When we were first married, Dan and I didn’t always fight fair. We were (are) both quite passionate. And being young and naïve, we were also a bit selfish. More often than I like to admit, we focused on ourselves, not each other. Sadly, judging one another came easy, especially when we disagreed about something.
“Love does not keep a record of wrongs,” says Paul. However, we were masters at keeping score! Listening was not our first step, being understood was our goal; seeking to understand was not. We struggled to communicate in love as we tried to figure out how to disagree with grace.
I doubt we are alone. Can you relate?
In our 20’s we learned (the hard way) that our relationship was not about ‘me.’ There was another person who needed to be considered.
In our 30’s we learned that marriage involved sacrifice as we stepped back from the things we wanted in order to serve the family.
In our 40’s we learned to partner with each other and give each other grace. We realized some days one did more than the other; we had to be okay with that because on other days it was reversed. It was here at this stage of our marriage we stopped keeping score and became a team.
In our 50’s we are learning that oneness is possible. Sometimes without even a word we can know what the other is thinking, wanting, and needing. We are kind in disagreements; we listen more, seek to understand and apologize faster. “Not letting the sun go down while still angry” is more natural for us.
Our communication has changed so much over the years, all because we learned to work at it. It did not come easy. We had some hard seasons. We said things we wished we never had. We have learned, though, how to forgive, forget, and move forward.
Practicing God’s grace can be a reality.
So, what’s our process? What do we do?
We value the dignity of each other. Each person is made in the image of God, and that alone gives us dignity. It does not glorify Him when we choose to degrade each other. Knowing that each belongs to God, was rescued by Him, and bought with a price should make us step away from ourselves and realize that when we use our words to mortify each other, we have depreciated the sacrifice Jesus made on the cross.
When looking at your spouse, always picture the cross behind them. It’s a reminder that Jesus gave us dignity in His disgrace. There is no sin He did not die for, therefore, “bear with one another and, if one has a complaint against another, forgive each other; as the Lord has forgiven you, so you also must forgive” (Colossians 3:13). Bearing with and forgiving each other is a gesture of dignity.
We learned that edification unites. Both husband and wife are working hard and often many days can go by before one will say “thank you!” This is not as it should be. Over the years we learned that our words should encourage and lift each other up.
It takes being intentional with this one.
Dan writes me notes thanking me for all my hard work. He will stick it in my Bible before he leaves for work. I wake up to find this sweet note of thanks. It makes my whole day! Suddenly I feel cherished. Likewise, I will send him a text telling him how proud I am to have him as my husband. He could be having a hard day but knowing that his wife is proud of him, keeps him going strong.
When we take time to edify one another, we are drawn to each other more. Appreciation such as this builds up the relationship and creates unity.
We evaluate our words before we speak. When two people are in a disagreement, and they are angry, it’s hard for them to evaluate their words before opening their mouth. It takes self-control. What makes self-control possible?
“Think before you speak,” we say to our kids. We would do well to apply this advice to ourselves. When angry, ask yourself “Is what I am about to say going to make them feel better? Is it true? Will it create more chaos? Will it accomplish change?”
Thinking before we speak doesn’t mean we can’t say a hard word to our spouse. How we share with them matters. Also keeping the issue, the issue is important. Deal with the topic at hand as if it’s an object. In your discussion never name call, or attack one’s being. Criticizing your spouse with words will only put them on the defensive; they, in turn, will strike back. This type of conversation is counterproductive. As one pastor has said, “You can’t get to a holy place by unholy means.” After all, “a gentle answer turns away wrath, but a harsh word stirs up anger” (Proverbs 15:1).
Words that result from anger can leave life-long damage to your spouse’s well-being. A staggering reality is we will be held accountable to God for every evil word we utter; Jesus warns, “on the day of judgment people will give account for every careless word they speak” (Matthew 12:36). If you want a healthy fruitful conversation, think before you speak.
We let it go instead of holding a grudge. In the old days, giving each other the silent treatment for a few days was common. What we were really doing was flexing our grudge muscles. The longer we meditated on the offense, the angrier we got. As we chewed on the criticism we heard from each other, we retaliated with a countercharge. Nothing got resolved.
I get it when someone you love makes you angry; you just want to be angry. You can’t flip a switch, and all your emotions reset. But you can choose to let it go. You can choose to not chew on it. You can replace the bad with what you are thankful for in your spouse.
For example, if someone tells you to stop thinking about eating the brownie on the kitchen counter, you won’t stop thinking about it, instead, you will be drawn to it until you devour it. Yet, if someone told you to think about how skinny you are going to be if you resist the temptation you are likely to resist it. Replacing the “do not’ with the “do this” helps us change.
So, instead of meditating on the conflict and the ugly words said, start making a list of all that your spouse does that is good. Thank him/her for each one. If you can’t speak it at that moment, write it in a note. You don’t feel like it? Do it anyway. If you wait till you feel it, you won’t do it.
Letting it go chooses to see each other’s worth.
Conflict in marriage is a given. Two sinful people are trying to become one, just as Jesus, the Father, and the Holy Spirit are unified. We battle sin; God doesn’t. But with the Spirit’s power, we can overcome. We can be like Jesus. It’s a sanctifying process. Communication isn’t easy; over time as you work at it, you can, even in conflict, “let your speech always be gracious, seasoned with salt, so that you may know how you should answer” each other. (Colossians 4:6).