The Butterfly Effect
Q. My marriage has been unhappy for a number of years. We argue or are distant for a week or two each month. When things get tense I suggest counseling but my husband refuses to go for help. What can I do?
A. Change in a marriage is possible even when only one person seeks help. Change makes a difference when one person makes minor but meaningful changes. In fact the relationship may improve dramatically. This is due to “the butterfly effect.” “The butterfly effect” was discovered by a well known meteorologist, Edward Lorenz, who discovered that a butterfly flapping its wings in Brazil may create a tornado in Texas. Michele Weiner-Davis in her book Divorce Busting cites evidence that “the butterfly effect” also is at work in relationships. One person can change a marriage.
Do Something Different
Small changes by one spouse make a difference. This information gives hope for troubled marriages in which only one partner is willing to make changes. Weiner-Davis says if things aren’t working do something different. Stop blaming your mate and study the interaction patterns between you. When you see the problems as the other person’s fault the solution is out of your control. For example, it takes two people to argue – so don’t argue. Listen and get a clear understanding of your husband’s viewpoint. Summarize what you’ve heard him say. This doesn’t mean you agree. It will show him you understand. Do you want to be right or be happy? I’m not saying you should give in to him. But choose your timing and your battles. And hear his viewpoint before sharing yours.
Most couples, in attempting to solve their marital problems keep using the same solutions over and over again even though it’s obvious that these solutions are not working. In fact, when the one attempting to fix the problems finds that his or her first efforts aren’t working the next tactic usually is to increase their efforts and do even more of the same thing. This approach maintains the problems and may even increase them. The solution then becomes part of the problem. For example, someone seeking more closeness from a partner who is distant may actually be creating more distance.
Do More of What Works.
Note the times you and your partner are getting along well. What are you doing during those times that you are not doing when things are difficult? For example are you smiling or frowning? Are you listening with interest or is your mind wandering?
Small changes such as smiling more or listening with real interest are affirming to the other person and can make a difference. A change in your interest in your husband’s activities and viewpoints can make a huge difference. If you’re usually serious – say something funny or off the wall. If you nag about chores stop this but put up a list of chores. Communicating in writing often works.
Look for minimal results. Don’t expect perfection. No marriage is perfect. All marriages have difficult times. The troublesome times will never vanish but they can be less frequent, less destructive and shorter in length. Surprise your husband and do something different! Think of yourself as a butterfly flapping its wings! One person can change a marriage.
“A woman of gentle grace gets respect.” Proverbs 11:16 The Message