Round and Round the Barn

I’d do almost anything to help save or strengthen a marriage.

From my experience, most distressed husbands and wives who seek marital therapy confess communication challenges.  It’s pretty much ubiquitous.  All of us are broken, and our brokenness has no better stage upon which to play than in a marriage.  Naturally, men and women who have trouble talking to each other, also have trouble not hurting each other when conflict inevitably happens.

To such couples, poor communication or unhelpful conflict patterns have a way of disguising themselves as causes rather than mere symptoms of relational distress.  So, husbands and wives present themselves in counselling wanting someone to teach them better “communication skills” or better strategies for “managing conflict”, thinking those will help to strengthen their bond as a couple.  Sounds reasonable.

Don’t be so sure.

I’ve seen so many couples who honed their communication skills, and even made adjustments to learned conflict patterns, but still struggle and with the same complaints.  They describe their situation as going “round and round the barn” in the same old ruts, but the ruts are only getting deeper.  How can that be?

Because the issue is often deeper.

For anyone who has read, “Three Game Changers for Singles”, getting as emotionally healthy as you can before you marry isn’t just a worthwhile goal — it’s a necessity.  One person’s unhealed hurt before the wedding becomes two people’s bigger problem immediately after.

Growing up, and as young adults, we get emotionally wounded in various ways:  by well-intentioned parents who pass down their own unhealed hurt to the next generation; by growing up in homes with an alcoholic parent; by some form of verbal, emotional, physical or sexual abuse; by emotionally unavailable or rejecting parents; by rape or incest; by growing up in a home where your father and mother divorced; by not fully grieving significant losses; by growing up in a home where parents had unrealistic expectations or perfectionistic demands.

The past is not the past if it’s still affecting your present.

For all you bottom liners:  If you have yet to do the hard work of emotionally healing from your unseen hurt, then you are probably not fully prepared for marriage, even if you’ve celebrated decades of anniversaries.

So, how does unhealed or unseen hurt show up?

Angry outbursts …

Hurt people commonly use anger to disguise and deflect their guilt and grief.  Anger provides an illusion of personal power that may temporarily block feelings of confusion and helplessness that commonly result from painful personal crises.”

Sandra D. Wilson, Ph.D., author of ‘Hurt People Hurt People’

It might also be helpful to know that anger is a secondary, rather than a primary emotion.  Underneath it, driving it are primary emotions triggered by past hurt, present frustration, or future anxiety.  Knowing this might make Sandra Wilson’s words make even more sense.

Not taking responsibility …

Healthy husbands and wives willingly take responsibility for their role in the state of their marriages.  In contrast, spouses with unhealed hurts have a harder time accepting their share of responsibility, and instead tend to blame their spouses for the state of the marriage.  Not a lot has changed since Genesis 3.

Pursuing wellness but ignoring emotional health

This is really easy to do.  Tons of available self-help resources out there on nutrition, physical fitness, relaxation, physiological health.  But, marriage is primarily an emotional relationship (see “Sustainable Marriage”), so it demands emotional wholeness to work the way God designed it.

Pain that is unacknowledged and untreated does not go away.

Patrick A. Means

If you feel like you and your mate are going “round and round the barn”, but the ruts are only getting deeper, then an overlooked opportunity could be healing unseen hurt or unhealed woundedness from trauma or childhood experiences.  Time doesn’t heal anything.  It just delays the first day of a healthier chapter of your life.


One effective prescription I favour is finding and committing to working with a legitimate licensed therapist of your same gender and worldview, who has a track record of walking alongside folks who have experienced deep emotional hurt.  Don’t let pride stop you from taking this important first step.

Whatever you do, don’t allow your hurts to remain unresolved!  The longer you leave them the harder you will have to work to restore emotional connection to your relationship.”

Dr. Sharon Hart Morris, author of “Safe Haven Marriage”

Years ago I recognised that I was going through the same unproductive cycles with people and getting the same results.  My heart was yearning for relational success, but in the end, I was achieving the exact opposite.  It wasn’t until I literally hit rock bottom and reached out to the one true God (and some of his good helpers) that heart healing began to take hold. Only then did things begin to change.  I’m hoping many of you won’t take the painful roundabout route that I took.

Blessings on your home,


9 thoughts on “Round and Round the Barn”

  1. I agree. For years counseling and therapy have focused on communication as being the key to a healthy marriage. However, because the marriage bond is an attachment bond, many of the problems are related to attachment issues and deep seated underlying needs (and, in some cases, to childhood traumas). This is really what needs to be addressed. I found Sue Johnson’s book “Hold me Tight” very enlightening. Thanks for a great post.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Many thanks for the encouragement and for taking time to comment. Will check out Johnson’s well-titled book.


  2. I love this topic! I was going to pull out some of my favorite quotes for you in my response, but there were too many of them. We’ll done, friend.


    Liked by 1 person

  3. Thank you, Robert, for a clear explanation of this “phenomenon” that so many experience. The problem immediately becomes smaller when put in this perspective! Objectivity is so helpful, even as we tackle deeply subjective wounds! Blessings!

    Liked by 1 person

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s