I don’t think anyone truly enjoys looking at his or her own negative traits. But before we discuss this, did you really know what you were getting into when you said, “I Do.?
Before I got married, I aimed to show Stephen, my most promising side. I totally soaked in his compliments and his affection; fully believing what he was saying was true. He made me feel beautiful, happy, and fully alive, because he adored me. I was on my best behavior as we courted and Steve got to see the side of me that shined.
However, it didn’t take long after the wedding day, when he started noticing my imperfections and bringing them to my attention. This didn’t mean he had changed his affections for me, but I admit, nothing prepared me to handle someone confronting me on my deepest-rooted sins. Of course, like most normal marriages, this brought conflict, and made me defensive, even if deep down in my heart I knew he was right. And yes, I did lock myself in the bathroom a couple of times my first year of marriage, vowing to not talk to him ever again. Oh the fun of newlyweds.
Marriage to me, is one of the best ways to find out just how messed up you truly are. I don’t mean this in a negative way. After all, I love being married, and Steve is my best friend ever and always.
So, we have two choices when it comes to marriage. We can either listen to our spouse when they share a concern, or we can resist.
Then there is that word “trust”. Sometimes we write off what our spouse says to us, because we simply can’t or won’t trust them. Unfortunately, when we see our spouse acting in their flesh and their weaknesses, it’s hard to receive a critical word with an open heart when they address a concern with us. The problem is, we both are imperfect which can lead to conflict.
Then, one step further can be abuse. Some marriages unfortunately are full of a spirit of shame, guilt and domination. The need for control becomes the primary motivator, and the sweet, gentle love of a partner is lost into a pattern of pain, hurt, abuse and sin. What do you do then? You get help from a professional because this is wrong.
Marriage is complicated no doubt, and I do feel beyond blessed Steve and I have loved each other for 23 years now and have had a good marriage. But it’s a lot of work.
Through the years of marriage, I have pretty much gone through every kind of reaction to any critical feedback my husband has offered.
You see, through all the years, Steve has had to deal with all my fun ups and downs. I have had moments of depression, and that was rough on our marriage. I have had times I struggled with materialism. I have struggled with not believing in myself, and with self-doubt. And I can be messy, and leave coffee grinds on the counter, and water all over the bathroom floor. I can be selfish and talk too much, never giving Steve a chance to respond. Then there were the times I was a crazy mom, controlling and manic. As much as I would like to be forever be that sweet, adorable, smart woman I thought Steve married, I have had to come to grips there is a dark side to me, full of imperfections that Steve and all my other relationships have to deal with, including myself. It’s called sin. (Sigh) It can be so disappointing to discover you are not perfect. I have had to trust Steve to forgive me for these things.
Why is it so hard to accept criticism from the person that loves me the most on this earth who wants to help me be a better person? Don’t I trust him? Doesn’t the fact that he wants the best for me make him the perfect critic? Sure it does, but its not so easy to receive. Even when Steve does this with complete love and patience,I still resist. And if guilt and shame are involved, it’s a lost battle. The key to healthy confrontation and conflict is keep a gentle and loving spirit in the mix, and put away that ugly pride so that you can listen.
It is a beautiful picture of grace, when conflict can be resolved with open, honest and loving words. When you trust the words of your spouse like a strong bridge over a rushing river. When you remind each other of your commitment to listen, and you practice the discipline of examining your own heart before pointing the finger. This is love.
Marriage can bring the greatest reward too, as it provides an amazing opportunity to grow in character and goodness, and overcome the greatest of challenges. However, pride will tell us this. “I am not going to change unless my spouse changes.”
I want to propose this to all my friends out there, “You can’t change the behavior of others or your spouse, no matter how hard you try, but you can change your own behavior, which often will change the behavior of another.”
Secondly, your desire to change must be because you want to grow and become better. Not because you want to manipulate your spouse and remind him how much better you are for pursuing change. It’s not a competition.
Today, in chapel at Compassion, I was truly blessed by getting to hear Henry Cloud as he shared. He said something like this. (Loosely paraphrased)
“First we have to dig. We have to be willing to go deeper. And we have to listen. We have to open up and be open. Why did God put our tear ducts in our eyes? So we can’t hide our tears. We need to face them and let others face them with us. We need to cut down the root of judgment we place on others and ourselves before we can change. We need to receive grace”
And change takes time.
Tonight, I got back to my hotel room in Colorado, and I thought about all the things God has blessed me with, and truly one big thing is a good marriage. God blessed me with a man who is comfortable in confrontation. By nature, I am the peacemaker and not a big fan of confrontation. But God continues to open up my eyes to see, that being vulnerable is the best way to truly deepen trust, and grow in relationship. As Steve and I have been polar opposites with how we approach conflict, we have learned from each other how to do this better, and I have seen my husband grow over the many years, soften and become a rock of faith and full of grace as we deal with each others shortcomings. I do hope…and believe he has seen me grow too as I become more trusting in dealing with conflict.
For all my dear friends who wrestle in life, relationships, your shortcomings, I know it’s hard and I know marriage can be difficult. But I conclude with this tonight. Trust God that He is by your side, and by His grace you can trust he loves you, you can trust that Jesus, who came in the flesh, understands your struggles. By His grace, He will give you the power and strength to walk into change, if you truly become open and honest with yourself, (possibly even getting help from a trusted friend or counselor). You can change and you can make your marriage better. It takes being vulnerable with others and honest with yourself, to pave the way to a healthy marriage and relationships.
Signing off in Colorado tonight. Missing my Steve. Grateful for the lessons God allows me to continue to learn.
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