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I’m not much of a confrontationist. My natural tendency is to walk away and stew over something (and maybe slam a few cabinet doors for emphasis), instead of addressing a specific problem. But all marriages need good, and meaningful, communication. Grunts and sighs don’t really count. That means we don’t just initiate the conversation when we think our spouses have messed up, but we also need a willingness to admit when we’re the one in the wrong – and offering our spouses the benefit of the doubt, can go a long way in overcoming conflicts that come up in our relationships.
The next time you find yourself in a heated made-for-marriage cage match over who was supposed to empty the dishwasher, or who should have shut the gate before the dog made a run for it, and both of you are in your corners readying for another round, take a time out and hold up a white flag while you speak these three words to your spouse.
Please forgive me.
Sound weird? What about those other three words, like, “I love you,” or the more obvious word choice when you’re in an argument, “I’m sorry”?
Those phrases are useful, but from my experience talking and counseling with other wives over the years, they’re not always used sincerely. “I’m so sorry” and “I love you” can quickly deteriorate into “Sorry” sarcasm, and “Love you” scorn, with maybe even an eye-roll thrown in for good measure.
But when we intentionally ask our spouses to forgive us, we do a couple of important things simultaneously. First, we recognize our part in the current argument or conflict. Whether you feel you’re in the wrong or not, if you’ve exchanged harsh words or offered an ugly attitude over whatever you’re arguing about, you have a part you can apologize for and ask to be forgiven for. You have something you could have handled better.
Second, we open a door to draw our spouses closer to us instead of pushing them further away. “Please forgive me” creates an invitation, a moment, where defensiveness can soften, and for an opportunity to choose love over resentment to be taken. Suddenly, instead of focusing on winning the argument, we’re focusing on each other and how we can both move back to common ground.
If you find yourself frequently looking for and holding onto little things your spouse does that hurts your feelings or causes growing dislike or bitterness, it may be time to do a heart reset.
Read on for five ways you can choose to offer forgiveness in your marriage instead of resentment and, ultimately, regret.
Not all of what your spouse says is an attack or reflection on you. Don’t take everything so personally. Don’t like how he responded when you asked him for a favor? Maybe he’s tired, or has something else on his mind he’s worried about. Tired of how angry or defensive your wife acts when you ask if she needs help getting dinner ready? Consider how the rest of her day has been, and what other issues she may be dealing with or thinking about. When someone is abrupt or rude, it’s usually an indicator of something else that’s going on, and it may have nothing to do with you. So show some compassion towards your spouse; it’s a characteristic Christ displayed to many, and a needed element in our marriages.
If you think about it, we’re often more willing to show kindness to someone at the grocery store than we are than with the person we’ve committed our lives to in the name of love. When was the last time you did something deliberately kind for your spouse, like open the door for her, or bring a drink to him? Being married doesn’t discount us or exclude us from being kind to each other. When we develop an attitude of intentional kindness towards our husbands or wives, we can find it much easier to overlook or let something go our spouse does unintentionally.
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The hard truth about marriage is that our spouses know us better than anyone – including all of our imperfect flaws and failings. So why pretend we’re the ones who have it all together and our spouses are the ones with all the problems? When we come to our spouses with humble attitudes – and not prideful ones, intent on winning at all costs – we’re contributing to what can be a beautiful, authentic marriage, one built on honesty and trust and the knowledge that both of you support and love one another regardless of your faults. Apologizing and asking for forgiveness are an extension of a humble heart, and evidence of a secure relationship with your spouse, and with God.
Proverbs 15:1 says “A gentle answer turns away anger, but a harsh word stirs up wrath.” If your spouse reacts with a harsh word or a sharp tone about something, resist the urge to respond with the same. Instead, speak gently. Show concern instead of anger. Look for the reason behind his response instead of responding with your own reaction. Find ways you can be a peacemaker for your marriage and not an instigator.*
Sometimes the things our spouses do that drive us the most crazy has less to do with their actions, and more with our own limits in patience. When our hearts are more patient, our actions are more forgiving. So if you find yourself ready to scream at the amount of time your husband is taking to fix the car like he promised, apply a little self-control and compassion and maybe a little Proverbs 19:11, which reads “A person’s insight gives him patience, and his virtue is to overlook an offense.”
*Author's note: Please note the author is not including situations of domestic abuse in these examples, whether physical or emotional and does not advocate that someone who is a victim of spousal abuse simply overlook or try to ignore a spouse’s dangerous behavior or actions. While God can heal marriages experiencing this type of trauma, help from others is usually necessary, as well as a period of separation. If you are the victim of spousal abuse, please seek help.
Sara Horn is the founder of Wives of Faith, a ministry for military wives, and a regular Crosswalk.com Marriage contributor. She is also the author of seven books including My So-Called Life as a Proverbs 31 Wife and her most recent book, How Can I Possibly Forgive? Visit her website at sarahorn.com.
Publication date: December 29, 2014