← Back to Blog


Posted: September 24, 2014

Looking into eyesI saw a newscast video on CNN last week that showed a young boy standing by the side of the road holding a sign that said, “I hit little girls.” The boy’s dad used this cruel masquerade as punishment for bad behavior. When the mom found out what was going on she was rightfully furious. She protested because she knew this would cause her son immense shame for the rest of his life. She also hinted at the fact that the dad was doing to his son that which had been done to him. Shame, if not dealt with, gets passed on.

As you are reading this you might suggest shame does not apply to you, but let me assure you that shame is universal. Blaming, gossiping, name calling, bullying are behaviors that have permeated our culture. We all have it in some degree and the greatest antidote to destroying it is in bringing it out of its secret place. You see, shame thrives in the darkness, where we think it is nice and safe. But it’s not.

So we come into our marriage, each carrying our suitcase of shame.  According to Dr. Linda Hartling of the Stone Centre at Wellesley, in order to deal with our shame in our relationships, “some of us move away by withdrawing, hiding, silencing ourselves and keeping our secrets. Some of us move toward by seeking to appease and please. And some of us move against by trying to gain power over others, by being aggressive, and by using shame to fight shame.  All of these strategies disconnect us and move us away from each other. We are afraid to be completely vulnerable, so we’re not completely honest with our feelings.  This is what happened in my first marriage.

When Dick and I were first married most of our fights where power struggles of selfishness, anger, blame and accusations and the goal was to win. You can imagine that most arguments resolved nothing, but only left us both feeling destroyed, angry and devalued. When partners fight like this, no one feels HEARD and when we don’t feel heard we feel devalued and shamed.  Disconnection starts and couples grow farther and farther apart.   No one wants to continue this destructive path that only leads to feelings of worthlessness and shame. Soon one partner decides it’s time to move on.

After Dick and I started attending church and began our personal relationship with Jesus, we began to see life through a different set of lenses. Over time we saw each other through lenses of love, acceptance and a desire to want the other person to be better. We both began to see how much we hurt each other when we fought like that and decided to try a different approach.  Here is what worked for us.

When an issue came up that needed to be addressed, I might say something like this: “Honey, I really need you to hear what I have to say. While I am talking I ask that you not interrupt me. I ask that you not tell me I’m over-reacting. Please don’t tell me I’m sensitive. Please don’t tell me I should not feel this way.  This is how I see what happened. Here is how it made me feel. I am going to ask you to stop doing that  (whatever the issue was) because it makes me feel that I am being taken for granted and that I am not valued”.

Then I would speak for about five minutes. When it was Dick’s turn to talk I would also not be allowed to interrupt until he was finished.  I was amazing what we learned about each other, and we started to listen to each other’s words without judgment or blame and shame.  It became our desire to stop trying to win an argument but to find a mutually satisfying resolve.

I believe the most marvelous success that came from fighting this way is that we both felt heard, understood and valued. When we feel this way, shame loses its power, vulnerability returns and intimacy grows.

Over the years we got better and better and soon it was our intent to stop arguments all together. Instead we desired to build each other up in love and unleash each other to be the best people that we could possibly be.

Two days before my husband died on the basketball floor, he wrapped his arms around me and said, “Life does not get any better than this.”  I am so grateful for God’s love that it taught us to pursue love, rather than shame and blame.



Posted in: Communication, Conflict, Control, Differences, Finding Truth, Freedom, Friendship, Good Marriage, Intimacy, intimacy destroyer, Listening, love, power of words, secrets, Tension, Understanding each other

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *