“Dirty clothes on the floor...again!”
“Does she realize that she makes us late to EVERYTHING?”
“Were we even in the same parenting class?!”
“Can you possibly chew any louder?”
We all have things people around us do that drive us crazy. Many times, the worst offenders are those closest to us, namely our kids, and even our spouse. There is little doubt you have personal examples you could have written into the intro.
One of the tough questions you have to ask yourself is whether or not the offense against you is worth mentioning.
Allena and I learned early on that we would let things that annoyed us slide by until the point of no return. When she was working long hours as a CPA, I’d do my best to clean our apartment so she would have one less thing to worry about and we would have more time to spend together. The place would be spotless, and I expected her to walk in and be blown away by my hard work. Instead, she’d come home exhausted, take off her shoes at the door, and drop her bags on the floor.
Didn’t she notice all my efforts?
At first, I thought I should just let it go but soon realized this pattern would one day drive me crazy, so I had to say something. I explained how discouraging it was, and she explained she didn’t even realize she was doing it and definitely had no idea it was bothering me. Most importantly, she made it clear she was glad I brought it up since it was an easy thing to fix. We set some new expectations, and it helped us work through this potential pitfall in our marriage.
Proverbs 19:11 teaches,
“A person’s wisdom yields patience; it is to one’s glory to overlook an offense.”
What does this Proverb mean and how can we put it into practice in the context of marriage?
One translation puts Proverbs 19:11a this way; “Good sense makes one slow to anger.” We should all strive to be slow to anger so we can be more like God (Nahum 1:3). Patience is a sign of maturity and an area in which the Spirit wants us to continue to grow.
Proverbs 19:11b can be summed up this way: It is to our credit to focus on forgiveness rather than dwelling on the wrong done to us. Whether the offense against us is small and easy to forgive, or the offense is seemingly unforgivable, Colossians 3:13 instructs us to “Bear with each other and forgive one another if any of you has a grievance against someone. Forgive as the Lord forgave you.” Forgiveness is not of us; rather it is a gift that God, through His Spirit, enables us to practice.
We can learn from this verse by also looking at what it does not mean. It doesn’t mean anger should always be avoided. Scripture talks about becoming slow to anger and not letting it overcome us, being mindful of how we express anger. The verse also doesn’t mean that we should let every offense against us slide. Where there is hurt, there is opportunity for restoration and forgiveness. Letting everything go may, on the surface, seem like a good idea, but rarely does it not come back to bite us in some fashion. It also isn’t loving to the person committing the offense to not allow them the chance to make things right.
Here are some questions that can help any couple discern when to bring up an offense.
- Is it simply a matter of personal preference? If so, let it go.
- Does it result in sin on anyone’s part? If so, then have a conversation.
- Is it an isolated incident or a pattern? If it’s one time and isn’t sin, you can let it go. If it’s an ongoing pattern, have a conversation.
As you process through these questions, here are some simple principles to help.
- Be easy to approach - As obvious as it may be that no one is perfect, our pride and inability to see our blind spots can create obstacles for people to speak the truth in love to us on both the big and small things (Proverbs 15:31, 27:6).
- Examine your own heart - Before going to others to point out offenses, take time to look for the log in your own eye before pointing out the speck in someone else’s (Matthew 7:3).
- Remember you are on the same team - This is a tangible byproduct of the vows you shared at your wedding. Each of us became one with our spouse, and our decisions either cultivate oneness or create division (Matthew 19:6).
- Give your spouse the benefit of the doubt - Often, my first impulse is to assume the worst when someone hurts or annoys me. Walls come up, and then self-protection takes over which results in me withdrawing. For others, anger turns to lashing out and escalation. We each have our flaws and lack of self-control against our flesh. We should work to first assume our spouse had the best intentions and didn’t intentionally set out to hurt us.
- Consider your timing and approach - Try the H.A.L.T method—it works! This means you probably shouldn’t have hard conversations when you’re hungry, angry, late/lost, or tired.
- Widen the circle if necessary - Sometimes, the problem that started off with someone leaving dirty dishes in the sink ends in a major conflict. When communication is breaking down or you keep banging your head into the same walls, wisdom would have you bring in trusted friends and advisors for help. Community is often sweetest when it can help people work through conflict (Proverbs 11:14).
Putting these principles into practice won’t be an overnight thing. It took the first couple years of our marriage for Allena and I to apply these, and it’s an ongoing process to submit to the Spirit so that they become habits. Pray with me that the Lord may be gracious to us in helping us to not sweat the small stuff!
1. Read Watermark’s conflict field guide.
2. Which of the six principles above can you apply to your marriage?