About the Author:
Milan Yerkovich is a weekly talk show host on the New Life Live! radio program. An ordained pastor with a master’s degree in biblical studies, he has been helping couples and families build healthier relationships for more than twenty-five years. Previously a pastoral counselor for The Center for Individual and Family Therapy, Milan now teaches seminars on relationships and intimacy and is cofounder of Relationship 180°, a non-profit ministry for Christian leaders and laity.
Excerpt. © Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.:
Kay Yerkovich is a licensed marriage and family therapist with a master’s degree in counseling. She has been using attachment theory in her professional counseling of couples and families for more than thirteen years.
The Yerkoviches have been married thirty-three years and are the parents of four adult children. They make their home in Southern California.
Why Every Marriage Gets Stuck
If we all naturally knew how to love, this book would be unnecessary, and Milan and I would each be out of a job as counselors. All of us who have been married more than a few years will admit it is a bit more challenging than we anticipated on our wedding day. Every marriage has nagging problems calling for our attention. Many people end up thinking their relationship is difficult because they married the wrong person. But the fact that many people are on to their second and third marriages proves that no marriage is tension free. Sometimes our marriages seem to run fairly smoothly—until we hit a crisis or face difficult circumstances. Stress always makes underlying problems more apparent.
Over the years many couples have come to us for help with their problems. We routinely ask several questions no matter what situation they describe. Recently, for instance, Hannah and Robert came in for their initial session. I asked them what Milan and I ask all the couples we see in our offices: “Tell me about the chronic irritations in your relationship. Perhaps it’s the same old fight that never gets resolved. Maybe it’s a pattern of relating that occurs again and again. Where do you get stuck?”
Hannah looked at Robert, and they laughed. “That’s easy,” she smiled. “It happened in the car on the drive to your office. I’m always the one bringing up the problems, so Robert is always telling me I am controlling. I was mad at him because he didn’t know what he wanted to talk about in our counseling session. He’s too passive. I want him to initiate more and try harder.” Robert chimed in, “I do try. It’s just never enough for you, Hannah.” Hannah looked at me. “See? Now he will pout and withdraw, and nothing
will get resolved.” I summarized, “So no matter what problem you want to discuss, this is your same old dance, the pattern that happens over and over. Is that correct?”
Robert and Hannah both nodded. They had pinpointed their core pattern. Some couples who are just dating can already describe their core pattern. A core pattern is the predicable way you and your spouse react to each other that leaves each of you frustrated and dissatisfied. Some are married a few years before it is apparent but sooner or later couples can readily identify the same old place when they get stuck. Maybe it’s the same complaints that come up again and again without every getting resolved or a familiar pattern of fighting, no matter what the topic. Milan and I are no different. We were married in 1972, and by 1976 we had discovered the classic scene that would play itself out over and over for ten more years of our marriage.
We had just put the kids to bed and collapsed on the couch. I picked up a magazine and began to thumb through it, and Milan sat quietly watching me. This was a familiar feeling; I knew he was taking my emotional temperature. I was hoping he would pick up the remote and turn on the television.
“How are you doing? Did you have a good day?” he asked.
I could feel myself getting annoyed. “Why do you keep asking me that? You already asked me that question two times since you came home from work. It’s the same answer: I’m fine.”
We were starting the wearisome dance that would send us both to bed angry and frustrated. I tried to derail the invitation. “I think there is a game on TV tonight.”
Milan was undeterred. “If you’re fine, then why did it bother you when I hugged and kissed you when I came home from work? I’m happy to see you, and you act like it’s a chore to give me a little affection. You have been distant all evening. What’s going on?”
I sighed. I wish you would go away and let me read my magazine, I thought. For some reason, I began to explain, knowing it wouldn’t help. “I’ve had kids hanging on me all day. When you got home, I was in the middle of cooking dinner and supervising homework, and you want me to drop everything. Why do you always have to make such a big deal?” The next steps of the dance were predictable.
Milan would give me examples of my lack of affection and attentiveness, and I would tell him he was too needy and made me feel smothered. If you have been married for a few years, you can probably describe your own recurring fight, the discussion you’ve had over and over that never gets resolved. You can probably also describe the ways you avoid dealing with problems, and they may be some of the same lines we hear in our offices every day.
· “I try hard to make you happy, but you are never satisfied.”
· “I feel like I’m walking on eggshells with you.”
· “I’ve told you over and over what I need, and you just won’t do it.”
· “Why can’t you be more spontaneous and passionate?”
· “If you would listen and do what I ask, I wouldn’t be angry.”
· “I’m happy with the way things are. You’re the one who is always bringing up problems.”
· “You say you’re sorry, but nothing changes.”
Are any of these steps in your same old dance? Maybe, like us, you find yourself locked in the same tiring dance over and over. Maybe you’ve tried to change your marriage and have been disappointed with the results. Much marriage advice focuses on treating symptoms and surface issues. You think, If it were possible to simply stop certain behaviors and do something different, it would be that easy. But trying to change the things on the surface misses the underlying issues. Occasionally, the adjustment brings good results, and the annoying problem dies down. But it always comes back because there are source patterns guiding those bumbling steps, and until you address them, the dance won’t get any
Marriage is the most challenging relationship you will ever have, and to think otherwise is to live in denial. When you are with someone day in and day out, you can’t hide. Your weaknesses become quite visible, and old feelings from the distant past are stirred. The close proximity of our mates triggers old feelings as we look to them to meet many of the needs our parents were originally supposed to meet. Milan and I spent the first fourteen years of our marriage trying to change our destructive pattern, but we were only addressing the obvious issues that constantly surfaced. We listed the problems and searched for solutions. After fourteen years, though, a huge change took place when we discovered the unseen forces that determined how we loved. We realized our lessons in love didn’t start in marriage. They started in infancy and lasted for all the years we lived with our parents. Our experiences growing up, good and bad, left a lasting imprint in our souls that determined our beliefs and expectations about how to give love and receive love. Milan and I had different lessons about love, which resulted in different imprints, and without realizing it, we were dancing to different tunes. No wonder we were stepping on each other’s toes. Lasting change became possible when we made that revolutionary discovery.
THE REVOLUTIONARY TRUTH
What are these imprints—these earlier dance lessons that healthy or not form our beliefs and expectations about love? All of us have an imprint of intimacy, the sum of our learning about how to love.1 Our imprint determines our love style—how we interact with others when it comes to love. For a few of us, our early love lessons were ideal, and our love style is healthy and positive. Most of us had some hurtful experiences resulting in a harmful imprint and impaired love style. Have you every considered the unseen forces governing how you love? Like Milan and me, you will most likely identify with one of five, common, ineffective love styles resulting from less than ideal imprints. I first learned how definable these love styles were when I was in graduate school. I had a wonderful supervisor and mentor named Dae Leckie. She taught me the importance of our first lessons about love and introduced me to attachment theory.2 I was amazed to easily identify my own love style as well as Milan’s.
For the first time I could see how our different styles collided and were at the root of the destructive core pattern that had frustrated us for fourteen years. This new knowledge provided the most profound revelations about how we loved—and why it wasn’t working.
Milan: Being cautious about some aspects of psychology, I found it interesting to see that in the New Testament the Greek word for “soul” is psuche, which means “inner person” in its broadest sense.3 The word psychology uses the same Greek root and literally means “the study of the soul,” giving rise to our concept of the spiritual that resides within. Attachment theory, simply put, is based on a child’s bond with his or her primary caregiver. God designed us to need connection, and our relationships with our parents is the first place this happens—or doesn’t happen. Attachment theory outlines specifically what can go wrong and looks at how our ability to love is shaped by our first experiences with our parents and caregivers during our early years. These early experiences leave a lasting imprint on our souls that is still observable in our adult relationships.4 Kay: Of course, none of us are shaped perfectly during our formative years. Our world is less than ideal, and our ability to love is marred as a result. Attachment theory helps us recognize this by simply describing observable behavioral patterns, some that are helpful and some that are harmful when it comes to forming healthy, loving relationships. Milan and I had no idea what was driving us to respond to each other in the damaging ways we were. A...
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