As mentors we often hear stories of conflicted marriages. After talking to the spouse who contacted us for help we realize in many of these situations only one spouse is aware of the problem or willing to work on them. We think of the spouse who contacted us as the eagle – the one with the sharp vision. The other spouse is the ostrich – the one with their head in the sand. Can you relate? If you are the eagle, here’s how to resuscitate a broken marriage if your spouse is an ostrich.
Eagles and Ostriches
Eagles have very sharp vision. Their eyesight is estimated to be 4 to 8 times stronger than a human. They can spot a rabbit 3.2 km away.
The eagle spouse has vision like that. Most likely the eagle spouse is more relationship-oriented than their mate. Their preferred personality style is the sanguine heart or the phlegmatic soul. A relationship oriented person is more focused on supporting and motivating. They love to foster positive relationships, work to meet needs of others, and excel at mediation and collaboration. Well-being is of primary importance to the eagle spouse.
If you’d like to take my free assessment and determine just what your preferred style is, click Personality Key.
Ostriches have the reputation of putting their heads in the sand, and have become the poster child for living in denial. The truth is, ostriches don’t bury their heads in the sand because they wouldn’t be able to breathe. But they do dig holes in the dirt to create nests for their eggs, and several times a day they poke their head in the hole to turn the eggs.
The ostrich spouse is the one who seems unaware of relationship problems, or unwilling to address them. Most likely this spouse is more accomplishment or task oriented. Their preferred personality style might be the choleric strength or the melancholy mind. They like to solve problems, and are pretty good at it. Only don’t ask them to solve a relationship problem. They are more comfortable with a balance sheet problem or an engineering problem or an organizational problem. They love to follow a step by step procedure to accomplish goals, and are not as concerned with catering to the feelings of others. Relationship problems make them want to…well make them want to bury their head in the sand.
The Eagle’s Responsibility
I’m assuming if you got this far you are probably the eagle spouse. That means you have a responsibility. Since you recognize the problem, it’s going to be your turn to do something about it. This doesn’t mean you started the problem, but one person alone couldn’t have a broken marriage. So even if you haven’t started it, you are part of the problem. Your response is your responsibility.
When we have a prickly relationship with someone, most of us try to change the other person. We use one of four methods to change other people: criticism, contempt, defensiveness, and stonewalling. Dr. John Gottman, a well-known marriage researcher, calls these methods the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse. He says if one or more is present in a marriage, there is a 93% chance of divorce.
Using one of these methods will never, ever change a person for the better.
A much better plan is to change the relationship instead of the person. If just one person changes their approach in a marriage, the marriage relationship will change. The ostrich may still be stuck in the hole, but if the eagle changes her approach, the relationship will change.
Are you ready? Polish up your specs, let’s take a quick dive into these characteristics, learn which one is present in your marriage, and how you can change that.
Criticism, the first horseman, means you want to take them down, to discredit them, to attack your partner at the core. This is not criticizing what he does, but who he is. When we criticize we dismantle his entire being. The victim feels assaulted, rejected, and hurt. Here’s what the Bible has to say about criticism.
- “Do not judge so that you will not be judged. For in the way you judge, you will be judged; and by your standard of measure, it will be measured to you. Why do you look at the speck that is in your brother’s eye, but do not notice the log that is in your own eye?” (Matthew 7:1-5).
- Prov 25:24 Better to live on a corner of the roof than share a house with a quarrelsome wife.
If criticism is your preferred method of dealing with your ostrich, try working to change that. Think of the opposite traits – approval, praise, kindness, honesty, integrity, fairness, courteous regard. Honoring your ostrich brings life and peace. Here are some encouragements on the topic of honoring.
- “Love must be sincere. Hate what is evil; cling to what is good. Be devoted to one another in love. Honor one another above yourselves” (Romans 12:9-10).
- “Honor your father and your mother, so that you may live long in the land the Lord your God is giving you” (Exodus 20:12). We are to honor all people, at all times. Notice this verse doesn’t say honor your parents when they are acting honorably. Just honor your parents. We honor others not because they necessarily deserve it, but because we are honorable women.
- Read 50 Ways to Inspire your Husband.
The second horseman is contempt. It’s outright attacking– disrespect, mocking, ridicule, name-calling, mimicking. We show contempt through eye rolling, frowning, wagging fingers, and sarcasm; these speak volumes without words.
Couples who are contemptuous toward each other are more likely to suffer from infectious illness (colds, flu), their immune systems are weakened. Here are some Scriptures to shed light on this nasty horseman.
- “Whoever shows contempt for his neighbor lacks sense, but a man with understanding keeps silent” (Proverbs 11:12).
- “All have sinned and fall short of the glory of God” (Romans 3:23). Contempt is the utmost pride and arrogance. It says I’m better than him! But the truth is no one is better than anyone else, we are all on a level playing field.
Is contempt a trait that has slipped into your arsenal? If so, work to change that feeling to respect. Other words for respect include admiration, affection, approval, endorsement, love, regard, sense of worth or excellence of a person. Here are some encouragements to help you switch from contempt to respect.
- “Live in harmony with one another; do not be haughty (snobbish, high-minded, exclusive), but readily adjust yourself to [people, things] and give yourself to humble tasks. Never overestimate yourself or be wise in your own conceits. Repay no one evil for evil, but take thought for what is honest and proper and noble [aiming to be above reproach] in the sight of everyone” (Romans 12:16-17 AMPC).
- “However, each one of you also must love his wife as he loves himself, and the wife must respect her husband” (Ephesians 5:33). BUT ALSO “Husbands, in the same way be considerate as you live with your wives, and treat them with respect” (1 Peter 3:7).
- Read 99 Ways to Show Your Husband Respect.
Defensiveness is the third horseman of the apocalypse. This is focused on me, making me look better rather than making him look bad. We might fish for excuses or compare our faults to his. When we compare this way, we usually come out on top! My faults are not as bad as yours. We might not take our spouse’s word seriously, assuming they are wrong. Defensiveness is really a way to blame our partner. It’s not my fault! Here are some words of wisdom from the Bible on the topic of defensiveness.
- “Your maxims are just worthless proverbs; your defensive arguments are made of clay” (Job 13:12 ISV).
- “If we claim to be without sin, we deceive ourselves and the truth is not in us” (1 John 1:8).
- “Who can say, ‘I have kept my heart pure; I am clean and without sin”? (Proverbs 20:9)
If you have majored in defending yourself, work to change to the opposite traits. Focus on helping, aiding, assisting, being compatible. Bring life and peace into your relationship by being humble about your own faults.
- “Humble yourselves, therefore, under God’s mighty hand, that he may lift you up in due time. Cast all your anxiety on him because he cares for you” (1 Peter 5:6-7).
- “Be completely humble and gentle; be patient, bearing with one another in love. Make every effort to keep the unity of the Spirit through the bond of peace” (Ephesians 4:2-3).
- Read How to Serve your Spouse in Truth, Love, and Grace
Stonewalling is the fourth horseman. Think of this as building a stone wall between you and your spouse. This is emotional withdrawal , shutting them out, merely existing without interacting. There is a lack of responsiveness. Rather than confronting the issues, we evade instead, tune out, or act busy with obsessive behaviors.
- “They have turned their back to me and not their face; though I taught them, teaching again and again, they would not listen and receive instruction” (Jeremiah 32:33). When we turn our backs on God, it hurts him deeply. Turning our backs on someone we love is extremely hurtful.
Is there a stone wall in your marriage? Tear that wall down, brick by brick. Think of the opposite traits – empathy, encountering, facing, inviting, connection. Just one caution here – if you are in physical danger of abuse, get to a safe place. God is not asking you to be abused! Here are some encouragements to grow empathy in your marriage.
- “And let us consider how we may spur one another on toward love and good deeds, not giving up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing, but encouraging one another – and all the more as you see the Day approaching” (Hebrews 10:24-25).
- Read this article on Stonewalling vs Empathy.
How to Resuscitate a Broken Marriage if your spouse is an Ostrich
Are wives more likely to be eagles or ostriches? I don’t like stereotypes, but my best guess is 70% of the calls we get about broken marriages come from the wives with the eagle eyes. It really doesn’t matter which gender is the eagle and which is the ostrich. What matters is that if you can see a problem, then consider it your turn to do something about it. Even if your spouse started it, your response is your responsibility before God. Remember that if just one person is willing to change their approach, the relationship has to change.
Watch the War Room movie where this concept is illustrated beautifully. The marriage is all but broken, and you see many of these four horsemen as the drama plays out. The wife begins to pray, and she changes her approach. I won’t give away the ending, but the movie is well worth the viewing, I highly recommend it.
…because U count, deb