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Mistakes

4 Marriage Lessons from Sour Milk

milk


I never feel more apologetic than when I clean the back seat of the car. In those moments I apologize to my car for having children. Last summer our car smelled. Bad. Upon further investigation we discovered a long hidden sippy cup lodged under the seat. It had been filled with milk and given to one of our sons and at some point in the chaos of child transport it was forgotten. Until the smell. The first day the smell arrived it smelled like something had died along the road, like we passed roadkill along the way. The smell was disregarded as we got out of the car. By the second day of the smell it was clear the roadkill was somewhere in the car. We cleaned the car and found the cup. The sour smell was overwhelming and the sick feeling was made worse when we discovered the smell was not only from the cup of sour milk but that the milk had spilled onto the floor of the car. We scrubbed, we removed the seats, we scrubbed and washed and air freshened. Eventually the smell diminished but the smell still lingers in my memory.

The sour milk tragedy reminds me of the interaction cycle of some couples. In life and marriage not everything works out perfectly. Mistakes are made, miscommunication happens and hurtful words get flung around. For healthy couples these difficult times are no fun but they are quickly resolved and connection is restored. Unfortunately, some couples ignore the mess and conflict hoping it will go away. Their conflict continues and their connection suffers until the smell becomes unbearable.

To avoid a sour milk marriage:

  1. Risk making a mess. First of all it’s okay to really engage in your relationship. You must risk vulnerability to connect well in your marriage. We are okay with living in our car. We want to engage with our children in the car which means risking spills and crushed fish crackers in the car seats. Don’t be so scared of making a mistake in your relationship that you suffocate authenticity.
  2. Take care. Although we allow our kids to eat in the car we also teach them not to be careless. We don’t expect them to never spill but we do expect them to learn. Invest in your relationship. Learn how to avoid relationship injuries. Talk to your spouse about ways you can reduce conflict. Get expert help when you are not sure how to connect well without fighting.
  3. Stop criticizing. It would not have helped to yell at our kids for spilling the milk. In your relationship it doesn’t help to shame your spouse. No matter how much you know about your spouse of how careful you are arguments will happen. Criticism destroys the foundation of trust in relationships.
  4. Clean up quickly. The main problem in our car was not that milk was spilled but that we didn’t clean it up soon enough. The warm summer days took our neglect and punished our sense of smell. When fights and arguments result in hurt feelings don’t just let it sit. You can take time to cool off if your argument gets too hot but don’t let it go days without working to resolve the tension. The longer you keep unaddressed conflict in your marriage the nastier it gets. Healthy couples quickly clean up the spills of relationship injuries.

Perfect Husband Training

Copyright: yuryimaging / 123RF Stock Photo
Copyright: yuryimaging / 123RF Stock Photo

When I started attending classes to become a counselor, I secretly hoped it would make me the perfect husband. What better husband training than a master’s degree in marriage and family counseling? I stepped into the the first class thinking this is going to be great, I’ll be surrounded by relationship perfection and quickly learn the secrets of an amazing marriage. I worked and worked at gaining knowledge, emulating my professors, and practicing counseling but perfection never came. I still make mistakes as a husband and father.

I’ve written about making mistakes in marriage before, check out my post “The 3 Best Phrases To Say When Your Spouse Makes a Mistake”

My wife Hollie and I are blessed to experience a wonderful marriage. We have our advantages but I mess up and when I do this is usually how.

1. I miscommunicate. This happens more when I’m tired. Marriage tip: don’t talk tired. It never goes well for me, the tone doesn’t come out right. I miscommunicate most often by omitting an explanation of my emotions. When I fail to use words to explain my emotions, I act grumpy and connection breaks down. Emotion is a critical part of communication. I fail to communicate well when I’m experiencing emotion like fear or feel vulnerable. When I feel inadequate, I react either by withdrawing, or becoming verbally demanding. When that happens I have to stop to consider my emotions, then I can accurately communicate again.

“6 Ways To Restore Communication”

2. I lack enthusiasm for things she likes. I remember one morning Hollie excitedly told me she was looking forward to spending the afternoon at “a super cute place to shop.” I wasn’t thrilled and I’m sure it showed in the tone of my response. I decided to do something else and I missed out. It wasn’t so much that I missed out on the shopping, I missed out on the opportunity to connect with my wife.

3. I fail to notice the effort she makes. It’s not that I’m not appreciative, but sometimes I really don’t notice. Other times my perspective is selfish. A few nights ago Hollie was working on fixing technical problems with my blog and I was annoyed she was not finishing as fast as I wanted. Oops. My ungrateful attitude missed her effort to show me love.

By the end of my graduate program in counseling I discovered counselors are simply regular people willing to brave the imperfect world, to meet people where they are, and really listen.

Turns out it’s a formula for a well connected marriage too. Two imperfect regular people willing to brave the imperfect world together, embrace each other, and really listen.

It’s common to struggle in the same ways even when trying to learn from the mistakes. I will likely fail in similar ways again in my marriage but I have found:

  • When I risk sharing my vulnerabilities, connection thrives.
  • When I pay attention to what she likes, she knows I delight in her and connection thrives.
  • When I see how she shows me love, connection thrives.

I love the great connection Hollie and I share. I’m going to do what I can to see it thrive.

What have you found to help your connection thrive?