Today I'm going to cover three steps to owning our brokenness. This is step two out of the six marriage steps I recommend for marriage happiness. I'm going to cover it in more detail today because I think it's such a foundational principle that can help couples on so many levels and it's often missing.
Brokenness is the culmination of all our shortcomings and weaknesses. It's all the areas where we do the wrong thing or we have the wrong bent or the wrong inclination. Owning your brokenness means you're able to identify and verbalize what your top areas of shortcomings are. A lot of people can't do that and don't want to because they feel too vulnerable to admit their shortcomings or they're unaware that they even have any. But, one of the top benefits to owning your brokenness is you'll be able to reconcile conflicts much quicker. For example, if you know you're a poor listener and you get in a fight with your spouse, you can ask yourself "was I just being a poor listener?" If you were, you can take ownership for how that may have contributed to the conflict. However, if you don't know what your areas of brokenness are, or worse, you don't think you have any, it's going to be almost impossible to work through conflicts with you because you're never going to think you contributed to it. You're always going to think it's your partner's fault. So identifying and owning your brokenness is paramount for you to be a good partner in marriage.
In my marriage retreats I ask people to raise their hand if they have ever asked their partner what their top areas of weaknesses are, and no one raises their hand. No one asks that question to their partner. And because we don't ask that question, our partner gets fed up with our shortcomings and points them out with irritation. But imagine if you did nothing different than asking your partner on a regular basis, what are my shortcomings? What are my areas of brokenness? What are my weaknesses that you see in me? And then you took that feedback and worked on them to get better. Imagine the impact that could have on your relationship. It would most likely inspire your partner to do the same thing because you're modeling courage and humility and then taking action. Talk about a game changer!
There's a great cultural practice in Asia called Kintsugi where broken clay pots are glued back together with gold resin. Therefore, a broken pot is much more attractive and valuable than a perfect pot. We're the same way. When we're sharing our brokenness, we become more attractive because we're real and human and approachable. In contrast, when we're trying to act like a perfect pot, that we have it all together and nothing is our fault, it creates distance because we're prideful and unsafe.
Now I'm going to go through the top three areas of brokenness for my wife and I so you can get a feel for how this works. For my wife, one of her top areas of brokenness is defensiveness. Growing up she felt inadequate for a variety of factors. If you feel inadequate, it's hard to take constructive criticism because you already feel so fragile so you're quick to get defensive. So that's one thing she brought into our marriage, a tendency to get defensive. By the way, brokenness is brought into marriage, your partner had nothing to do with it. Areas of brokenness are usually established early on in life and you bring them right into your marriage. A second one for my wife is she has a tendency to have low awareness with what she feels and what others may feel. It's not her natural instinct to think about how her words or behaviors may impact someone. Part of this stems back again to her childhood feeling inward because of her inadequacy. Also, she didn't have coaching growing up on how others may be thinking or feeling. A third one she brought into our marriage is a tendency to be passive. Growing up her mother hovered over her and talked continuously. So my wife learned to shut down and dissociate and that developed a tendency to be passive. The first area of brokenness for me is being critical. In my home growing up if I did something wrong, my parents were quick to tell me what it was. Also, my parents had high expectations on how one should behave, how hard one should work, and how things should be kept. Also, I'm a psychologist so I've been trained on the right way to communicate vs the wrong way, etc. Therefore, my upbringing plus my career training has left me with high standards that can make me critical if I'm not careful. A second one is I can be impulsive. My desire for what I want can be very strong and I can act before I think, which has gotten me into trouble multiple times in my marriage. Some of this trait goes back to my upbringing as well because I was primarily raised with my mom who gave me a pretty long rope to do as I pleased. I got used to doing what I wanted when I wanted. A third one is I can be a control freak. I tell people lightheartedly I'm a control freak in recovery. A control freak by definition is someone who likes things a certain way and thinks their way is the way. That is me. I'm very particular. I like things a certain way. I like things neat and orderly and I've had to work on that because I can get too controlling with things. Control requires a balance because too little and too much can both create problems. I've tied this control bent back to two areas of my life. One is genetic. Obsessive compulsive traits run in my family. Growing up, my mom always had to have her house spic and span and my Dad was always manicuring the yard and washing the cars. That was my normal growing up, having everything just right. On an emotional level, I also have memories of being bullied several times. I can remember riding my bike away from those occurrences with tears going down my cheeks, making a vow to never be powerless again. I wanted total control to never feel weak again. So, shortcomings can be partially genetic, they can be modeled from your early environment, and they can stem from trauma.
The first step in creating a brokenness chart is to identify what your top three areas are.What are they? Think about feedback you've received from other people. Constructive feedback. This may be from friends, from employers, from your spouse, etc. What are the themes you've heard about yourself? Some common ones include defensive, critical, stone walling, contempt, controlling, secretive, too independent, poor listener, self absorbed, short fused, sloppy, etc. Write your top three down. By the way, we get it backwards. We think strength means to pretend we have no weaknesses. In reality, strength is having the courage to acknowledge our weaknesses. Anybody can pretend they're perfect, but it takes a courageous person to openly admit their flaws. So what are yours? What are your top three shortcomings? If you're not quite clear what yours are, ask your partner. They'd be more than happy to tell you! They live with you day in and day out. No other person is in such a perfect position to tell you what your growth areas are. Don't be scared of their feedback, invite it. Ask them.
Step two is making a list of your partner's top three areas of weaknesses. Write those down. What do you think they are? You live with them so you know their patterns and low points better than anyone. Once you create a list of what you and your partner's top three areas of brokenness are, share the list with them and get their feedback on each item. Do they agree or disagree? Which items would they replace or edit? The goal is to come into agreement on the top three shortcomings for both of you so you have one working document for you as a couple.
Once you have a working list of you and your partner's top three areas of brokenness and you're both in agreement on the items, it's time to identify your vicious cycles. If you can identify the way your areas of brokenness interact and create vicious cycles you'll be able to explain around 95% of your conflicts. And understanding what caused your conflict and how you each contributed is half the battle to resolving them. For example, if I am feeling frustrated because my wife has done something and I express it as a criticism, she's going to get defensive because she feels attacked. If she gets defensive, instead of taking ownership for what she's done, I get more frustrated and become more critical. The more critical I become, the more defensive she becomes. Vicious cycle. Another example is if I feel like my wife is being passive, I start to take over and be controlling because I feel like she's not doing her part. The more I take over, the more passive she becomes because she feels like I want everything my way. The more passive she becomes, the more I take over even more and resent her for not doing her part. Vicious cycle. So what are yours? Identify your vicious cycles between both of your areas of brokenness to properly understand what's causing your conflicts and how you each are contributing to them.
Be sure to check out Dr. Wyatt Fisher's other resources below to better your relationship!
What are your top three areas of brokenness and what created them?