A Man's Best 'Possession' is a Sympathetic Wife
Written By: Mark Smith
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, I know my title sounds a bit sexiest, the word possession and all, but please let me explain as I do not mean it that way. I was at Navy Pier in Chicago on Saturday in what felt like 100 degree heat eating Chinese food crowded by teeming masses of people when my fortune cookie saying of 'A Man's Best Possession is a Sympathetic Wife' cut me to the quick. It stuck me as being so very true. I knew that I had my blog topic of the week. The fortune reminded me of Proverbs 31:10-12 'A wife of noble character who can find? She is worth far more than rubies. Her husband has full confidence in her and lacks nothing of value. She brings him good, not harm, all the days of her life.' I absolutely LOVE the word sympathetic. It is what I spend a lot of time trying to teach my couples in marital therapy. Wikipedia defines the word Sympathetic as 'having a social affinity in which one person stands with another person, closely understanding his or her feelings. Also known as empathic concern, it is the feeling of compassion or concern for another, the wish to see them better off or happier. To empathize is to respond to another's perceived emotional state by experiencing feelings of a similar sort. Sympathy not only includes empathizing, but also entails having a positive regard or a non-fleeting concern for the other person.' To me being sympathetic means to not be harsh, reactive or judgmental, to see your spouse with all their many flaws and dysfunctions but to still believe in them. It means to receive grace, forgiveness and affirmation in spite of messing up.
I try to create a safe, sympathetic environment in therapy. That starts with a major paradigm shift for most couples. Every couple I have ever worked with has had at least one member who has come into therapy feeling victimized by their spouse. I teach them the foundation of all truly effective marriage counseling - that there are no victims and there are no bad guys in marriage, ever! We marry who we need to marry. We marry hidden versions of our parents' worst qualities. On Friday I was working with a couple whose marriage was pretty much done, stick a fork in it done. There wasn't much sympathy going on in the room to say the least. I took a break and then came back into the room determined to break through the 'offended party', in this case the wife. She was so very hurt and so very angry. She felt victimized and justified in her judgments. The more she criticized the more defensive her husband became. It was ugly.
When we resumed I shifted her focus OFF her broken and flawed husband and onto her father, her real problem. She was completely abandoned by her father. Somehow light bulbs came on for this woman all of a sudden. She began crying tears from the abandoned little girl inside of her. She got it that she had unconsciously but deliberately selected a man for a husband who would abandon her the same way that her father had. The split second that she saw that all the judgment, harshness, reactivity, coldness and unforgiveness left the room. In their place there was warmth, tenderness, compassion, acceptance, connection, encouragement and even hope. It was beautiful. In a matter of minutes a wife went from being a bitter, critical, walled off rock thrower to being a sympathetic, kind, vulnerable accepting core sad little girl who was no longer closed off from her husband. It was magical really. She could accept his woundedness because she was in touch with her own. Sad wounded little kids don't throw rocks - they are busy crying. She understood his bad behavior as having its roots in his childhood wounding. As long as he was humble, open, motivated to work on himself and the marriage, in touch with his feelings, and trustworthy she could forgive him for how he had hurt her. Forgiveness rocks! I felt like I was in the room with two sad, wounded little kids who had nothing but love and compassion for one another. That is exactly the mark of great marital therapy. It is also the mark of a deep, healthy, lasting marriage. Both parties have the wonderful blessing of taking turns being vulnerable, real, deep and little while they receive love and support from their partner. That kind of intimacy will keep a couple together for a lifetime.
Learn to be gracious and sympathetic with your spouse. Heck, while you are at it learn to be gracious and sympathetic with yourself and (your kids and your friends and your family and your co-workers). In marriage we all get exactly what we signed on for. The real marriage vows are unspoken. They are all about reenacting the worst wounds from childhood. They are all about your father and your mother. You don't know it but when you marry, you are asking your new spouse to basically love you with the same type of love that you were given as a child. And they can provide that easily because they are made up of the very same psychological DNA as your parents. I know that is a mind blower but it is the truth. I have used this one simple truth to save literally hundreds of marriages. A sympathetic wife doesn't hold grudges, she doesn't judge you, she doesn't emasculate you and she respects you in spite of your faults and failures. A sympathetic wife forgives. She takes the high road. She takes responsibility for her life. She is nobody's victim. She really is the very best thing that a man can have going for himself.
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