I realized today that on that monumental date in a young-ish marriage–our 10th anniversary–I made no mention of our marriage or anniversary or anything of the kind. I forgive myself because at the time (in Canada) I was probably asleep and at the time (locally–that is, in England) I was on an adventure with my wife in Bath.
I also recalled writing, on our 8th anniversary, a post with 8 points of marital advice. I still stand by that advice. However, I want to highlight one point and add another very important one that I hadn’t mentioned there.
First, forgiveness. I can’t stress this enough. Forgive your spouse daily, because, quite frankly, you will probably need to be forgiven more often than your spouse. But also because without forgiveness bitterness takes route, and bitterness won’t take your marriage to good places. I say it again: I can’t stress forgiveness enough.
Secondly, I neglected to mention one thing in my original marriage advice post: humility. Swallow that pride. Your pride is not worth your marriage. What am I talking about? I am not talking about swallowing your pride in terms of your basic worth as a human being created in the image of God. That is, I am not suggesting you swallow your pride and, for example, just accept spousal abuse. I am suggesting, rather, that you swallow your pride in terms of disagreements and tensions with your spouse.
- when you are angry about something don’t hang onto it no matter how right you are (“righteous pride”, perhaps?). This doesn’t mean that you have to say, “You’re right,” but that you have to be willing to communicate in a healthy way in spite of what you see as your clear “rightness”. Plus, even if you are right, your actions (verbal or otherwise) may not be.
- When are angry about something and realize that you are wrong, admit it. Don’t stay angry or continue on a pretense of correctness simply because admitting that you are wrong is embarrassing. Same thing goes for when you’re angry and you realize that it’s a silly thing to be angry about.
Conversely, don’t get angry and defensive when your spouse critiques your character or criticizes you. They may be wrong and their comments may be unjustified. Then again, they may be right–or at the very least, they might be partially right. Whatever the case may be, anger and defensiveness closes the ears and shuts down your capacity to reason. When emotion takes the wheel in this context, it doesn’t take you down any better roads than bitterness will. If you get angry and/or defensive, you will not hear what you may well need to hear, even if it is only a grain of truth.
Two Sundays ago there was some tension in our home in the morning (not uncommon on Sundays), because my scheduled departure time in order to get to church more or less on time (“on time” is not an exact measurement at our church) was once again way overshot. Once we were in the van, Dixie made the comment, “I think you’re the angriest person in the family.”
I was incredulous. “What do you mean I’m the angriest!? On what basis do you make this assertion?!” But, for once, I managed to swallow my pride (perhaps after a period of time) and reflect on what she said, instead of rationalizing and arguing to restore my character in her mind (having written that, it seems even sillier). She had touched a nerve. I pride myself on my “even keel”–I take most things as they come and it generally takes quite a lot to make me angry.
Whether or not she is right about my anger ranking within the family, she was at least right in the sense that my “even-keeledness” seems be weaker at home. (I’ve mentioned before that having children, as much as it is a joy, delight and blessing, has also brought out a dark side in me that I had not previously been aware of.) And the truth is, I do lack patience at home, and of late I have been raising my voice more often. Dixie’s words, as much as they hurt my pride, brought me to reality.
So, swallow your pride, folks. Your spouse in many ways knows you better than you know yourself. At least, your spouse will see things in you that you are unable or unwilling to see. Insofar as marriage is a relationship for each other, one way your spouse is for you is by being honest about the things that he or she sees in you such that you can become a better person (and, I suggest, even vindictive criticism can be turned into something positive).
(I’d better write something more directly theological–though marriage is theological–lest this blog become Dear Abby.)