Too often during counseling sessions, I hear married couples make the same kinds of statements: “He made me do it!” or “She caused me to behave that way!”
These exclamations are fairly common. And you have probably made your own similar statements to a close friend or family member, venting about your spouse. We don’t want to take the blame for something, so we pass the blame on to a readily accessible scapegoat – our spouse.
But there’s a problem with these kinds of statements: they’re inherently wrong.
So when my clients tell me such things, I let them get out their frustrations, and once they’re finished, I make sure they know the truth.
And the truth is that, in reality, nobody can make anyone do anything. Whatever we do, whichever way we react to anything, is OUR CHOICE. No matter what our spouse does, we have a choice in how we decide to react. We are solely responsible for our actions, and we need to start owning up to that responsibility instead of blaming our spouse for our choices.
That’s why we need to learn how to RESPOND instead of REACT. When we react, we’re doing so immediately and without thought, which is why those reactions never seem to accomplish anything. When we respond, however, we’re taking in the situation and choosing the response that will give us the best outcome.
So how can we learn how to respond?
I tell my clients to imagine an invisible space that exists between their partner’s action and their reaction. That space is called CHOICE. In this space is where you assess the situation. Where you consider what you want the ultimate outcome to be. Based on that, you then choose a response most likely to achieve that outcome.
No one is saying that this is easy. Your spouse may be going off on you and screaming and yelling. But you don’t have to get sucked into a fight. If you have to, literally take a deep breath or walk away to give yourself the time you need to choose the right response.
This is especially important if you are in front of the children. The greatest gift we can give our children is modeling to them what a healthy, loving, and caring relationship looks like. If we do so, then our children will know how to behave in their marriage. For this alone, it’s worth our restraint to be proper role models as marriage partners.
Let’s look at an example.
After a cold and snowy night, you and your spouse wake up to discover both of your cars are covered in snow. If your spouse goes outside and only clears his own car of snow instead of clearing your car as well. This is something he has done before. It is something that makes you feel hurt and frustrated, and in the past, it has led to fights.
But this isn’t the past, and right now you have a few options available to you.
- You can choose to “teach him a lesson” by neglecting to do something for him like not making him a cup of coffee.
- You can choose to yell and scream and cause an argument.
- You can choose to pause, take a moment, and calmly confront him about the hurt you felt and what you hope will happen differently in the future.
If you think the third option sounds like the best choice to start your day, you’d be right.
Realize that they’re all choices, though. You can choose to REACT to your husband’s actions in an often childish and ineffective way, or you can choose to RESPOND to your husband’s actions in a thoughtful and reasonable way.
Even if our spouse does or says something deliberately mean, you don’t have to be mean back. You can respond in a more constructive manner that will work to fix your marriage and solve your marital issues instead of creating new ones.
So the next time your spouse does something that’s screaming for a reaction, take a moment, and then take advantage of the space between your spouse’s action and your reaction to choose wisely.
Rooting for you!