When I was in graduate school, I did a lot of marriage and couples’ counseling as part of my internship. Way more than I was comfortable with doing. I have continued to do a fair amount of couples’ and marriage counseling in private practice, but I tend to get more spouses who are coming on their own in the midst of conflict, separation, infidelity or divorce. What continues to surprise me is that over the past three years, not one client has asked me if not being married would affect my ability to help them.
From where I sit in the office, I can definitely say that there is a current war being waged on marriage, and it has nothing to do with a Supreme Court decision. The war is being fought behind closed doors and the battles are being lost in the vast spaces between the sheets. Sadly, by the time most couples even make it into counseling, things have gotten really, really bad. It’s hard enough to re-program years of relational patterns, but to do that in the midst of crisis almost seems impossible.
Sex (or lack thereof) isn’t killing marriages. Facebook isn’t killing marriages (though it DEFINITELY isn’t helping). Porn (in and of itself) isn’t killing marriages. The culprit is a silent assassin that creeps in when no one is looking and grows like black mold in dark, hidden crevices of our hearts.
I’m talking about shame.
Shame keeps husbands from talking to their wives when they are afraid. Shame keeps wives from admitting they are struggling when they put on a deceptive smiling face. Shame sleeps between partners when they are in the same bed yet they feel like the loneliest people in the world. It silences, covers, slithers, and steals while murdering everything in its path.
So how do we win? How do we slay the dragon that is destroying our homes? A few weeks ago, an Orlando-based counselor I greatly respect, Matt Casada, referred to “the crockpot of shame” in his 60 Minute Seminar. This is such a powerful image, and one that I plan on “borrowing” for years to come. If you have ever used a crockpot, you know that the fastest way to make it stop working is to remove the lid. Removing the lid releases all of the heat and steam, and renders the ingredients inside to a temperature too low to cook.
This is how we kill shame. We remove the lid and release our secrets and fears and inadequacies into the air. I continue to be shocked at how little couples actually communicate. Sure, they TALK a lot, but talking isn’t communicating. I am still surprised when I do a couples’ session and when I ask the following week, “so what happened when you talked about this issue at home?”, they look at me with a blank stares and say, “Um, we didn’t.” It takes all I have to jump out of my chair and scream, “Then what the heck have you been talking about all week?!?” They talk about the kids, the grocery list, the budget, the neighbors, but never discuss what is going on between the two of them.
I wonder what would happen if spouses told the truth? If, instead of silently or loudly raging at each other, they said, “That really hurts.” It is so much easier to get angry and yell at someone than it is to look them in the eyes and say, “You hurt me.” That is far too vulnerable for most of us, but it is exactly what we need for marriages to survive.
I love helping people fight for their marriages, but it is hard work. And, if I am being honest, most days I would much rather be fighting for a marriage of my own than mediating for others. It’s hard doing couples’ counseling while being single. It’s not my first choice, but it’s where I am. I do believe that I bring a unique gift to the table in counseling through this stage of my life. Since I still live in a place of hope, but with enough experience in relationships and heartbreak, I get to help people navigate the muddy waters and the fog because I am not in their shoes. I often tell people “you may not have hope, but you can borrow some from me.”
Hope kills shame. Truth kills shame. Vulnerability kills shame. The war on shame is the one we need to be waging. So let’s get to it…