A friend of mine came up to me the other day and (jokingly) said, “Hey, we [he and his wife] need some counseling. When can she start?” Funny, I thought… He was joking about it, but I think this is usually the mindset of many of my clients. Especially in crisis marital counseling (CMC). In CMC, there is, situationally, an offender and an offended. Because the crisis is usually very recent, the offended feels like he or she has every right to be offended, and that the counseling process is mostly for the offender. It’s almost like the offended is saying, “We need counseling. When can he (or she) start?”
The first one or two sessions (depending on the breadth of the presenting conflict) is usually spent on the presenting problem. What happened? How long has this been going on? How did it start? How does it make you (offender) feel? How does it make you (offended) feel? It almost feels like the old game, Twenty Questions. One of my first goals is to get the offended to see what pushed the offender to this action. I haven’t had even one offended come to me expecting to be counseled on how he or she contributed, or is contributing, to the problem. But alas, it takes two to tango.
This is one of those “general” concepts. There are a few cases where the offended party has done absolutely nothing wrong. In fact, I’m thinking of one right now. A woman whose marriage is obviously damaged by things her husband has done, but who herself, has no fault as far as I know. It happens. But almost always, there is fault on both sides.
Never does this fact (that fault can be found on both sides) excuse the offender of what he or she has done. Throughout life, circumstances will change, people will “do you wrong,” ups will become downs, and downs will become ups. No circumstance can “MAKE” you react in any given manner. You can choose to respond to any stimuli biblically or un-biblically. Your actions are your own responsibility – even in the least desirable of situations. But that’s a different blog…
So with whom are you experiencing a relational conflict of some kind? Has he offended you? Do you feel like you have every right to feel offended? – Careful, because once you’ve given yourself license to feel offended, it’s only a short trip down the same road to bitterness and revenge. Emotions are good. They give you insight into your thought patterns. If you “feel” offended, ask yourself why. Why do I feel this way? What has he done that is not sitting right with me? Why does that action/word/attitude offend me so? Then comes the “BIG QUESTION.”
Why did he act/speak in this manner? Or why is his attitude this way toward me? There are infinite possibilities. Perhaps what you are perceiving is a part of his personality structure. Does he have a dominate personality while you have an interpersonal personality? If so, the way he relates to you will be different from the way you relate to other people. Maybe he’s not trying to be offensive at all. Maybe it’s just his way of communicating. Have you considered the option that whatever he did to offend you could possibly have not been directed toward you at all? Maybe you were hit by stray fire.
In any case, answering this question involves empathy. A walk in his shoes. A reversal of roles. It may be scary, but get into the thoughts and feelings of the offender. Does the negative action/speech happen after a certain stimulus that may trigger a certain negative feeling (pain, anger, resentment, confusion, threat, etc) in the offender? Can you do something to suppress this stimulus? Are YOU the stimulus? Is there an aspect of your personality that you need to put in check when dealing with him or her?
Very rarely (not “never,” but very rarely) is there fault on only one side of a conflict. Especially if it has escalated into a battle. One of the first things you need to do in conflict resolution is explore the possibility that you may be contributing (or have contributed) to the problem. After all, it takes two to tango.
Grace and Peace,