Returning to Unresolvable Conflicts
In relationships, there are conflicts that cannot be resolved with a clear “right” or “wrong.” In fact, the Gottman Institute’s research cites that nearly 70% of relationship conflicts are unresolvable.
Earlier this year, Dan and Becky Allender talked through unresolvable conflicts from their perspective of over four decades of marriage. Now, we’re revisiting the topic with our other co-host, Rachael Clinton Chen, and her husband Michael Chen, who have been married since 2019.
Rachael and Michael explore the complexities of unresolvable conflicts in marriage and share their personal insights about navigating these challenging situations. They both emphasize the importance of story work and how it’s given them a common ground to understand and engage how they’re feeling. They also highlight the importance of returning to one another after the moment to engage those difficult conversations. In doing so, progress can be made, even if it’s not immediate or exactly how either of you would envision it.
Rachael concludes the conversation by pointing out, “It’s not by avoiding conflict or sidestepping it or somehow finding a way around it. It’s actually often in the heart of the irresolvable tension that I think the Spirit is making something new. And that really can only be the work of the gospel.”
* Source: The Seven Principles for Making Marriage Work by John M. Gottman, PhD and Nan Silver, 2015
- Listen to the episode, “Unresolvable Conflict” with Dan and Becky Allender
- Learn more about the Marriage Conference, happening this October 13-14 in Park City Utah
- Discover more marriage offerings from the Allender Center, including our Marriage Online Course
About Our Guest:
Michael S. Chen, M.Div & PhD (ABD) is a PhD student at Eastern University in the Marriage and Family Therapy program. He has an extensive background in campus ministries in and provides counseling care to ministry workers and pastors through the Rest Initiative. He also has experience with racial trauma resolution and is certified in Trauma-Informed Narrative Focused Care from the Allender Center of the Seattle School of Psychology and Theology where he serves as Adjunct Faculty. He lives in Philadelphia with his wife, Rachael, two sons Jamison and Silas, and daughter Evelyn.
Dan: Rachael, I was so thrilled with the privilege of being able for Becky and I to talk about the issue of safety. And you did such a several underscored, particularly one my wife, what a kind presence of engagement. So thank you for that. And now may I at least get near the same quality of good care that you offered us because we have the great privilege of having your beloved husband on today. So Michael, so good to have you with us.
Michael: Hello. Thank you for inviting me. It’s so good to be here.
Dan: Yeah. So here is the reality. Most people think that the conflicts they have would be resolvable if the other would just be reasonable. Just actually think for a second and realize how correct we were in terms of the perspective we offer. Well, the fact is Gottman and his fellow researchers originally at University of Washington and what was infamously called the Love Lab, actually began to note that they would interview a couple and then have them back in sometimes anywhere from 6 to 18 months. And some of the same issues they were struggling with were true over a lengthy period of time. And they began to talk about something so obvious. And yet the research was never done before. And that is 70% of the conflicts we have are irresolvable. And they began to talk about the fact that most couples think that virtually all conflict is resolvable when 70% doesn’t have a legitimate solution that a couple can easily or even more difficultly come to “resolve the problem”. So what I’m privileged to be able to do today is to invite you all to talk a little bit about what you’ve discovered about what is resolvable and what is not. And just to be clear, here are some examples of the issue of irresolvability. Punctuality. Many times you’ll have one partner on time that would be me and another who’s not as obsessed. Becky’s really pretty much on time, but sometimes she’s literally a minute off. It’s hard to believe that she would be that far off, but the fact is she can be even sometimes two to three minutes off the planned departure. But I let that one go.
Rachael: I just love that, Dan, you’re so punctual. And I know we’ve talked before. This comes out of trauma, but two to three minutes off the departure, I’m just laughing cause if I’m running late, it’s usually at least five to 10 minutes. So it was…
Dan: Oh, it would just five or 10 minutes would freak me out. We would cancel. We’re not going, it’s fine. We’re not going Well. Why? No. Again, the issue isn’t me at this juncture. So spending and saving, whether one’s an extrovert, introvert, how one organizes one’s desk, I’m so grateful that Becky is not allowed up into my office unless we’re doing a podcast. Even learning styles. Becky would be more concrete, linear. I am more abstract, random. And so we think differently. And again, the need for novelty danger, just desire, sexuality and where we vacation, God, we’ve actually had irresolvable conflict over the color of a car. And where we go to, I mean, let’s just say there are all sorts of things. Again, not to say you can’t compromise, you can’t work out some way of engaging. We’ll get to that. But just to say what have you already discovered the two of you about the issue of irresolvable issues?
Michael: Well, I think there’s such a drive at the beginning of a relationship to find commonality and to find things that you enjoy together or ways in which you resonate. But I think it’s something about getting married that starts bring out some of the differences.
Rachael: Oh yeah.
Michael: And getting married and entering into Covid just a few months after getting married. I think in some ways intensified and heightened the reality of, oh, we are stepping right into this conversation.
Rachael: Oh yeah. Yeah. I mean when you talk about some of these things you’ve listed, some of them are personality realities that places where we’re just wildly different and in some ways incompatible if compatibility is defined on being the same. And I mean just some simple things. I’m a morning person, I’m not, no sorry. He’s a morning person going to say, Michael is a morning person. I’m not a morning person. He loves to cook. I hate cooking. I love cleaning and being organized. It’s not that Michael like hates cleaning and being organized. It’s just not. He hates it. He hates it. Definitely. I run cold, he runs hot. I mean, so are so many things that in many ways we are just, I, well can talk more about this. I’m definitely a no person. He asked me when we were dating, are you more of a yes person or no person? Well I don’t think anyone listening to this podcast that knows any of my story would say, oh, Rachael’s a yes person. Totally a no person in the sense that danger is everywhere. And so no, don’t do that. No, don’t do that. And he’s definitely more prone to like, yes, I love being a yes person. He loves being a yes person. I think we’re very fortunate in a lot of these core places of conflict that we, one, just were old enough and had enough knowledge of ourselves when we got married that we had really honest conversations around things like sex and money and children and parents and in-laws and some of those realities. So we weren’t, those weren’t necessarily, things we were having to discover in conflict but doesn’t mean there’s not conflict. So some of our most funny places of conflict. And I just think this is this irresolvable conflict. I think a lot of couples in marriages because they think it can change, keep reenacting the same chaotic conflict, hoping for a different outcome, which I’m pretty sure is the definition of insanity. Yeah. So I remember one that comes to mind. I mean what we want to talk more about for sure is our attachment styles. Cause that’s always going to be in conflict and we can talk about that. But this kind of more funny example, which is only funny because we got to do some story work around it. But when we moved into this house, there were no curtain rods hung. And it’s one of those I think will always be a funny marriage conflict that we that we learned about so quickly, right? Cause I think this is also where some of the systems outside of your marriage can bring in conflict, right? Cause hanging things up with power tools is traditionally perceived as the man’s job. And so I was like, I need to include Michael in this because I actually love doing these task-oriented things and Michael doesn’t. But we didn’t know that at the time because it was like, let’s hang this curtain rod together. And I tend to have a way of doing that kind of stuff where I assume I’m do it wrong the first time and I’m going to have to keep redoing it until I get it perfectly aligned. I had no idea. I should have had a little bit of an idea knowing some Michael’s story and some wounds that there would be a lot of pressure to get this right, and a pretty significant fear that if he doesn’t, there’s going to be humiliation and shame coming his way. So we hang it up. It’s not going well. It’s not even. I’m actually not feeling stress about it at the moment because I’m thinking, yeah, I like this is kind of hard, way harder than i thought…
Michael: I’m just there sensing, anticipating the voice of accusation really.
Rachael: Yeah. Yeah. And I remember you said to me, it was actually really heartbreaking cause he said, you must just be so disappointed. You must just be so disappointed to be married to someone who can’t hang a curtain rod. And I remember that just at first I was like, what are you talking about? Have you seen the walls in my old apartment there was like 42 million nail holes. Cause I literally just kept putting in nail holes until I got it lined up. I have no expectation that this would be hung perfectly. And actually I like doing these things. I just didn’t want you to feel like I didn’t trust you to do these things. So it was actually a really heartbreaking moment that I think if we didn’t have the sensitivity to want to understand how something… Cause this is, I think where so much of this conflict shows up is in these task-oriented moments where there’s expectation and disappointment. So for me to get to hear more from him, help me understand why your assumption is that I would actually just be so disappointed in you and disappointed that I married you in this moment when I’m also thinking, I’m thinking he probably thinks I’m neurotic cause I want it to be even and I’m going to rehang it. And again, if we had not had a capacity to understand how we got here, I could have very easily and we could have been in an endless bind of, I want it to be hung even. Can I ask for that? Even if it’s going to trigger you and feeling like you failed. And what we ultimately decided is that if we’re going to do something like that ourselves, I’ll probably be the person taking the curtains and he’ll help me at an assistant in the moments I need help handing me a tool. And we got to kind of playfully come to that through this moment. But I remember that being a real intense, painful moment.
Michael: That was very revelatory. It was very revelatory. I think ultimately it was painful. But I think ultimately engendered more curiosity, probably more compassion, but also a level of like, oh, we do really, really have to figure this out, figure this out and learn how to talk through this.
Dan: And I don’t want to come too quick of a what do we do? But you’re putting brilliant words to it. And that is you engage one another’s story in the middle of a form of incompatibility. I mean, again, it’s an old saw and trite, but true. We married to some degree someone very different than who we are. Yet those differences often become the frame or the ground for a lot of incompatibility. So the reality that, I’m just thinking back to the privilege of standing before you, one of two officiants as the two of you got married and the vows made by one was poetic with profound brevity. The other was profound but not brief.
Rachael: Oh, I wonder who that was.
Dan: Well we might say who of the two of you is more loquacious? I would tend to say that in an argument, Rachael, you would probably have more words.
Rachael: Yeah, that’s very true. But I’ll say we’re both equally intense. So Michael just has an undercurrent of intensity and that is so much, this is where our attachment styles are for sure will inevitably be hundred percent in conflict for the remainder of our lives together. I think we’re forming a healthy attachment in the midst of that, which again, the way through to live into the tension with curiosity and kindness. But I am much more preoccupied in a romantic partnership and Michael, how would you talk about yourself? I won’t speak for you.
Michael: I’m much more avoidant.
Rachael: So in a moment of conflict, I am like, oh, we’re going to engage this and we’re going to engage it now. And I have all these thoughts and feelings about it and they’re coming out and they’re taking up all the space. And Michael is more, I feel like I’m fleeing my body. I’m losing language. I feel like I don’t get to have emotions because if I have them I’m not going to take care of you. So it’s like our attachment styles in those moments of insecurity trigger one another. So then he pulls away, I get more intense, which makes him pull away more, which makes me get more intense. And that’s just a fun one that we know. That’s something that was in those early days of our marriage. I think a pretty common moment of having to find a way to disrupt ourselves so that we could find any kind of safety that didn’t include just continuing this dynamic.
Michael: And even more recently, I think our recent trip to Seattle, cutting it close for our air, our flight back.
Rachael: Oh yeah.
Michael: What did that bring up for you?
Rachael: Anxiety. We were in the rental car and I was like, can you drive faster as we’re pulling into the garage? So then he puts on the gas and I’m like, well not that fast. So then…
Michael: I was pissed. But in my avoidance I would, this passive aggressive, and so actually feeling my own anxiety which, and avoidance.
Rachael: Which then after we got into the airport and I realized, oh we have plenty of time. I actually felt fine and was like, okay, I feel good. I’m here now. I feel good.
Michael: But it took a good 30, 45 minutes for me to be to trust that actually.
Rachael: Yeah. So he kept responding to me. He was reading it through this lens of like I was still really anxious and I actually, I got mad at you cause I was like, I am well. And I dunno what you’re reading that’s anxious. He was like, “oh, were you not anxious” I was like “I was, anxious… an hour ago!”
Michael: If I’m honest, If I can sit with that and the enstoried nature of it. It’s like, oh, I feel a great deal of terror. Yeah. When I sense that there’s anxiety that there might be judgment or there might be condemnation. Coming toward me. And so whatever the situation is, the irresolvable, conflict, punctuality, finances, parenting, for us, I think it all revolves around this central dynamic.
Rachael: Yeah. And I think that’s what was interesting for me is to have to catch myself again, because I started feeling mad because I actually did really hard work to self-regulate to come back down. But we didn’t necessarily get to talk about that. I didn’t say, I know my anxiety in that moment actually was taking him a lot of space and was really stressful and was really triggering to you. And I didn’t actually do any work to repair what had happened. But I felt like he’s walking on eggshells around me and he’s working really hard. Like I’m some kind of, I’m about to explode and I’m actually totally fine. So then I was like, that’s your anxiety. Quit projecting your anxiety on me. Just cause mine’s out there in the open. I mean it was a moment. And it’s funny, even you saying you’re terrified now. This is the first time in real time that I’m realizing it’s still a very fraught place for us.
Dan: Well for the person and Becky would call that fast boil. You were a fast boiled, engaged, anxious or angry. She would see herself as a much more slow boil. And so things linger longer for her. We’ve had conflict. I’m fine, it’s resolved, we’re good. No it it’s not good. And then I make this either direct or indirect demand that in some sense she be me. You be me. Resolve it the way I do or make decisions the way I do. And what I find, at least for many couples, and I know the inclination for myself is I want to resolve this. Which again, part of the Gottman research is that the effort to resolve that which is not resolvable actually creates new layers of conflict. This is resolvable but not the original structures of how each of you approach attachment or conflict or anxiety, et cetera. So if I go back more early, what things did you do to try and resolve that actually didn’t work?
Rachael: Okay, here’s an example. I, cause I love organization, like to make the bed every day. And I think early in our marriage, I would get frustrated if Michael wouldn’t help me make the bed. So then he would very generously try to make the bed,
Dan: Oh, I know where this is going. Go ahead.
Rachael: What would happen? I didn’t feel like that was, I think I even said things, do you know how to make a bed?
Dan: Oh yeah, this is where I thought it was going.
Rachael: Yeah, so I’ll just say very quickly I realize this is not working. This is not work. This is going to be a setup for a ritual of contempt. This will be a setup for a ritual of contempt and shaming and humiliation. And this is a setup because Michael doesn’t care. He doesn’t care if the bed is made. That’s not a deficit or a, that’s his preference. I’m the one that cares. I care that the bed is made. So I think it very quickly I was like, you know what? I actually care that the bed is made and I care that it’s made a certain way and I actually respect that you want to join me in this. And also I think I just want to make the bed. Ultimately. I like making the bed. I want to make the bed and I’m going to make a choice not to resent you that it’s something I’m doing. And I think there’s definitely places he could speak to. Very similar ways of having to make a choice to take something on and not resent me or to radically accept that this is a way that we are, and again, there are places where that doesn’t work. Making the bed is, it’s a thing, but it’s at the end of the day, it’s not detrimental to our functioning as a family. So I wouldn’t be okay if he was just like, I don’t clean. I would be like, this is an irresolvable conflict that has to be engaged. But that’s just not, I think for the most part, that’s just one I thought of. We did figure out a way, but not a way together, if that makes sense.
Dan: Yeah. It’s that you’re not leading by disappointment and therefore resentment. There’s more honor of difference in what I’m hearing. And the same issue of I’ve, I’ve made the bed, it’s just never the same. It’s trying to make an omelet the way Becky does. It just, I mean, she has stood by me while I’m making an omelet and said, do this, do. And I’ve tried and we’ve worked at it and it just never looks like what she would have created. So as you’re beginning to name these differences, you both keep coming back to a capacity for curiosity and for a sense of honor of difference. Is that a fair summary of what’s happened for the two of you?
Michael: Yes. Yes. I do want to name just one more. Example of perhaps failed failure in stepping into irresolvable conflicts, driving to our son’s baseball game yesterday.
Rachael: Oh yeah.
Michael: Rachael had not had breakfast and so expressed her hunger. And so I thought we really running late but
Rachael: Wait, wait, wait, wait, wait, wait. Let’s tell this story the right way.
Dan: Again, the loquacious one is going to break in.
Rachael: We had about, had talked about getting donuts and getting them on the way to the baseball game. So I did not eat breakfast cause I was really living for that donut, but I was running behind to get out the door on time. So that’s a little bit more the stage. And you said,
Dan: Ok, got the stage.
Michael: Yes, we’re in a bind, essentially. Do we… do I prioritize, this is the bind I’m in. Do I prioritize getting Rachael a donut or do I prioritize getting my son to his game on time? And so being an avoidant and ultimately wanting to honor Rachael’s hunger veered very quickly to the left, to the donut shop after, again, I, my sense is…
Rachael: Well you had asked me, you said, I know you’re hungry. Is it OK if we head the game and get food somewhere near the game? And I was passive aggressive and was like, that’s fine. But I basically haven’t eaten yet. So then Michael turned the opposite way of where we needed to go. And the caveat is our son is actually very anxious about being on time and we know this about him, right? Yeah.
Michael: So in that, as you mentioned, curiosity, we navigate through it and Rachael says, I’m actually mad at you right now. Turn the car around and go to the game. Ok. So I do that. We circle the block on our way to the game. But in that intensification, I think there’s actually, what I hear you, we talk about it briefly at the game, but for me, as I process, there’s even more of an invitation there to curiosity invitation to say where how in-story are these realities? What are they connected to? Both for myself and for Rachael in such way that’s never, there’s always going to be rupture, but the sweetness of repair in knowing more of my story of story, I think that’s the hope.
Rachael: Yeah, yeah.
Dan: Well the freedom in that is you’re both imperfectly, but goodness, I’ll just say it’s not a good word. But in comparison to most people I know, vastly more committed to engaging. And I’ll put it this way, the log in your own eye, another way of saying that is your own story and all of its intersection of beauty and brokenness. In a way that gives you ground for not a curiosity what’s going on, but really a curiosity that has so much more kindness to it. What’s going on here? So in those moments of tension that don’t really have resolve, you can say, well you should have left earlier, you should have been clear about your plans for food. I mean, it’s very possible for people to keep coming back to this framework of no, no, no, no. The 70 percent’s resolvable. And if we’re taking the research and frankly far more the anecdotal of our own lives, seriously, we’re at a position of going, no, a lot of life really boils down to what may appear to be trivial. The number of times Becky and I have had conflict over how the freaking dishwasher gets loaded and it’s like we will never be at peace in terms of, and even my efforts to get closer to how she would do things, I just load things differently. So we’re framing this… There’s something to that laughter more than my life, I’m sensing,
Rachael: I do have a very particular way I load the dishwasher that I feel like is the most efficient because it gets the most dishes in. Because it’s like engineered to think through how to fit the most things in.
Dan: That would be, again, my wife’s commitment to making sure the earth is cared for, and I love that about her, but I’m really, two or three extra dishes may save the planet. And in some sense, if everybody only loaded the dishwasher her way, maybe there would be a little bit better prospect.
Rachael: Oh, I wish that I could say mine was not saving the planet. But it’s purely about my anxiety to have order and to complete a task. So if I can get all the dishes in the dishwasher and there’s not any left behind, then for that brief moment I have completed all the dishes. It’s purely selfish.
Dan: Yes, but whether it be embodied or more theoretical or earth, the point is we’re still going to have these tensions. So I’m curious what you each have learned about yourself, particularly through facing these kinds of irresolvable matters.
Michael: I think for me it’s just continues to be a real curiosity of how so much placating and the ways in which I sort of continue to devalue or diminish or even deflect around my own story. And so the invitation I think I actually feel from Rachael in actually a really kind and beautiful way and she’ll stop me at times, is actually how to come back to my body, how to come back to my story. And so I continue to be curious about where this goes and how it continues to play itself out and just the healing of our relationship in our relationship.
Dan: So even placating would be a form of resolve that might take away the apparent conflict. It actually leaves a far deeper conflict, but also an unaddressed part of your own heart. So that’s really crucial because I think a lot of couples come back to this word compromise. Why don’t we just compromise. And it’s like, I’m not opposed to some degree of creative ways of engaging how you put dishes in to the dishwasher together. Nonetheless, most compromise really isn’t engaging what you’re both naming in. That is that interplay of curiosity and kindness opening the door to a reflection on these 70%.
Rachael: Well cause I think what’s also present that we haven’t talked about is desire. And that’s what I keep coming back to is I actually deeply desire intimacy with Michael. And I desire to be known by him. I desire to be, to know him. And yet there’s so much ambivalence around that desire because of the heartache we’ve both known in radically different ways. And so I find the kind of false Eden I can live into is denying my needs. I just don’t have needs. Cause if I don’t have needs, then I don’t have to engage this desire and ambivalence, which again is so much what was playing out in that moment in the car, something in me is like “I want someone to anticipate that I need food” and that that’s important. But what happens is I tend in that moment and the ambivalence of, but I also don’t, don’t want someone to then have to choose my needs over someone else. And then I’m too much and I’m crazy. And eventually you’ll be like, I don’t want to love you and I don’t want you cause you’re too needy. It’s like what the core fear underneath is. But then I can be super passive aggressive with needs. Cause I actually do have needs.
Dan: The process of being able to own no one’s desire will ever be equivalent to the other regarding anything. I think that’s one of the things that it took us a few decades to understand that sexually or appetite for food or I mean desire at any level about anything, we would likely never have the exact amount, intensity or orientation in terms of what that desire was for. And that I think is where a lot you put it brilliantly, a lot of the incompatibility is happening because of the difference of desire.
Rachael: And I think for me, I have to be committed to engaging my ambivalence and letting it be disrupted and taking risks to let my desire come into the space. Knowing what you’re saying, to express desire, knowing it may not always be equally matched in the exact way that you long for it to be, but it’s matched in a dance. It can be matched in a dance when there’s a mutual leaning in to be honest about desire and then therefore to be courageous in grief, courageous in curiosity, generous in curiosity. And at the end of the day, I’ve also said one of my biggest fears is someone wanting to be in a relationship with me for what I can offer them. Not like because they just genuinely enjoy me. And I think that’s one of the things I’ve learned is that you have to engage desire, and even an attempt to not engage desire is not going to eradicate desire you. It’s almost like to avoid the desire you have to intensify the ambivalence, right? Cause ambivalence is two competing desires. So if I desire to be seen known, but then I’m afraid of that. So then I sabotage to the same degree as my desire. It’s not like it’s actually eradicating the desire. It’s just trying to mask it. And I think because we know that we don’t always meet each other mutually in those places. So then we’ve also have to had to grow our capacity to grieve. We’ve had to grow our capacity to wait in the dance, to trust that if we’re inviting the other one to see and to know that there can be a movement toward, but it may not be in the exact moment that you wanted or needed. It may take time and it may take negotiating together, what does safety look like so that we can even get back to common ground. And that’s where I feel incredibly privileged to have you, Michael, as my partner. Cause I do feel like for whatever crazy reason, God graced us with a common commitment to know, like you were saying so well, not just the other person’s story but our own story, right? Cause it’s never in the conflict. It’s never like, well it’s just one person’s story is getting triggered or one person’s wound. It’s always both of you. And often because of the way you’ve been wounded and then therefore protecting and responding, it’s increasing the wound of the other and vice versa. So that commitment to let our stories and the young parts of us be a part of the relationship and we actually have that language of really feeling like we’re not just loving each other as our, I don’t even know how old we’re right now, whatever age we’re right now. But yeah,
Michael: Who am I talking to? Am I talking to six-year-old? Yeah. Rachael. Am I talking to 16-year-old Rachael? I love them all. Yeah. Embrace them all.
Michael: It’s messy. It’s very messy.
Rachael: It’s very messy. So it’s not in the moment where I think six-year-old Rachael is talking now. No, we’re having a legit conflict that we’re working out in real time, but a commitment to try to come back.
Dan: Well, and I want to take you through the sequence of words that you just used and ambivalence. Most couples don’t deal with that well. But ambivalence you said opens up new levels of grief. I don’t think most couples know how to grieve for themselves and the other in those moments of conflict. And then waiting and the capacity to wait to not just avoid, but wait to see and have. That’s part of that conversation we had about safety that sometimes waiting is necessary, but that requires trust. So those four words, at least the first two, how have you both learned to engage the ambivalence that these irresolvable issues often bring up?
Michael: Not well. Not well initially.
Rachael: Oh, I mean I’m not laughing at this moment cause it was actually incredibly painful, but I mean having legitimate moments where we’re sitting opposite sides of the couch, I don’t feel safe in your presence right now. And having to both of us feeling that in the same moment. But I do think…
Michael: It’s been the common commitment to not just person’s affect or emotional dysregulation, but noticing our own. And so even what you said there of being able to name the places where you have felt really angry or really terrified in the moment, has actually offered me an invitation to pause and to honor that reality. And I would say the same for you, that you’ve actually made space for me in an increasingly kind kind of way to name. I get anxious, I may come off as really cool customer, unflappable some ways, there’s been some compliments about just how unflappable I am, but you read me so well. And so it’s actually feels much more honoring when we’re in these moments of ambivalence to learn where we actually need to to pause. It’s very messy.
Rachael: And I think it’s taking a lot of practice because we’re actually building a trust in this place of the mess
Michael: That we’ll come back.
Rachael: That we’ll come back and that the image I have is, and that we’ll reach toward each other even if it feels like there’s a chasm. We’ve got to figure out how did we get here? What’s happening for me? What’s happening for you? Because I think a lot of people haven’t had the privilege of doing a lot of story work. So when a spouse might say to them, you really scared me, what they hear is you’re scary. And you’re mean. Instead of, I’m telling you I’m having a visceral reaction to you, but it might be about something that happened in the past that you didn’t do, but your presence is reminding me of that feeling and I need some safety. And so it is almost like a skill to not feel like it’s a direct hit, but to let it be like it’s actually a treasure. It’s like someone giving you some treasure of their life. Here’s a truth about me that I’m actually entrusting you with and I need help kind of excavating and figuring out what is this located to, what is this about? And how can we be curious together as opposed to an accusation that you’re a dangerous violent person. Make no mistake about it. When I need to hear that from Michael, all of my shame around how my anxiety manifests certainly is present with me. That’s my work to kind of hold and not ask him to resolve so that he just has to eat his fear. Cause I don’t want to feel shame that my anxiety has caused harm.
Dan: Wait, and you’re opening up even more so that category of grief that I can grieve my story, I can grieve Becky’s and I can grieve ours as to what the different streams of brokenness is bringing even in this particular moment that just does not feel like a big issue. And that is how a bed is made or how the dishwasher is loaded. Yet the ability to know we’ll never have full compatibility here doesn’t keep us from having a deeper compatibility. And that’s the ability to hold one another’s story with honor and our own, with honor and grief. So. Before we end, what I’d love for you to put words to, as shall we say wild a question. What has it taught you about your relationship with Jesus through this process?
Michael: Yeah, I think this is such a good question in that having gone through a divorce process and having actually felt very similarly triggered in this new relationship, this has actually brought maybe maybe new levels of both grief and gratitude for the ways in which redemption, in its particularity is working itself out to create beauty and an intimacy and a life even in a very embodied way. As we step into having birthed and now parenting an eight-month-old beautiful baby girl. The taste and the feel of redemption and healing through working through our conflicts and ways that have been very productive, obviously ongoing, but has just brought so much glory. And so to think that what kind of God we have, I’m just gaining maybe day by day different nuances and different appreciation for the healing and redemption.
Rachael: Yeah, I think you said it so beautifully, that sense of we, the wonder and awe that the way God made us and the way Jesus works is that we get to help each other build new neural pathways. And it’s not by avoiding conflict or sidestepping it or somehow finding a way around it. It’s actually often in the heart of the irresolvable tension that I think the Spirit is making something new. And that really can only be the work of the gospel. Cause as much as I love to think we’re just so mature. Yeah, just so loving. I actually think it’s because something of our hearts have been stirred to wonder, have tasted something of resurrection in the land of the living and just refuse to let death have the final word. And that doesn’t mean that we don’t have seasons that are really hard or scary. But yeah, we have seen something of the goodness of God in the land of the living and know that there’s more, more, that there will always be more that we’re meant for if we have the courage and humility to say yes.
Dan: Well, one of the things that Becky and I were talking about when she said, what a podcast are you doing today? And I said, the privilege of interacting with the two of you. And the way she put it was, oh, I love them each. But I love being with them both. And it was a fabulous because know, love both of you, but being with you, you experience something of the reality of what love holds, not perfection by any stretch, but the reality that repair, real repair is really possible. And I think that’s where the irresolvable issues should open both curiosity and kindness, but also how radically different we all are and how intended those differences are to reveal the wildness of how God is so different yet so close. So thank you. Thank you both for opening this conversation.
Michael: Thank you, Dan.
Rachael: Yeah, thank you.