Marriage 101: Are you a hoarder?

This decade has given birth to numerous reality television shows. Most of us have watched “Survivor,” “The Amazing Race” or one of the dozens of other reality shows. Shows depicting tattoo artists, pawn shops, storage unit wars, fishermen and singers give viewers a wide range of choices. These shows have come a long way from what is known as the granddaddy of the reality TV genre, “Candid Camera,” which made its debut in 1948.

One of the reality shows that grabs my attention is “Hoarders.” According to the “Hoarders” website, this show takes a fascinating look inside the lives of two different people whose inability to part with their belongings is so out of control that they are on the verge of personal crisis.

Each story features a house filled with personal belongings and garbage that has been hoarded for years. These houses are cluttered with possessions, trash, human and animal waste, and even dead animals.

Have you ever considered yourself a hoarder? Not in the same sense of these people who hoard “stuff,” but do you hoard emotional hurts and offenses? Has your spouse, or someone close to you, hurt you in the past and you’ve held on to that pain, refusing to forgive? If you have unresolved conflict, it has the potential to prevent you from living a life full of joy and peace.

Unresolved conflict can escalate minor disagreements into major problems, which can increase in both importance and intensity. Unresolved conflict can burn within you and cause you to become bitter and angry, and you may not even realize why.

Similar to people who hoard possessions, once you harbor unresolved conflict, you begin to hang on to offenses more readily and tuck them away. The more conflicts that you tuck away somewhere, the easier it is to avoid confrontation and resolution, and the easier it is to ignore emotional pain.

For several years, Debby was what she calls a “stuffer.” She would stuff her emotions deep within and would not talk about her feelings. When I would do or say something offensive, she had a tendency to add to her collection of past hurts, and she would refuse to discuss issues with me. She was an emotional hoarder.

Because of the way she handled conflict, we would not discuss many of our problems until she couldn’t hold back any longer. All the past offenses and pain that I had caused, and all the emotions that she had stuffed away, would burst forth and we would engage in horrific emotional combat, slinging insults and lobbing emotional hand grenades at one another.

Usually our fights would last deep into the night and would expand to include many unresolved issues of our past. We were in this cycle for several years and had these blow-out fights about every three months.

We weren’t able to break out of this rut until we began to clear all the clutter and emotional garbage out of our life. When we finally surveyed our stockpile of shattered dreams, shredded emotions and broken promises, we realized we needed help. Like so many of the people on the “Hoarders” show, we couldn’t clean up our mess on our own.

We found a marriage counselor who helped us clear out the garbage from our emotional home. He walked us through the unresolved conflicts of our past and helped us find the courage to deal with problems as they surfaced, rather than stuff them away to be dealt with later.

Today we continue to have conflicts, like all married couples do, but we have learned to deal with them immediately and directly.

From watching the show, I’ve seen how difficult it is for people to part with their possessions. One thing they all have in common is that they needed someone else to walk them through their mess and encourage them to dispose of the excessive clutter that is damaging their very way of life.

In our interactions with married couples, we have talked with many who think they are “just fine” and can maneuver through life without guidance. Often these same people are experiencing a mediocre marriage, and yet they wonder why their marriage isn’t thriving and healthy.

Take some time and survey your heart. Are you hoarding offenses and hurts from the past? Are you stuffing disappointment and anger and refusing to resolve problems? Take the first step in clearing out your junk and free yourself from the emotional baggage you are packing through life.

As you discuss and resolve conflicts with your spouse, it is important to use phrases such as “I feel” rather than “You make me feel.” This demonstrates that you are taking responsibility for the way you feel, rather than putting blame on your spouse. This small shift may change the attitude of your spouse and have a positive impact on the resolution of the conflict.

We encourage you to seek counsel as you tackle emotionally charged conflicts. There is no shame in seeking counseling. In fact, that may be just the step your spouse needs to see you take to begin the road to recovery in your relationship.


Federal Way resident Jason Coleman is co-author of “Discovering Your Amazing Marriage.” Email or visit


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