Christian Living


Marriage 911

Know When to Say ‘When’

What is your emotional intelligence? In other words, how well do you know the right thing to say, at the right time and in the right way?

No doubt you have plenty of smarts when it comes to things you enjoy. We tend to excel in areas we find interesting and pursue. But, knowing when to say ‘when’ is something most of us could use more schooling in.

Why is this issue so important? Consider the following scene:

Jeff is a very successful businessman, having risen in the ranks of a prominent company. Sturdy in build and resolute in disposition, he didn’t get to be a manager in his company by being passive. Rather, he is direct, dominant and decisive. He expects a lot out of himself and out of his family.

Ginny, his wife, is quite the opposite. Slender in build and soft-spoken, she typically slips to the back of the crowd, preferring to blend in rather than stand out.

Ginny and Jeff have been married for eight years; this being the second marriage for both of them. They came to The Marriage Recovery Center in desperation of saving a failing marriage.

“We’ve got to get this right,” Jeff said firmly. He was bold in his presentation.

“I can’t live like this any more,” Ginny said softly. “I’m losing my voice and it is actually impacting my health. I’m having headaches, losing weight and am probably depressed.”

“What is going on between you two?” I asked. “Sounds like you are in a crisis.”

“Yeah,” Jeff said in a surly tone, “and all this after we’ve both failed in our first marriage.

“So tell me what’s happening,” I said.

Jeff shared how he seemed unable to do anything right to please Ginny. Ginny shared how she felt overwhelmed by Jeff’s personality. What she originally found alluring about Jeff—his outgoing, confident personality—now felt hurtful to her. He was forthright to the point of wounding her with his words. Her efforts at assertiveness fell short of impacting him.

By the time they made it to The Marriage Recovery Center, they were two hurting people. Jeff felt rejected by Ginny’s withdrawal from him, while Ginny felt hurt by Jeff’s abrupt manner. While both knew how much they were hurting each other, they didn’t realize how to stop it. Jeff pushed Ginny far beyond her comfort zone, failing to recognize her pain because of his own pain and personality style. Ginny knew she needed to set healthier boundaries, but struggled to do so.

Both struggled in ‘knowing when to say when.’ In other words, they persisted in engaging in harmful behaviors, far beyond the point of hurting their mate. In short, they failed to ‘know when to say when,’ or to be more precise, even how to say ‘when.’

This is not a unique problem to Jeff and Ginny. In fact, the Apostle Paul said that he did things he would rather not do, and did not do the things he wished he would do.

“For I do not do the good I want to do, but the evil I do not want to do—this I keep on doing.” (Romans 7:19)

Fortunately, both Ginny and Jeff wanted to learn new ways of interacting. They cared deeply for each other and were able to share that during our work. But, they had to learn a lot more about how they were hurting each other, why they did so, and how to stop it.

Here are some additional tips on how to know when to say ‘when.’

First, become very informed about how we hurt others. 

This is never enjoyable work, but is oh so necessary. We must look at our behavior candidly, stop justifying and rationalizing it, and calling it what it is—hurtful! Until we acknowledge the damage we are causing, we won’t be motivated to stop it.

Second, empathize with your mate about their pain.

Listen carefully as they share the impact of your hurtful behavior. Learn about exactly when and how you are hurtful. Where are the boundaries you are crossing? In what ways do you cross them and what is the impact of doing so?

Third, consider what is happening inside you when you cross those boundaries.

What is your pain that you are expressing indirectly? What is your motivation for pushing your mate, or failing to set a boundary? Gather more information so that you understand yourself and your triggers.

Fourth, learn to express your needs directly and in a healthy way

Coming to an understanding of what you need and want from your mate, and learning how to ask for it in a healthy way will heal a lot of wounds. Know when to say ‘when,’ and back away from a heated situation. Respond to your triggers by taking good care of yourself, your mate and assisting each other to guard your ‘raw spots.’

Finally, maintain a healthy conversation with your mate.

Agree to help each other cope more effectively, learning the fine art of emotional dancing. Agree to catch problems as they begin to develop, not long after they are already inflamed. Work together to master the problems, collaborating on solutions that will work for both of you. Master the art of knowing when to say ‘when.’

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Would you like more information on how to improve your relationships?  Dr. Hawkins and his team are available to work with you via Phone, Skype or intensive counseling for you and/or your marriage. Please go to our website, marriagerecoverycenter.com and discover more information about this as well as the free downloadable eBook, A Love Life of Your Dreams, including other free videos and articles.  Send responses to me at [email protected] and also read more about The Marriage Recovery Center on our website.

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