I facilitated an anger management support group for several years. One woman began attending shortly after our first meeting. Her name was Joan. Joan’s marriage of thirty plus years was in trouble. Admitting she had a bad temper, her husband recently filed for divorce. She was devastated. “I don’t want to lose him,” she said, fighting back the tears. “He’s such a good man and I really do love him. I need to learn how to control my anger. Can you help me?”
“Control your anger?” I asked. “No. I don’t teach people to control anger. I explain to them where their anger is originating (the root cause) and help them heal those issues. Once accomplished, the anger never manifests. But it’s going to mean being brutally honest with who you are, what your issues are, and how poorly you have behaved. Are you prepared to do that?” “Yes,” she replied. “I’m willing to do whatever I have to to save my marriage.” I assured her that I would as well.
Over the next six months, Joan drove an hour and a half to attend the Antidote to Anger group. Regardless of the weather, each week she bared her soul in front of me and a room full of complete strangers. Much of what she shared was painful and sometimes even shameful to her. Yet she was never held back. Each week, she revealed more and more about her troubled past and how her pain and fear repeatedly emerged in her relationship with her husband. “It’s not him, it’s me”, she said on more than one occasion. “He’s a good husband and father. I know these issues are mine.” Good, I thought. At least she’s taking responsibility and not blaming him for her behavior. There’s hope.
Joan quickly earned the respect of every member of the group and we were all genuinely elated when six months later she announced that she and her husband were back together. “He can’t believe the changes I’ve made in myself! Neither can I. It’s like a dream-come-true!” In spite of their recent success, Joan continued to attend our meetings faithfully each week for another year. Due to a change in circumstances, I had to terminate the group. It was hard saying goodbye to someone I had become fond of. I told her I would keep her and her family in my heart and prayers. I’ve thought of her often but never heard from her after that night.
So imagine my surprise when I recently presented a lecture in a church nearby and in walks Joan and her husband! Wearing a smile that lit up the room, I was greeted by a warm embrace from both of them. Her husband hugged me and thanked me for saving his marriage. “I cannot thank you enough,” he stated, as he wiped a tear from his eye. “We have never been happier.” “You need to thank your wife,” I replied. “She did all the work and deserves all the credit.”
Why is it that Joan was able to save a marriage on the brink of divorce while other couples fail miserably? There were four key elements present within Joan that are the keys for anyone making a major life transformation:
1. Motivation: Joan was highly motivated, willing to do whatever it took for as long as was necessary to resolve her personal issues and save her marriage.
2. Responsibility: she took 100% ownership in being the source of this issue. She did not blame her husband or anyone else for her anger and poor choices in managing it. And she made no excuses.
3. Solution: Joan was solution-oriented. She actively sought practical suggestions and strategies to put into practice.
4.Action: Without hesitation, Joan began making the appropriate behavioral changes that improved the quality of her life and ultimately her relationship with her husband.
Joan is a perfect example of what it takes to make a marriage work. I fully expect to get an invitation to their 50th anniversary party.
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