“Much of our suffering on a personal level is the direct result of the difficulties we encounter when trying to build or maintain relationships.” – Jess Murphy and Chuck Dettman

“Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.” – Bible

Roy grew up in a family that consisted primarily of men, macho men. His father was a career military man and he had four brothers. His mother was there but in the background. Roy learned early that he had to be tough to survive, and that he couldn’t let himself become vulnerable in any way or he would be trampled.

This behavior kept him relatively safe as he grew up. Then he married, and soon began to have problems with his wife. She didn’t feel a part of his life at all. She didn’t feel like she knew him, and he wasn’t willing to open up to let her in.

Vulnerability is a key ingredient to a successful marriage. If husband and wife are going to be one, and to learn to trust one another, openness is extremely important.

Jeff Murphy and Chuck Dettman, in the book “The Solution for Marriages”, discuss three common issues that affect relationships.

The first one is that which Roy was struggling with – vulnerability. Many people feel vulnerability is a sign of weakness. Roy learned early on to keep his emotions and personal feelings to himself. If his brothers sensed any opening into his private world, he would be attacked.

So Roy learned that not being vulnerable made him appear to be strong, and the associated benefit was that it protected him from being attacked.

Many of us are unwilling to open up to anyone, even our spouse, because we’ve done it before and been hurt.

Although the act of opening ourselves up to our spouse may initially bring about some pain, the result will probably be worth it. All of us have been hurt in relationships at one time or another, and knowing others have experienced similar pain can often bring about healing as well as intimacy.

It’s only when we open up and become vulnerable that we truly get to know each other.

A second issue that affects the marital relationship is unhealthy relationships outside the marriage. Maybe it’s a married man or woman at work who likes to flirt. Even though we feel we can resist, the temptation to give in is powerful, and in addition the perception of accepting such attention is dangerous.

Then there are the “friends” who encourage us to do things we know we shouldn’t. Some may be pulling us to potentially dangerous behavior, such as addictions of various kinds.

Others through their own world view and personal life styles may be a negative influence. Although we may try to be a good influence on them, you may not be able to extinguish the fire before you get badly burned yourself.

Finally there is the plethora of core issues that may overwhelm and make the first two relationship issues seem superficial. They have to do with a healthy identity and personality styles.

The male performance orientation may bring on a win-lose attitude in every disagreement. Obsessiveness in the female need to connect may drive the male away rather than drawing him closer.

Murphy and Dettman have some simple suggestions that can go a long way toward developing positive relationships in a marriage.

Give regular attention to your relationship with your spouse, at least 15 minutes of meaningful dialogue each day. Don’t just discuss the activities of yesterday and today; discuss how you feel about them. If you are having problems with unhealthy relationships outside the family, discuss them. Get your spouse’s input.

Learn to ask questions. Your spouse will know you care if you show sincere interest in what they have to say – and why they feel the way they do.

Communicate the truth in love, while talking and listening. Share things that hurt you without attacking anyone. Listen and don’t be defensive.

The Family and Marriage Coalition of Aiken Inc. (FAMCO) provides resources for you to succeed in your marriage and families. Roger Rollins, executive director of FAMCO, 640-4689, rogerrollins@aikenfamco.com, www.aikenfamco.com.