With the temperature in Middle Tennessee near 80 degrees today, it seems hard to believe that just 10 days ago we were snowbound! Virtually everything came to a standstill.
When the snow hit, my wife and I had 3 to 4 inches of ice on our front porch and sidewalk, the back deck was covered in ice and snow, everything looked white and frozen, and it was pretty easy to believe that we were cut off and alone.
But the reality was there were tire tracks in the snow on the road in front of our house, and toward the entrance to our neighborhood the ice had already turned slushy. The road in front of our neighborhood was clearing, and by the time I got to the main thoroughfares, the roads were already mostly dry. But, until we could see beyond our front porch, we made some pretty dire assumptions about our situation.
Has that ever happened to you in your marriage? You feel isolated and cut off? Because you only see what’s closest to you, your perspective narrows. All you can see is the ice and snow surrounding your house. You want it to be different, but you don’t even know where to begin to imagine different. The worry, or fear, or anger keeps you from recognizing that there are other possibilities.
Sometimes our isolation is of our own doing. One spouse throws out an ill-timed, poorly thought-out comment, and the cold front moves in. The other spouse responds out of anger rather than engaging in healthy discussion, and the precipitation begins. Pride sets in, escalation occurs, and the situation grows steadily worse until both mates begin to feel alone and cut off from everything else, especially each other. As hurt feelings linger, it becomes harder and harder to see anything other than the ice and snow immediately surrounding the situation.
And sometimes, our isolation is a result of circumstances we have no control over. He receives the diagnosis he didn’t want to hear. But rather than letting his wife in to walk with him through the dark valley, he pushes her away. And the layer of ice begins to form. She thinks nobody could ever understand the pain she is going through as the conflict between her and her mother deepens, so she takes out her frustration on her husband, and path to togetherness gets more inaccessible. A teen’s behavior creates tension in the house, and husband and wife are at odds over how to handle it. So as the wedge widens, each spouse begin to feel lost and alone.
When tension rises, it is easy for spouses to begin to isolate themselves. Something happens that raises our hackles, and our brains kick in the “fight, flight, or freeze” response. Rather than engaging in godly, healthy productive communication and conflict management, we throw up protective walls, or hurl back hurtful words shot-for-shot, or run away and try to hide.
But you don’t have to remain snowbound. You can get unstuck. Here are a few things to help:
Take a deep breath—I know it sounds cliché, but rather than letting your “survival instincts” take over, give a second for your reasoning-brain-responses to engage. You probably still won’t like what’s going on, but at least you can respond rationally and calmly.
Remember that this is a single incident, not your entire marriage—The snow will melt and life will eventually resume. Don’t do more damage while you are snowbound by escalating the conflict.
Humility and selflessness go a long way—When both spouses feel trapped and feelings are running high, go out of your way to take care of your mate’s emotional needs.
Continually return to the “one flesh” principle—“One flesh” means that I will not do or say anything to you that I would not want done or said to me, because to hurt you is to hurt me. You will survive best together, not alone.
And finally, seek help if necessary—You might feel trapped, but there are still others out there who are willing and able to help you walk through whatever issues you’re struggling with. Have the courage to seek them out. (Please note, this is NOT finding someone to side with you. It is finding a person or a couple you and your spouse both know loves you enough to help—even if the truth hurts.)
It’s tough to be trapped, wondering when the bread and milk are going to run out, and when the ice and snow will finally melt. But in marriage, you’re not alone. Don’t let conflict cause you to lose your perspective and become snowbound.