A Balanced Marriage #4 – Grounded Responding

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by Shane Fookes, MA MDiv, Registered Counseling Associate

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Couples experiencing a marriage crisis are highly reactive to each other. They live in a constant state of readiness to explode at the slightest real or perceived insult. As a result, small disagreements quickly escalate:

Wife: “Did you take out the garbage? The garbage truck will be here soon.”

Husband (with irritation): “Why do you always have to nag me about stuff? I told you I’d take care of it.

Wife (returning the irritation): “Well, if you actually did what you said you’d do around here, I wouldn’t have to nag you.”

Husband (with sarcasm): “Well thank you miss perfect-follow-through. As if you called your mom last week like you said you would tell her we won’t be available to host Christmas this year. How’d that go?”

Wife (with a sigh and an eye roll): “There you go bringing my mom into it again. The perfect son hath spoken!”

For many couples, such exchanges are all too common. For other couples, the exchanges are far more intense and destructive.

Crafting a Balanced Marriage

This is the 4th post in a 5-part Balanced Marriage blog series. The first post introduced and expanded on the work of Dr. David Schnarch and his “Crucible 4 Points of Balance.” The second post examined the first point of balance: a Solid, Flexible Self. While the third post considered the second point of balance: Quiet Mind and Calm Heart. This post introduces the third point of balance: Grounded Responding.

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What is Grounded Responding?

Grounded Responding means a person knows how to respond to emotion fully. You understand that emotions are vital in a relationship, yet can be harmful when not kept in check. Before we consider what Grounded Responding looks like, we need to recognize what emotionally reacting looks like. When you think about someone emotionally reacting, likely images come to mind of someone overreacting. Overreacting involves unbalanced, untimely, or disproportionate responses to others.

Overreacting looks like this:

  • Explosive anger and/or having a “short fuse.”
  • Name-calling or using put-downs.
  • Refusing to collaborate with your partner when you feel hurt.
  • Going to pieces over little things.

Under-reacting is another kind of reaction that isn’t as obvious as overreacting. It is also more easily self-justified and used as the basis for contempt for an overreacting partner. Under-reacting is an attempt to avoid relational responsibility in difficult situations. It is equally as harmful as overreacting even if it may be more socially acceptable.

Some examples of under-reacting:

  • You want something but you avoid asking for it because you’re afraid your partner won’t agree to it.
  • You don’t like what your partner says or how they say it, but you choose not to express your disagreement even while criticizing them in your mind.
  • Your partner does or says something hurtful and you decide not to confront them for fear of how they will react.
  • Your partner is engaging in harmful behavior but you say nothing because you don’t want to upset the status quo.

Learn to Make appropriate, modulated responses

In contrast with emotionally reacting, Grounded Responding involves making appropriate, modulated responses to people, events, and situations. It isn’t about what you do as much as how you do it. Sometimes it means speaking up when you’d rather remain silent. Other times it means remaining silent when you feel the urge to speak. You can think of it as having a “response-ability” relationship. I like this play on words because we often wonder, “What’s my responsibility in this relationship, especially when it is difficult?” Well, simply put: your responsibility is to develop the ability to maturely, and wisely respond with love! It’s no accident that the Apostle Paul’s list of the Fruit of Spirit In Galatians 5 begins with love and ends with self-control. Having response-ability means loving with self-control. Author Danny Silk put it this way in his book, “Keep Your Love On”:

When I practice self-control in a relationship, I take full responsibility for managing my love and pursuing my goal of connection. If I ever turn my love off toward you, it is 100% my fault, no matter what you may have done. Self-control removes the option of blaming others for our choices.

Danny Silk, “Keep Your Love On” p.68

Grounded Responding is easy to understand yet hard to do when you find yourself in an emotionally charged situation with your partner. Doing so requires the first two points of balance: a solid, flexible self and a quiet mind and calm heart. Effective communication tools, like the Gottman Rapoport created by The Gottman Institute.

A close-up of a couple embracing one another while smiling. This could represent the stronger bonds cultivated by working with a Christian marriage counselor in Hillsboro, OR. Search “Christian therapist Portland Oregon”  or marriage christian counseling near me for support with your relationship.

Consider Working With A Christian Counselor in Hillsboro, OR

Our Clackamas and Beaverton-based counselors are excited to work with you, wherever you are in Oregon. Your relationships can thrive again. We can help you get back on track in a way that aligns with your faith and values. When you are ready to start online Christian counseling in Oregon, follow these simple steps:

  1. Learn about our therapy team in Beaverton and our caring counselors in Clackamas
  2. Schedule an appointment with your preferred therapist, or contact us with questions
  3. Feel more connected to the important people in your life

Other Mental Health Services at Life Discovery Counseling in Oregon

If you are in Clackamas, Happy Valley, Damascus, Hillsboro, or Beaverton, we can help you in person at one of our comfortable therapy clinicsChristian counseling is the cornerstone of our approach to therapy. Not only do we see adults, but children in counseling too. We also work with depression treatmentanxiety therapytrauma therapy and PTSD treatmentrelationship issuesmarriage problems, and postpartum counseling. No matter where you are in the state, we can provide the support you need with online therapy in Oregon. Once you’re ready to start, we’re ready to meet you. Let’s connect!

About the Author

Shane Fookes is a graduate of Western Seminary’s Counseling program and a Registered Counseling Associate. He served as a pastor for 17 years and is still involved in leading churches. He writes about marriage and relationship issues, anxiety, depression, and spiritual development.

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