7. UNDERSTAND THE POWERFUL SIGNIFICANCE AND JOY OF GIVING YOUR SPOUSE WHAT THEY NEED BUT DO NOT DESERVE.
Do You Show Unconditional Positive Regard Toward the Spirit of Your Spouse?
Why should you show unconditional positive regard toward the spirit of your spouse? When you appear to hate and despise who your spouse is as a person because of the wrong they have done, they'll close off to you. This isn't fair to you—especially if they hurt you in the first place—but it is a fact of human nature.
You must decide: Will I punish my spouse with hostility and contempt because of what they have done or will I move the marriage forward by being a mature person who truthfully confronts wrongdoing but in a way that feels loving and respectful to the heart of my spouse?
The reason we so often hear "Hate the sin but love the sinner" is due to the simple fact that when the sinner feels hated, the sinner closes off.
Attack The Issue
When you attack your spouse and not the issue, it undermines that sense of connection that two people need to have to resolve a matter and reconcile. You won't move forward positively when you appear bitter and scornful toward who your spouse is as a human being.
As a husband, when your wife feels you hate who she is because of what she did wrong, she will not open her heart to you when you try to talk to her and address the issue.
As a wife, when your husband feels you have contempt for who he is as a human being, he will close off to any attempt you make to connect with him in a meaningful way.
Is this what you want? If not then you must follow my plan. Be the bigger person and give your spouse the gift of unconditional positive regard toward the image of God within them. Separate their carnal flesh and actions from their deepest soul, especially so if they have humbly confessed and want to turn the corner.
The best of us can forget to show positive regard toward the other's inner person. Let me illustrate this with two common conflicts couples can have, which should serve as healthy reminders to apply this action item.
When you as a husband sound harsh and angry while confronting your wife for significantly overspending the budget, she will shut down not because of the topic but because she feels you hate her as a person. Though she may know in her head that you love her, and you know that you love her, emotionally she's not feeling that way at the moment. Even if you tell her that she ought not to feel this way, she, as with every woman I have met, will still wonder, "How can he tell me that he loves me and talk to me with harshness and anger? He hates me. He doesn't love me." This is an almost universal feeling on the part of wives. She will personalize this as an attack on who she is. The money is a secondary issue. This is why you must show a positive, loving regard toward her heart as you express your frustration over her money mismanagement, otherwise she'll not hear you on the topic of money but will feel the money topic confirms that you don't love her. Though the money issue is real, it is not the root issue. Let me add, there is a wide range of allowance to express negative emotion as long as your wife is assured that you love who she is. She understands the ocean of emotion. That's not her problem. Her problem is her fear that you do not cherish her.
When you as a wife sound disrespectful and unfriendly to your husband when talking about your sexual relationship, he will pull away if not walk away. Your apparent contempt for him on this issue of sex triggers in him the feeling that you find him inadequate as a man and that he is failing to understand your womanly needs. Ironically, though he knows you love him, he has a vulnerability to the feeling that you look down on him as a weak lover. Because he has failed you in this area, if he feels you secretly disrespect him, he will close off. He will personalize this as an attack on who he is. This is why you must show a positive, respectful regard toward his inner man as you convey your hurt over his missteps in understanding your romantic and sexual wishes. Though the sex issue is real, it is not the root issue. He is feeling disrespected as a human being. Let me add, I am not telling you to be a silent doormat on this and other topics. You can say almost anything to a good-willed man when you honor who he is as a person as you address the issues that stress you.
Differentiate Who They Are from What They Have Done
"What if my spouse has done things that are wrong or unacceptable? How can anyone show love and respect toward these bad things?"
Again, no one is to love and respect wrongdoing. That's ludicrous. Your spouse may have committed adultery and betrayed you. This is evil. I would never love or respect what your spouse has done. But does this make your spouse an evil enemy? If you treat them as such, they will not open their spirit to you. They will live in fear of your damning and shaming judgment. On the other hand, when you decide to communicate with a positive regard toward their spirit, while expressing righteous indignation over what they've done, you increase the odds your spouse will face themselves.
Having such positive regard toward their spirit means reassuring them that you are an ally with goodwill, not an enemy with ill will. It means telling them that your confrontation of their hurtful choices is not to shame them; rather, it is from your belief in their good heart to make an adjustment. And you reassure them that any excessive negative emotion you may express to them is rooted in hurt and disappointment, not from a desire to degrade and disgrace them.
When we are trying to send a message to our spouse that we are hurting, frustrated, or fearful, if they feel that the real message is that we regard them as despicable, they will close off to us emotionally. We have all heard the expression "if looks could kill." We must guard against such looks.
You can see your spouse as Jesus sees your spouse. Three of Christ's disciples failed Him when He needed them, but His response was, "the spirit is willing, but the flesh is weak" (Matthew 26:41). They had failed Him miserably but He did not show hostility and contempt toward their hearts even though what they did left Him deeply disappointed, alone, and unsupported. Does Jesus feel the same toward your spouse, and can you imitate Christ? Yes and yes.
With Love and Respect,
Emerson Eggerichs, Ph.D.
Question and Action
- Today's Question: During conflict, do you appear to hate and despise who your spouse is as a person? Does this best explain why they close off to you when they close off?
- Today's Action: I will show positive regard toward the spirit of my spouse no matter what.
As a husband, I will reassure my wife that I love who she is as a person, even though I feel frustrated by some of the things she does.
As a wife, I will reassure my husband that I respect who he is as a man, though I am hurt at times by what he has done.
P.S.—After you do Today’s Action, please email me at email@example.com regarding any questions or concerns you have about unconditional positive regard. Thanks.
P.P.S. In the next email reminder I am going to invite you to take the another step in understanding the Crazy Cycle and conflict in marriage through an online course. Stay tuned! Or you can start now and begin the Crazy Cycle In Marriage Course.