We have all heard and probably have used the idiom of “sweeping something under the rug”. Sometimes we reference it in literal cleaning terms; we may not have had time to do a full cleaning so we just moved some dirt around in such a way that it is unseen. Most of the time, I think we use it in reference to something we don’t want to deal with or face so we ignore it and put it “under the rug” and move on. This pattern of relating to people is highly problematic though. Issues are rarely addressed and resentments can build and build until someone stomps on the bulge in the carpet and out comes all the suppressed issues that were never dealt with previously. I don’t know about you, but I don’t like it when people let gripes built up until it’s an onslaught of complaints that could have been dealt with one at a time and much early in the relationship.
Why do people sweep things under the rug rather than deal with them at the time? I think fear is the root of this behavior. Fear of rejection, fear of conflict, fear of becoming angry and not being able to manage it, fear of not pleasing someone, fear of being manipulated by the other person and so on. If both people in the relationship had better communication skills, more issues could be immediately dealt with and not suppressed until they all come tumbling out in one emotionally messy pile.
I am a fan of self-help author Dr. Susan Forward. She has written several books that I think are excellent and her book “Emotional Blackmail” is wonderful as well. It is my opinion that EVERYONE should read this book because it clearly defines the difference between speaking up in a healthy manner vs being an emotional manipulator. Believe me when I say that sometimes it’s a fine line between the two. Dr. Forward gives scenario examples in the book of what emotional manipulation looks like and what it doesn’t look like. She also gives concrete tools of how to deal with a manipulator in your life. I think it’s an important read because we want to recognize emotional manipulation in others and especially in ourselves.
If we and those we are in relationship with have a clear understanding of the difference between talking openly about concerns and feelings and falling into emotional blackmail, the rug wouldn’t be needed to cover the topics we are afraid to deal with in an authentic upfront manner.
Has the pile under the rug in your life grown too big and now there is a bulge that everyone quietly walks around and tries to pretend isn’t there? It may be time to start pulling out the issues and dealing with them, rather than adapt to having a lumpy rug.
“She has hitched her heart to a wagon that has no wheels” – A burning bush
Just kidding. A burning bush didn’t actually speak that to me. But man, I’d love it if I was walking along and a bush just burst into flames and out came the voice of God imparting all wisdom. No, instead it was spoken by a wise friend of mine who is full of insightful quotes.
She has hitched her heart to a wagon that has no wheels. What exactly does that mean, you might wonder. We were discussing the unfortunate predicament that another person was in by bonding with a man who can not and will not ever be an adequate romantic partner. How often have we ourselves or know of someone who has hitched themselves to a man-wagon that is going no where? Or we can change the gender and say a man who hitched himself to a woman-wagon without wheels and therefore stuck right where she is.
What causes us humans to allow ourselves to bond with people who can not meet our basic need for love? Sometimes our desire for companionship is so great that we rationalize being in a relationship that is unhealthy. We then become willing to compromise ourselves to mold into the dysfunction. Our next step is to seek out other people who will tell us that the relationship is ok and we should proceed. If we hear negative comments about the wheel-less wagon, then we stop listening to those people and seek out others who will tell us the wagon is a good fit for us.
How do we know if we are potentially hitching our hearts to a stuck wagon or maybe even have already been connected to one for too long; waiting for wheels to materialize? A healthy relationship consists of many components but at its core there should be mutual respect for one another, open and honest communication about our strengths and weaknesses, compassion for the humanness of each partner, encouragement of the individuals maintaining personal independence to pursue hopes/goals/dreams and at the end of the day, a couple should feel like best friends that unconditionally love one another and want what is best for the other person.
If the idea of being emotionally attached to a man or woman who is going no where forward with you sounds familiar, don’t be discouraged. There are many things that can be done to help couples get moving again. However, there are times when unhitching is really the only self-respecting option left. Talk to someone who you trust and value their opinion if you think your heart might be hitched to a wagon with no wheels. It’s a very lonely and painful experience so try not to isolate and go it alone.
The last blog post was titled “Weakest Link”. We were to reflect on whether or not we are the person in our relationship that is causing the majority of the trouble. It’s my belief that one individual is usually more responsible for dragging a relationship down. That doesn’t mean that the problems are all one person’s fault entirely, but in most cases, there is one partner who is allowing his/her unresolved “issues” to rob the relationship of what God intended it to be.
What if you have taken an honest assessment and truth be told, you are not the weakest link? Then what? Well, you have options. The first step is to take a serious look at the relationship and assess the damage that the other person is doing. Secondly, get educated on the subject. Depending on what issues your partner is facing, there are a number of great books to help encourage you in self-care and if necessary, decision making. Listed are a few of the resources that I continue to recommend to my clients:
1) “The Emotionally Destructive Relationship” by Leslie Vernick
(great book for all types of relationships, not just romantic)
2) “Enough About You, Let’s Talk about Me” by Dr. Les Carter
3) “Too Good To Leave, Too Bad To Stay ” by Mira Kirshenbaum
4) “Grace for Divorce” by Dr. Les Carter
Ok, so I know the last book recommendation may cause a little stir among some in the religious crowd. Am I an advocate for divorce? Not at all. Am I willing to look at divorce as an option for a spouse who is in an abusive relationship with no hope for improvement? Yes I am. Before that option is considered, I strongly feel that every effort should and must be made to improve the marriage. Also, the stronger partner must try to chart out a high quality life even while remaining married to the weaker link. However, if emotional and/or physical safety is an issue, a spouse has the right and duty to care for himself/herself , and any children that are involved.
Something can only be fixed when both parties are willing. However, if you find yourself in the position of not being the weakest link, don’t despair. There is hope. Not only do many people change, but God came to give you an abundant life and He knows who you are married to. God’s ability to bless you isn’t disqualified by your spouse and his/her weaknesses.
I am not sure who said it, but I remember hearing a speaker share that a relationship between two people is only as healthy as the weakest person. Ouch. Nobody wants to be the weaker link in a relationship. But sometimes we are and we need to be honest about that fact.
While working with married couples, I rarely state that the conflicts are caused equally by both spouses. I believe that the idea of 50/50 responsibility for the problems within the relationship is a myth. No, my experience tells me that there is usually one partner who is dragging the relationship down more than the other partner. It’s not blame, just the reality of what I have seen.
Within our relationships, if we are ones who are struggling with chronic depression, then we may be bringing a grey cloud over the relationship and our lives together. If we are prone to angry outbursts, we are welcoming unnecessary strife and wounds into our relationship. If selfishness has taken residence within us and we operate out of a hardened heart, we are definitely not able to be a loving participant within any relationship in our lives.
It’s always a good idea to take an inventory of the baggage we may be bringing with us. Being aware really is the first step to change.
The Lord gave me an interesting picture in my spirit recently. I was talking with a client about how hard it is to be a “family changer.” In my private practice, I specialize in family therapy and because of that, I see adults who want to heal from negative experiences from their childhood and teenage years. No longer do they want to continue in the toxic direction that was role modeled to them by the previous generations. Family changers want to experience inner healing for themselves, but they also want to learn to relate to those around them in a healthier way.
The picture the Lord gave me was that of a water channel. When water travels in the same direction, the reinforcements on the sides do not have to be strong. They are just there to keep the stream moving in the same direction. However, if midstream the water needs to be diverted in a different direction, then the side of the channel where the water is pushing against must be reinforced and stronger. There is a lot of pressure pushing up against that one section.
Toxic families can be like the downstream water. Pressure to keep the status quo, pressure to keep the family secrets, pressure to not discuss problems. The family member who decides to deal with generational curses and bondage will need to be reinforced in order to send his or her family in a different direction. Just like with real water, once a family is re-directed, the pressure is lessened and things flow easier in the new direction.
If you find yourself in the role of a family changer, be proud of yourself. It’s not easy to change the path that a family has been going for many generations, but it is well worth the effort. Don’t forget to find support within your community of friends and healthy family members who can encourage the new direction you are headed in.