Thursday, August 19, 2010

time to take out the trash

imagine what your house would look like if you never took out the trash. picture the piles of refuse growing in your kitchen, decaying and putrefying; your wastebaskets overflowing onto the floor around them. visualize the mess spreading to other parts of your home. as time moves forward, the smell of garbage permeates not only your home, but spills out onto the street. anyone who passes by your house can smell the stench before they reach your front door.

once there is no longer any room indoors, and the refuse spills outdoors, your front yard is littered with old appliances, newspapers, and filth of every kind. critters begin to build nests and burrows in and amongst your leavings, and other infestations soon become a real problem. finally, imagine yourself at the breaking point. when you can take the burden of the chaos and filth no longer, you make the decision to do something about it. but now, the problem is almost too large to address. where do you begin? it’s overwhelming because the issue of taking out the trash is no longer the only issue. now you must deal with the pests and their nests. you will need to sort through the piles, organizing what to keep, what to trash, and you will need to re-learn how to live without the clutter. you will need to learn how to take out the trash. you are also ashamed by the realization that your trash has affected your neighbors and has created an eyesore in the community. all of this will take a supreme amount of time and energy to confront the enormous task ahead. got the picture?

neglecting to take out the trash is one of the most common causes of failure in marriages. it starts out as a very small problem, almost unperceivable, but over time, it’s fatal.

i’m talking about the trash of bitterness: the little offenses, the slights, the unsolved issues that exist in every marital union. it seems so much easier to ignore them, to stuff them. they’ll go away . . . riiii - ight?

consider these scenarios:

#1 she’d always been controlling. at first he saw her as a “go-getter” . . . outgoing. eventually she seemed merely controlling. no matter what he did it was never right. she corrected and nattered at him all the time. he tried to talk to her about it, but usually backed down. it’s wasn’t worth the hassle, so he ignored it. over time he realized that he too was becoming more and more critical of her. he didn’t voice it as she did, but it was there. he found that he preferred the company of his buddies more than that of his wife. more and more he made excuses to come home later, and after awhile, he just didn’t care.

#2 he had a history of drinking. while he was drinking he neglected his wife, neglected his children, and generally lived the life of a drunkard. but she loved him, and waited for him through all of the pain and the financial fall out. finally after years of begging, he checked into rehab, and he came out sober. she had great expectations for him to take the helm and be the head of the household. it was a slow process and things didn’t move along the way she’d hoped. she found herself resentful but she maintained a stiff upper lip. resentment eventually grew to criticism, and then disdain. before long their home had become a boxing ring, where ugly things were thought and said and thrown like punches. neither one wanted to stay with the other any longer. it was just too hard.

#3 he didn’t like the dinner. he told her so. although he was well-meaning, it hurt her feelings. she chose not to talk to him about it, after all, it was such a small thing. yet she found her heart cooling toward him.

little offenses, no matter how small, will become big ones, when not dealt with.

in order to keep our marriages free from the clutter of bitterness, we must take out the trash, and do it regularly.

i know one couple that makes a practice, every night, of taking a few minutes and touching base with each other. “did i do something today that hurt or offended you?” they choose to be honest with each other. they disclose, and they offer forgiveness. when that question has been answered, they follow with “did i do anything today that made you happy?” at first, this practice may take longer than a few minutes, but you will find that as the garbage can is emptied regularly, it becomes easier and easier, not only to take out the trash, but to prevent the creation of garbage in the first place.

for this practice to be effective you must agree to be honest with each other. do your best to state your case in terms that are not accusatory, but rather focus on how your spouse’s behavior affected you. then, when your spouse is sharing, own it. don’t make excuses, don’t rationalize. if you hurt your partner, whether intentional or not, apologize. and mean it. when your mate apologizes, forgive. true forgiveness is more important to your own well being than to theirs (another issue – probably for the next blog).

of course, this approach assumes that there isn’t much trash to take out. if your trash has accumulated and you find that your relationship is characterized by contempt and criticism, it’s time to get help. get help and get it fast. check your local church or city chamber to get some referrals for a marriage counselor. ask around to see who’s good. some churches offer free counseling, others are fee based. whatever the price, it’s worth it. consider the alternative – divorce is a messy and very costly “solution” when the trash build up has gotten out of control.