I remember the first marriage counseling client I met with; she was seeking counseling because her new husband of seven months told her she had a problem and needed to see a therapist. I had recently graduated with my counseling degree and was volunteering at church to provide therapy to the members there; she was probably the same age as I was, and I had only been married a year or so! Before panic set in due to my inexperience, I asked her to tell me what their arguments looked like. She explained that she does his laundry and puts his socks and things away for him, and then they have a fight because the drawers are all unorganized after she spent all that time organizing and putting his things away. So I asked more questions (making sure that he did not beat her or abuse her in any way), and then announced that the problem was not the socks, it was how she thought about the socks!
In her mind, by doing and folding and putting away her husband’s laundry, she was telling him that she loved and appreciated and cared for him. When he rummaged through his drawers to find his favorite pair of socks or underwear, she felt disrespected and angered that he would be so careless about her loving acts of service.
In therapy, we work to find the connection between your thoughts, feelings, and behaviors. Emotions are the indicator light that bring most people to my office. Feelings such as anger, frustration, anxiety, guilt, shame, fear, sadness, and grief are all normal human emotions, but can sometimes spiral out of control, consuming our lives and influencing the relationships around us negatively.
Most of us can see the link between our feelings and behavior. My client and her husband felt hurt and angry and frustrated, and so this led to arguments and contempt and stonewalling. But what so many don’t understand is how quickly our thoughts can trigger these emotions. “She’s crazy” and “he’s a slob” were some of the automatic thoughts that were snowballing into yelling matches! Many couples are really good at pointing fingers and blaming each other for the arguments and problems. We justify our own behavior and want the other person to change and do things our way. But these types of responses can be destructive and attack the character of an individual, rather than getting to the root of the issue at hand.
Romans 12:2 tells us to “not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of our mind.” In our counseling sessions, we work to challenge and change our thinking patterns, which will then help impact our feelings about the situation. Assuming that your spouse can read your mind and “should” do things a certain way is a recipe for disaster! Later on in chapter 12 of Romans, Paul talks about “loving one another deeply, outdoing one another in showing honor.” Scripture gives us really good guidelines for how we should treat each other with love and respect, honoring and forgiving one another as Christ forgave us.
When we apply the gospel of grace to our relationships, we can understand that our spouse is just as flawed as we are, and show them love in the midst of disagreements. Connecting the dots between our thoughts, feelings, and behavior can help us let the socks just be socks, and not symbols of our love and spouse’s disrespect!