By Gary Moore
Most people want to avoid tough conversations. Whether it’s with a spouse, a friend, a boss, a co-worker, or a child, tough conversations create high anxiety – and often lingering resentments. One of the ways we avoid these conversations is to pretend that the “issue” doesn’t exist. But this pretense kills. Ignoring problems and being silent about them is a death sentence to a marriage – and to a family.
This problem then becomes “the elephant in the room.” You know, the issue everyone knows is there but does their best to ignore. I’m fond of saying, “If you have a pulse, you have issues (problems).” Everyone has problems. And, if you’ve been married for at least six months, I feel very safe in saying there are elephants in the room with you.
The insidious nature of pretending is that we create a make-believe world and then live in it. We tell ourselves, “It will be fine” or “We’re really doing fine” or “I’m doing fine.” And, as long as we tell ourselves we’re doing fine, we don’t feel the need to do anything about the problem(s). Without realizing it, what we’ve done is just opened the door to the elephant.
When I was growing up, my family was not fine. And if you have elephants living in your marriage or family, you are not fine either. If you don’t evict your elephants, your marriage and your family will suffer. They may even be destroyed.
You’ve probably all seen vehicles with stickers of stick-figure families on the back. Each member of the family is represented including the family pet(s). I’d like to create a new sticker. I would replace the family pet with an elephant. Too many people make family pets out of the elephants in their lives. Instead of making them pets, they need to evict them. They need to stop treating them like members of the family.
Kevin and Marcia Meyers, in their book, The Second Happy, suggest three things we need to do to evict the elephants from our lives. One, Evict the Elephant Inwardly. Before deception enters a marriage or family it privately resides in a person. We deceive ourselves. We lie to ourselves. We tell ourselves things will be fine to avoid problems or pain or discipline or responsibility or reality that we don’t want to face. This self-deception is highly destructive.
Pretending the temper outburst never happened is not going to bring harmony to the family. Cleaning up after the person who makes emotional messes and never owns them or apologizes for them isn’t going to bring peace. Don’t believe these two lies of pretense:
If you ignore the elephant, he will go away.
If we don’t talk about the elephant, we’ll be fine.
Elephants don’t go away on their own, and no, you’re not going to be fine. To begin to evict the elephants from your heart and soul you have to say to yourself, “I have a problem, and I’m going to stop pretending I don’t.”
Two, Evict the Elephant Outwardly. To truly get rid of the elephant, you need to go to your spouse or your family and say, “There’s an elephant in the room with us, and if we want to have a better, richer, happier life we need to deal with it.” If you have told yourself the truth about the existence of your elephant, you have started the eviction process internally. If you begin talking with your spouse about it, you will be on your way to getting that elephant out of the house.
Three, Solve Problems One Shovelful At A Time. Many problems in marriage and family can feel huge. When we finally stop pretending and face them, they can look like a mountain of elephant manure – something more than we can handle. And, the result is that we feel discouraged. Don’t try to clean up the whole thing at once. Just evict the elephant and handle the mess one shovelful at a time.
The longer the elephant has lived with you and the more destructive it’s been, the more shoveling you will need to do.
Whether the elephant(s) you’re dealing with are from your past or they just simply showed up uninvited, the process of dealing with them is always the same: evict inwardly, evict outwardly, and shovel the problem. For some elephants, that process might take a few hours. Others may take a decade to permanently evict. It takes as long as it takes. And, no matter how long that is, the work will be worth it. Why? Because an ignored elephant will never go away, and the poop will keep piling up.
Another important thing to consider – when you live with an elephant, you’re not only weighed down by the problem (elephants are heavy), but you’re also exhausted by pretending it’s not there. Pretending drains you of emotional energy that you should be contributing to the relationship. Since you only have so much emotional energy for a day, don’t waste it by pretending the elephant doesn’t exist.
No marriage is perfect, but every marriage can be better. And any marriage can be elephant-free.
Gary Moore served as associate pastor at Cloverdale Church of God for 15 years. He does couples’ coaching and leads couples’ workshops and retreats called MUM’s the Word. He does a weekly radio program called Life Point Plus on KBXL 94.1FM at 8:45 a.m. on Fridays. Monday mornings at 10 a.m. he does live relationship teaching called MUM Live on his Facebook page Mutual Understanding Method. He may be contacted at [email protected].