John said Martha is “a tightwad”. And Martha called John “a spendthrift”. Can you relate to this married couple?
Which one is right?
The answer is NEITHER are right! And BOTH are right!
If you continue to criticize each other, you’ll find that neither of you are right! If you stop the criticism and look at the deep desire each of you have, you’ll find you are both right!
Martha’s desire was to bring wise caution to their marriage based on the principle “live within your means”.
Remember what Mr. Micawber concluded (from repeated personal experience) in Charles Dickens’ David Copperfield?
“Annual income 20 pounds, annual expenditure 19, 19, and 6 (19.97½ pounds) – result: happiness. Annual income 20 pounds, annual expenditure 20 pounds ought and 6 (20.02 ½ pounds) – result: misery. In short, continue to spend more than you earn and you’ll find yourself in serious trouble.”
You’re right Martha, who can argue with that! Martha only wanted to live within her means!
But here’s the problem:
Martha’s expression of that desire was not motivated by love but by fear.
The negativity produced by Martha’s fear and criticism corrupted the space between them as a couple and rendered them helpless in resolving such a conflict.
Martha’s childhood connection
Using the Couple’s Dialogue helped Martha uncover memories of growing up with a father who was continually in debt. He secretly took out a second mortgage on their home to make ends meet. Because his habits didn’t change, they lost their home. Martha grew up in an insecure environment of fear projected in part by her mother.
As John mirrored, validated, and empathized with Martha (using the Couple’s Dialogue), her fear began to melt away. And as the negativity dissolved, John began to open his heart to Martha’s wisdom.
“But what about John? You’re making it sound like it’s all Martha’s fault!”
Of course John contributed to the problem. No one can spend more than they make and succeed.
What was the issue behind John’s dysfunction?
John’s desire was simply to feel fully alive.
But here was the problem:
John’s expression of that desire was not motivated by love but by fear.
John saw Martha as a scrooge who would make their lives miserable. He was afraid his marriage would take him back to the prison of his childhood. He even talked of this as an “irreconcilable difference”. His criticism of her made her also feel hopeless.
John’s childhood connection
Can you guess what kind of home John grew up in? His parents were so concerned about money they rarely spent any of it. Fun for John was not an option growing up. He remembers the joy he had when he got his first job and felt like he could buy whatever he wanted.
So when John married Martha, who was a lot like his dad, her financial caution began to activate this childhood fear of living in a prison. He reacted by sometimes spending without thinking. And he refused to listen to Martha.
As Martha used the Couple’s Dialogue to mirror, validate, and empathize with John, her understanding of his need began to deepen. She realized that what John wanted was for them both to live life feeling fully alive and not be needlessly limited.
His fear of staying in that financial prison was a barrier that kept him from appreciating the wonderful potential of balance Martha’s wisdom would provide. That fear began to dissolve as Martha empathized with him.
So it turns out they were both right!
What about you?
The bottom line is that everything we say and do will be motivated by one of two things: fear or love.
Continue in fear and you’ll stay in conflict.
Let love dissolve your fear and you can reconnect with each other at a heart level and get the best of what you both bring to the table in your marriage!