Lessons From a Failing Marriage

His father had died, he was having struggles at work and his marriage was in trouble. All in all it had not been a very good year. He was discouraged and depressed and clearly needed to talk.

Unfortunately, I was not prepared to discuss these intense emotional issues. He  was scheduled for a brief visit to discuss his diabetes and I was planning to review blood sugars, go over his cholesterol and discuss diet and exercise. Marriage counseling was not on the agenda.

Nevertheless this all changed 3 minutes into the visit. It was clear that the medical issues were not his most pressing need. Like it or not, prepared or not, I needed to listen. If I did not address the emotional issues the likelihood of long term success with the physical issues would would be small.

Realizing it could cause me to fall behind and mess up my schedule, I took a breath and sat down and asked more questions. I asked about counseling. They had gone to counseling for their marriage but he did not have confidence in the therapist. He repeated a complaint I have heard from many men, the feeling that the counselor had taken his wife’s side and had not listened to his point of view. He knew he had work to do but felt that he was not as bad as he had been made out to be. He felt that he was being blamed for their struggles as a couple.

I acknowledged that he seemed to be a pretty decent guy but then shared with him something I have often shared in discussions with patients and church groups, the four words that pose one of the greatest obstacles to improvement in relationships, “I’m not that bad.” When we latch on to these words we embrace thinking that paralyzes change. He may not be that bad, but I was pretty sure that didn't mean that he could not be better, and while he could not control what his wife did he would always be free to work on himself.

I encouraged him to ask himself a question, “Am I being the best person I can be for my family?” This is a question I ask myself regularly, a question that turns my focus away from the faults in others and helps me be a better father and husband. I have learned that when my family sees me working hard to be a better man they are much more patient with my faults and struggles.

He seemed open to the concept. As the conversation continued he shared that he was a man of faith, so I added another encouragement, sharing the words of the Apostle Paul in Romans 12. Paul told his readers that they should not “conform to the pattern of this world but instead be transformed by the renewing of their minds.” I paraphrased Paul’s words as “you are broken in your thinking, if you want to break free from the behavior that has gotten you into trouble, you are going to need to radically change the way you think!” With these words I encouraged him to take a closer look at the way he viewed himself, his wife and his marriage.

As we talked I learned that he did not have anyone in his life who could challenge his thinking and perspective in this way, anyone who could tell him when he was wrong and how he could be better. For all of his life he had trusted his own judgment almost exclusively. Realizing it is hard to do better on our own I suggested that in addition to the counseling they were already doing that perhaps he should find a mentor, someone he could trust to help him be the man he wanted to be.

His story reminds me that simple things can have profound impact. How much better would our lives and relationships be if we put others first and worked each day to be better people for those we love? How much growth would we experience if we were willing to question our thinking and develop meaningful relationships with someone wise who could help guide us on our road to personal growth?

Something to think about.

- Bart

Your feedback is welcome, feel free to leave a comment. If there is someone you think needs to read these words, click the share button. A reminder, you can follow me on Twitter @bartbarrettMD, or on my office facebook page.