In this case, it was purely accidental, his expression clearly showed he was horrified at the loss of his toy. His eyes filled with tears and his voice expressed pure panic.

My wife quickly decided to turn this into a lesson about unintended consequences of carelessness. She calmly prepared our son for the possibility it could be lost forever or destroyed. We turned around on a side road and miraculously recovered the toy from the road unbroken.

If the toy was unrecoverable or destroyed that day, he would have been fine. It was a rather insignificant toy, he hasn’t even played with it since. If we had ignored his loss and continued home it would have greatly influenced his behavior in the hours following. When children feel loss it comes out in a variety of behaviors like increased aggressiveness, moodiness, shouting, and refusal to follow directions.

Adults are not much different. We face minor losses too. However, we ignore many of our minor losses. We know it doesn’t matter and we pretend it doesn’t bother us.
Adults, like kids, can’t help but react to the aggravations of life. We get grumpy, moody, and overly aggressive when loss happens to us.

Ever need to write something and can’t find a working pen? After scribbling in circles with a couple of dead pens, I’m disproportionately upset.

Minor losses happen all the time in life.
When you lose out on fun activities because finances are tight, it’s a loss.
When you lose an evening to a fight, it’s a loss.
When you miss your son’s ballgame, it’s a loss.
When something turns out differently than expected, it’s a loss.
It doesn’t have to surpass the epic loss in the biblical story of Job for it to mess with your day.

Minor losses are not life altering but they can wreck your connection if you don’t pay attention.

For example, when the printer jams and you spend two frustrating hours getting it fixed, it’s a loss. If you react to the loss by saying “uugghh I hate our piece of junk printer!” your spouse could respond defensively “It’s not my fault, tightwad, what do you expect from a garage sale printer?” then conflict ensues.
Quickly acknowledging the loss and resulting emotion can reduce the escalation. The interaction with your spouse could sound more like “uugghh I hate our piece of junk printer, I’m disappointed I just lost two hours working on it.” then your spouse could respond “I’m sorry, that was a major project, thanks for fixing it.”

To prevent a minor loss from triggering a major conflict and disconnection, acknowledge your loss and resulting emotion. The important part for marriage is to respond to your spouse in a way that builds connection.

Can you identify a time when you experienced a minor loss that went unrecognized?
What do you need to say to your spouse to restore connection?

Hint: You may need to do one or all of these.
1. Clarify what the loss was. Take time for quick introspection, then share the situation with your spouse.
2. Clarify your reaction, or emotion, to the loss.
3. Apologize to your spouse if your reaction was hurtful.
4. Ask for a do-over and tell your spouse you love them. A hug or kiss would be nice too.

4 Steps to Overcome Loaded Loss.

Copyright: nailiaschwarz / 123RF Stock Photo
Copyright: nailiaschwarz / 123RF Stock Photo

 

Grieving death is a heartbreaking and difficult journey. It’s important to know how to maintain a great relationship even in times of grief. You may want to check out my recent post “what your spouse really needs in times of loss” Click here.

I believe in the power of healthy grieving. Understanding loss is a critical first step in grieving well; death is not the only loss people suffer. Loss is also felt when people experience traumatic events like abuse, illness, or disability. Unfortunately, these losses are often misunderstood in society and come loaded with shame and stigma. Many people find it difficult to express their grief related to their trauma and some have even been instructed not to talk about their trauma. You may not know the trauma experienced by those close to you. Tragically, for every well publicized traumatic event or sexual assault like that of Elizabeth Smart, many others go unreported.

Your experiences and the experiences of your spouse matter deeply to your marriage. Often the deepest hurts remain unspoken in an attempt to protect from the pain. In close relationships the emotionally raw and wounded areas are inevitably touched which can lead to relationship difficulties.

Sometimes traumatic losses are experienced by individuals long before getting married. For example: experiencing sexual abuse, neglect or abandonment, and substance abusing parents can be difficult to talk about. Working to address traumatic losses is a critical part of premarital counseling. The earlier in the relationship you can address traumatic loss in your life and that of your spouse, the better you can respond to each other in marriage. If a traumatic experience was not discussed prior to marriage but has come up now, you can still make some wonderful in your marriage. Find a counselor to help as you support each other through difficult emotions.

Other times traumatic losses are experienced by both marriage partners during the course of the marriage. For example: Miscarriage, overseas deployment, mental illness, or having a child with a disability deeply affect both partners and the marriage relationship.

When couples are facing a difficult loss, it’s important to work through the following steps to find a way forward.

1. Acknowledge the trauma. Go there, uncover the loss. Simply describing your pain can reduce its suffocating power. Refuse to stay silent about the pain. It won’t work to stuff your feelings, they will come out eventually especially with your spouse. Don’t keep your losses and related feelings from your spouse; it affects them too. When you become one with your spouse, your stories combine.

It’s often helpful to talk to someone safe who listens well who won’t dismiss your loss or feel threatened. It can be scary and unpredictable. Finding a counselor could make all the difference.

2. Allow grief. It may not look like others expect, but it’s important to express your current emotions. It doesn’t matter what other people think, it’s okay and healthy to have emotions.

3. Begin to heal. The emotional scars may never go away but the rawness of the wounds can heal. The loss you have experienced will always matter and influence you to some degree. No matter the pain, real healing can be yours.

4. Share your story. When appropriate, tell others about your loss and grief process. You are not alone, others have experienced similar loss. When you share your journey it will encourage others to address their trauma and work toward healing. I’ve been inspired by people who have shared their experiences, braving the shame of past abuse. The people I know have named their spouse as a major source of support through their grief and healing.

Warning: When talking about trauma and major losses that impact your life, its easy to get caught in the comparison trap. No matter what you have experienced it always seems like someone else has had it worse in some way. Stop comparing. Don’t dismiss your pain as inadequate or insignificant.

I’ve got awesome news. Traumatic losses are scary but facing them together with your spouse will fill your marriage with wonderful emotional intimacy. The richness of true connection is worth going into the depths of loss and is made possible by doing it well. Not only does it help the relationship to discuss difficult experiences, it helps to process and heal from the loss and trauma. Join with your spouse and journey grief together, your marriage will greatly benefit. The joy of intimate connection overcomes hurt.

What has helped you grieve losses in your life? What does healing feel like?

What Your Spouse Really Needs in Times of Loss

Copyright: pressmaster / 123RF Stock Photo
Copyright: pressmaster / 123RF Stock Photo

 


Experiencing heavy emotions like sadness is no fun. Dealing with the death of a loved one is no day at the amusement park. It’s difficult to see people in pain. It’s especially difficult to watch your spouse, the person you love the most, grieve.

When the times of loss come you may struggle with how to relate well to your spouse. Dealing with loss is a major hurdle in marriage relationships. Death and loss touches emotions otherwise untouched and can cause immense tension and conflict. The good new is a time of grief doesn’t have to be a time of disconnect in your marriage.

You can connect well and make some wonderful in your marriage, even in times of loss. The secret is to mourn with those who mourn. Romans 12:15. It sounds counter-intuitive; like doing nothing and denying help. It’s natural to want to make people feel better, to fix their pain, to provide a remedy, but fixing grief doesn’t work. What everyone, especially your spouse, needs in times of loss is someone to join them. Grieving with a grieving spouse is hard stuff but so rich.

How to give your spouse what they really need in times of loss: The 4 ways to mourn with those who mourn.

1. Provide space for grief. Provide space for your spouse by listening for them to share how they are feeling. It may be necessary to adjust your schedule to allow for the variety of complex emotions. Slow down and intentionally listen. Grief often comes in waves. Expect changing emotions and times with no emotions at all.

It may feel like listening is doing nothing and provides no relief for the grieving person. Listening and joining them in their grief is not nothing, it’s everything. Listening is the most profound thing you can do. You can’t fix the loss anyway. Restoration comes best when we have space to express emotions and others are near.

2. Validate emotion. Don’t dismiss or attempt to fix how people feel. Pay attention to how they feel rather than how expect them to feel. Please, don’t dismiss the pain and heartache of those around you. Well meaning Christians like to say dismissive things like “rejoice! it’s good when people die because they go to heaven and the funeral can get people to love Jesus.” The brutal message is that grieving and feeling sad is bad, a lack of faith, and unchristian.

For acquaintances, sympathy is fine, “sorry for your loss” is adequate. In close relationships, especially marriage, it’s critical to provide empathy rather than sympathy. Empathy is joining people where they are. When you spouse is grieving it may sound like “I’m not sure what to say, but I’m here to listen, I’m here with you.”

3. Keep at it. Repeat steps one and two, over and over with each new wave of grief. Loss is complicated and grief is never linear. It’s exhausting facing the pain and sadness of loss in each wave of grief. Expressing emotion and validating emotion by listening remains the most effective way to comfort even as time passes. Remember to participate in ceremony; funerals and memorials are deeply meaningful and helpful in the process of grief. If grief continues to significantly impair functioning for months, please seek additional help, contact a doctor or counselor if you suspect grief has expanded to major depression.

4. Tell them they are doing it ok. Many people worry they are doing grief all wrong. They don’t feel what they thought they would feel or are fearful of feeling anything. Everyone is different, every journey of grief and loss is different. There is enough shaming in the world, please, don’t shame people for how they grieve.

Celebrate!

Copyright: subbotina / 123RF Stock Photo
Copyright: subbotina / 123RF Stock Photo

Ever have one of those weeks that’s just like all the others? It wasn’t horrible, just unremarkable and kinda blah. The work-a-day world tends to take the color and excitement of life and dull it up a bit. We have all had ho hum days in our marriage, when the joy of relationship has withered.

Good news, your drudgery can change in one easy step. You can do it anytime, it doesn’t cost anything, it’s fun, and it will change everything.

Celebrate.

Yep, that’s all. Let it rip. Celebrate! Like the Kool & the Gang song says “Celebrate good times! Come on!”

I love watching NFL football one of my favorite parts is watching the touchdown celebrations. Nothing pumps me up like a crazy celebration in the end zone. When the player shows his excitement and the crowd erupts in celebration, we connect through the shared emotion.

When you and your spouse celebrate together you will connect through the shared emotion. Celebrating together is the best way to transform a blah marriage into a fun and vibrant marriage.

Counting blessings can be a part of finding something to celebrate, but don’t stop when you get a number. “Yep, counted my blessings today, came to 27 blessings”…yawn. How nice, and boring. Don’t just count your blessings, celebrate them. Pick one or pick a bunch of your blessings and celebrate. Throw a blessings party and tell your face to smile.

Hold on now, I’m not proposing you become the annoying person who insists everything is awesome when it’s clearly not. I’m a big advocate of authenticity. The overly cheerful person who masks all emotions with enthusiasm isn’t healthy. However, I’m tired of people who lack the creativity to find something or someone to celebrate. Don’t be so in control of your emotions that you miss all the opportunities to lose your mind in celebration. It doesn’t matter what you celebrate. It certainly doesn’t have to be anything huge, spontaneous celebrations for the little things often make for the best connection.

My wife and I are deep into the parenting adventure called potty training. We are getting closer to the diaper-free promised land. A major part of our potty training strategy is the potty dance. When our son successfully uses the toilet we perform the potty dance. We clap, throw our arms in the air and spin around all while shouting “yeah!” It’s pretty ridiculous, but it works. Our son loves it, we connect through the emotion, and that motivates him to perform. Celebration transforms drudgery (even the drudgery of going to the bathroom) into something wonderful.

When others celebrate, join in. No one wants to celebrate alone. Rejoice with those who rejoice, Romans 12:15.

Please share what you celebrated this week, I would love to celebrate with you.
Celebrating is more fun together.

Yes! I want to learn how to Make Some Wonderful in my marriage.




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Tragedy, Mental Illness and What I Can’t Tell You

Copyright: sumners / 123RF Stock Photo
Copyright: sumners / 123RF Stock Photo

Tragedy seems to win again this month. Another tragedy brings back the all too familiar fear, hurt, and anger with more unanswered questions about mental illness.

I work on the front lines treating people with mental illness and it hurts to see a senseless crime which could have been prevented.

Tragedy hurts deeply but it doesn’t overcome all the good. Oh, how I wish you could see the good, how people with mental disorders receive treatment for their illness and don’t become dangerous and don’t kill. Even in the midst of tragedy I want you to know the good, to see it for yourself.

But it can’t happen.

The details of good treatment for people with mental illness are private. Completely confidential. Privacy laws prohibit disclosing specific information regarding the enormous good provided and countless tragedies averted. Don’t get me wrong, confidentiality laws are vitally important, but they do limit what the public is able to see of the remarkable good happening in every community.

When tragedy erupts it’s loud, painfully visible and shared in vivid detail. Good treatment of people with mental illness is silently invisible.

It’s easy to assume nothing is private. In the information age plenty of private information is readily available. Recent history is full of secret information getting out, WIKILeaks, sports steroid testing, congressional testimony, just to name a few. Believe it or not, most legally protected information remains in confidence.

Some people with mental illness are dangerous. Well-meaning advocates try to say everyone with a mental illness is harmless, most are, obviously some are not. Trained mental health professionals know the risks and warning signs and respond appropriately to protect both the public and people with dangerous mental illness. Treatment for mental illness is available, accessible, and effective. Professional treatment providers consistently address crisis situations and skillfully assist people in mental illness crisis. Tragedy is being prevented everywhere.
When all we see is tragedy and it feels like only pain surrounds us, you must know, good is happening too.

Please share this post or comment if you know the good treatment being provided for people with mental illness.