“Beware: Marriage Turbulence Ahead!” (Part 3)

Imagine marriage is like flying a plane. When you encounter the rough spots, use these “instruments” and guidelines to help restore a smooth flight.

Imagine your marriage is like a plane ride: Your relationship taxied down the runway when you said “I do!” It lifted off, reached proper altitude and eventually leveled off. Things in the cockpit seem to be running smoothly. You and your spouse are communicating well; you seem to share common values and goals; you are clear on your destination.

And then, “Wham!” You hit turbulence, and what was a smooth ride changes in an instant.

Don’t panic! All relationships encounter turbulence; some, more than others. But if we use our flight instruments we can quickly identify what’s gone wrong. Here are two important ones to consider.

Compass setting

A compass is used for navigation. It always points north, to give you a frame of reference for where you are versus where you want to be. Within marriage your compass setting tells what your values and priorities in life are.

From a spiritual standpoint, is your compass pointing due north? When our compass needle is pointed toward God and His standards for living, then we can quickly see how far off course we are and make adjustments. God’s Word is the perfect source for us to know exactly what spiritual north represents and how close we are to it (2 Timothy 3:16).

Attitude indicator

The attitude indicator tells the pilot the plane’s position in relation to the horizon. Are the wings level? Is the plane’s nose too high or low? In order to have a good flight, a pilot strives to maintain a good attitude!

In marriage, the attitude indicator is closely linked to our compass setting. When our spiritual lives are not centered on God, our attitudes quickly go south. Similar to an attitude indicator on an airplane, our attitudes in marriage reveal when we are not properly aligned with God’s instructions.

Guidelines for restoring a smooth flight

Now what? Once you’ve identified what may be causing your turbulence, use these guidelines to restore a smooth flight:

1. Use active listening skills.

Much of the time when we communicate with our spouse we are not truly listening to him or her. We are thinking about what we are going to say in response! Active listening involves listening to understand, and then conveying back that we heard accurately. We do this by using such phrases as, “So what you’re saying is ….” This helps our spouse know that we’re trying to understand and it keeps us from interrupting him or her.

2. Avoid inflammatory words.

There are two phrases I often hear from couples I’m counseling: “Why do you always …?” and “Why do you never …?” Words like these really inflame us because we feel attacked and on the defensive. Adrenaline, coupled with anger, then causes us to lash out, which only escalates the conflict.

3. Determine not to go to bed mad.

Whenever possible, resolve your conflict the same day it occurs (Ephesians 4:26). Leaving things untended for too long allows time for festering.

4. Take time-outs.

Sometimes, though, we need to take a break from the conflict to let the intensity of our emotions die down. Even an hour can change our perspective. The closer we can get to emotional equilibrium, the better we’ll be able to apply the next guideline.

5. Attack the problem, not the person.

If you have a problem with something your spouse is doing, focus on the behavior that you don’t like and what you would like changed. Here’s an example of what not to say:

“Why do you always leave your dirty towel on the floor after you get out of the shower? Why can’t you ever pick it up like I’ve asked you to? Don’t you ever listen? How many times do I have to ask you?”

Instead, try saying it like this:

“It’s really frustrating for me to come into the bathroom and find your towel on the floor after you’ve showered. I would appreciate it if you would hang it up to dry or put it in the hamper so that it can get washed with the rest of the clothes.”

By phrasing your request in this way, you are focusing on the problem that you have and asking for your spouse’s help to resolve it.

6. Leave the past in the past.

Finally, there’s nothing worse than having to fly through the same stormy weather over and over again! If you keep coming back to the same turbulent issues, there’s probably an underlying reason. Check your instrument panel again and reevaluate your course heading.

Marriage was designed by God to be a blessing, not a curse! You may not have smooth flying all the time. But with the right flight plan, cooperation in the cockpit and the ability to properly use your flight instruments, you can confidently navigate through whatever surprises life may bring.

For more information on dealing with difficulties in marriage, read “How to Save Your Marriage.”

Read Part 1: Preflight Planning: “Where’s This Marriage Going?”
Read Part 2: Cockpit Cooperation: “Who’s Flying This Marriage Anyway?”

Topics Covered: Relationships, Marriage

About the Author

Debbie Caudle

Debbie Caudle

From Canada to California and then Wyoming to Texas, Debbie Caudle’s journey has taken a lot of twists and turns, but through it all she’s had a lifelong desire to help others improve their lives. She has worked over 25 rewarding years as a licensed counselor, working with individuals, couples, children and families. This experience has taught her a lot about the challenges people face in conquering their worst fears and hurdling their toughest obstacles. 

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