Early in my marriage I learned that my wife doesn’t have the same sense of humor as my single guy friends did when I was growing up. Although it sounds like a basic idea, it’s still an “FYI” that I give to every groom when I attend a wedding.
One way I learned this vital lesson was on a camping trip shortly after our marriage. For some reason that I no longer recall, I was holding a rock over my wife’s foot.
In all kidding, I made a gesture that I was going to drop it on her foot. She said “You wouldn’t dare” ... and so I did (Did I mention this was before I went to school to become a marriage therapist?).
On that cold and bitter night (and, by the way, it was summer, if you get my hint), it became clear to me that she did not share the same sense of humor that my guy friends did.
Over the following years, I made many additional mistakes in my marriage, as we all have. But she remembers very few of them. Except the time I dropped the rock on her foot.
There’s an old saying that time heals all wounds. Boy, that sure would be handy now. But if this weren’t a public newspaper and I wasn’t a Christian man, I’d tell you exactly what I thought of such a ridiculous quote.
The good news is time helps heal many wounds. And we should be thankful for that since we all make more mistakes than we should. But for some wounds, time is not enough.
Known as “Points of Wounding” (or “POWs” for short), some wounds do not clear with time. Like dropping a rock on your wife’s foot. Did I mention that happened in front of a group of people? And that it was before I went to school to become a marriage therapist?
When couples come in for therapy, they often focus on the current concerns. Maybe they argue too much. Or don’t spend time together. Or don’t communicate well.
While it is important to help people be happy in the current, no one can be fully happy until POWs have been addressed and the healing process has begun.
Foolish partners simply say to the other “It’s in the past, would you just let it go?” While such sounds good in theory, and the offended spouse, too, wishes it were that easy, that’s not how healing occurs from POWs.
But since couples often can’t come to terms with these POWs they often stop discussing them, and years go by. But the healing really hasn’t occurred.
I remember one of the first POWs I ever worked with. It occurred nine years before the couple started therapy. And they hadn’t discussed the event in years either.
It was not the main reason they sought therapy. In fact, they never even mentioned it. But one night, by pure accident, the topic came up.
They both became defensive and started to justify why their side of the story was right. It quickly became evident why they hadn’t discussed it in years, since doing so was only causing more damage.
But it also became very evident that time had not healed this wound. In fact, a seemingly harmless discussion about the event soon had the couple in an emotional uproar. Yet the event had occurred nearly a decade ago.
But being a professional, I helped them discuss this POW in a new a different way. A way they had never tried, but was absolutely necessary to help heal a POW.
For a POW, the actual event is not as important as what the event signified to each person. My wife being upset that I dropped the rock on her foot was really not about the rock.
Yet my untrained tendency was to justify why the dropping of the rock was not that big of a deal. But to fix a POW, we must dig deeper than the actual event. We must get to what that event really meant to each person.
For my wife, it wasn’t about the rock, it was about respect. It was about treating her, in front of others, like a queen. It was about showing that she was someone special. And dropping a rock on her foot showed none of those.
Once my wife and I could talk about the real meaning of the event, healing started to happen. Had we never been able to, I’m certain it would still be a POW today.
While we need not discuss with such depth every disagreement we have, when time doesn’t help heal a wound, it’s likely a POW that’s going to need a little more TLC to help the healing process occur.
For more tips on keeping your love alive, visit www.panhandlecouples.com.
Remember, couple relationships are easier than you think, but harder than you act.
Mark Anderson is a mental health therapist specializing in couples therapy at Oregon Trail Mental Health in Scottsbluff. To contact him call 635-2800 or visit online at www.panhandlecouples.com