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SALT LAKE CITY — In this edition of LIFEadvice Coach Kim explains the underlying issue behind many marriage problems and how you can start to fix them.
Our marriage is in trouble. We both get offended and hurt all the time. I don’t want this much contention in my life and I know my wife doesn’t either, but neither one of us knows how to fix it. We have tried counseling and honestly it made things worse, all we did is fight with a mediator. We never learned to change ourselves. Is there any other options to make some real changes?
When everything else hasn’t worked, chances are you have some deep subconscious fears of failure and loss that are creating problems in your relationship. You and your spouse probably have some inaccurate beliefs about yourself and life too, which are creating defensiveness, selfishness and resentment.
Here are some common signs of a fear problem in your subconscious programming. See if any of these sound familiar.
- You may be constantly worried about all the bad things that could happen to you or your family.
- You may get offended or feel insulted easily.
- You may be over sensitive to being criticized. If anyone says anything that could be taken as an insult, you will take it that way.
- You may be prone to feeling like a victim and getting upset when you feel taken from at any level. If someone butts in front of you in line or takes your time, energy, property, or takes you for granted you may get really offended.
- You may feel better than other people. You may be quick to jump on others for their bad behavior, gossip about them, or cast them as the bad guy. You may be prone to criticising others.
- Or you may see yourself as less than other people, self-deprecate and cast yourself as the bad guy.
- You may be a perfectionist and try too hard to do everything and do it perfectly.
- Or you may have given up and keep the bar low where it’s easy to reach. You may be coasting and not putting much effort into anything.
- You may be a control freak and try to control everyone and everything.
- Or you may stay unattached and not care about anything because it feels safer that way.
- Or you may have fear about being controlled and rebel against anyone who makes you feel controlled. You may see behavior as controlling even when it isn’t.
- You may be uncomfortable speaking up for yourself, especially if it could cause confrontation. You may have trouble saying no or defending yourself.
- Or you might speak up too much and at times be harsh with people or even selfish. You be overly protective of your time and energy and say no all the time.
- You may feel hopeless, discouraged or depressed at times. You may be worried your life is just not good enough. If any of these sounds familiar to you, (and for most of us they will) you have some subconscious fear issues. If you want to see which fears are specifically showing up in your life you may want to take the free Fear Assessment on my website.
The problem in most marriages is selfishness and defensiveness, and both of these are caused by fear. There is a worksheet called “Understanding your Marriage” on the website too and it will help you to see how fear is affecting your relationship and why. You and your spouse should both fill this out individually.
I suspect your wife is terribly afraid of failure. She may be afraid she isn’t good enough as a wife and mother. She may have body-image issues or she may be afraid she can’t measure up in other ways. These fears are playing out in her subconscious programming. She doesn’t want to be easily offended or resentful, it just happens automatically.
Remember, subconscious thought processes create your emotions. You are likely to feel offended before you understand why. You are offended because you are subconsciously afraid you aren’t good enough and you are projecting that fear onto your spouse. Because you don’t think you’re good enough, you will believe your spouse doesn’t think you’re good enough either. Then, you will unintentionally look for proof that you are right about this. When you find this proof, which could really be inaccurate perceptions of the events, you will use it to cast him or her as the bad person and that will create growing resentment in the relationship.
Fear thinking is quite irrational, yet it feels real.
As the husband you may also battle fears of failure at work, your own body-image issues, fears of loss or not measuring up or fears of not being appreciated. You also won’t mean to get offended or mad so easy, but it will happen subconsciously.
If your wife starts complaining about her life, which is really about her fears about herself not being good enough, this could trigger your fear of failure you were already battling all day at work and because you feel subconsciously responsible for your wife's happiness. You might feel mad and resentful that she’s not happy and assume it's about you. Your fears of not being good enough could lead to criticizing her. You don’t want to feel or behave this way, you are just subconsciously reacting in the only way you know how.
That doesn’t mean you both can’t change it though.
You have the power to change your conscious and subconscious fears and beliefs. It will take some work though. There are many coaches and counselors out there who specialize in this kind of cognitive work. I highly recommend you keep looking for a professional to help you do this. It makes changing much easier.
The first step to changing your subconscious programming is to understand it and become conscious of how and why you react to situations the way you do. Start paying more attention when you get bothered, offended or upset. See if you can tell what you are really afraid of — failure (looking bad, being rejected or not good enough) or afraid of loss (losing out or being taken from at some level). Just identifying what is happening will help a great deal.
You both also need to do some work on your self-esteem. Repairing your own self-esteem is the best thing you can do for your marriage.
You must also start watching for offenses and consciously noticing your reactions. You will start to see that your automatic reaction isn’t your only choice. You could choose not to react. You could respond instead from a place of trust and love. The next time your spouse insults you, remember the insult is just words or thoughts and these can’t actually diminish who you are, they cannot change you or determine your value.
Most thoughts and words are coming from someone who isn’t seeing you or the situation accurately anyway. Their fears are skewing their perspective and the insult probably has more to do with how they are feeling about themselves, than it does about you.
That doesn’t mean you shouldn’t check yourself though. Is there any truth to it? Is there a lesson for you here? Could it serve you to learn something from this feedback? But also remind yourself that it’s just a lesson and it doesn’t mean you are inadequate as a person in any way. Your value is not on the line. You have more to learn, but you are good enough as you are right now.
Just remember most marriage problems are happening because one or both spouses is afraid and suffering from self-esteem problems (fear of failure) or is overly sensitive to feeling taken from or not being in control. These are subconscious fear problems and nothing will get better until the underlying fear issue is addressed.
You may want to read my five-part series on Repairing your Marriage that was published on KSL earlier this year.
You can do this.