My lovely wife Christi is Canadian. So was our wedding.
If you’ve ever been to a Canadian wedding you understand the reception north of the border tends to be more elaborate than its American counterpart.
In the months prior to our wedding, Christi’s mum put together a lifelong video highlight of the two of us for our reception. As dinner ended, our attention was turned to the video screen, where footage of Christi at three-years-old filled the display. It was an image I’ll never forget—this innocent, precious little girl sitting in the bathtub splashing water, and singing with all her heart,
“And so I thank the Lord, for giving me the things I need, the sun and the rain, and the apple seed, the Lord is good to me.”
Only two weeks later, on the last night of our honeymoon, in the dimly lit ambience of a romantic Mexican restaurant, we somehow found ourselves in the middle of the biggest argument of our relationship, to date. As I sat across from her at dinner defending myself, I noticed Christi well up with tears.
I knew at that moment, our honeymoon was over.
As I tried my best to “fix” the situation—without warning and in the heat of the argument—I saw through Christi’s tears that precious video of her singing in the bathtub as a little girl. My defenses suddenly evaporated.
That innocent little girl was now my wife, and it was my duty to fight for her, not with her.
Why is it that our natural tendency is to become hard and insensitive in our interactions with the person we love the most? Rather than being quick to listen, slow to speak, and slow to become angry (James 1:19), we’re quick to defend ourselves, quick to cast blame, and slow to understand—a recipe that keeps us enslaved to self-righteousness, and too often, unable to forgive.
Here are five ways we can create a culture of forgiveness in marriage.
Before I go further, this point needs to be addressed. True relational freedom is when we feel safe in our relationship. Though the Bible clearly calls us to forgive (Matt 6:14-15), it doesn’t tell us to submit ourselves to abuse or emotionally immature behaviors. Too often, I see spouses forgiving the other prematurely, only to subject themselves to further abuse, or enabling their spouse’s hurtful behaviors (i.e. addiction, narcissism, etc.). You can forgive over and over again, but never feel emotionally safe.
If you’re in this type of relationship, or your husband is unwilling to change his behavior, you need to seek the help of a professional counselor to begin setting healthy boundaries in your marriage. Otherwise, bitterness and fear will continue to fester.
- Don’t defend yourself
W. Tozer wrote that one of the five keys to a deeper spiritual life is to never defend yourself. When we do, no matter how we were offended, we put up emotional guards that make us hard and self-centered. In turn, we cast blame in an attempt to protect one person—ourself.
- Clothe yourself in gentleness, because bitterness is unattractive.
To protect our hearts, we often cast blame on our spouse. For example, the less supported you feel as a wife or mom, the more likely you’ll criticize your husband. But when a man is criticized, it gives him little desire to pursue his wife—an unhelpful, vicious cycle.
And I get it, especially if you feel like your husband isn’t pursuing your heart. The Bible describes Jesus as gentle, meek, and lowly in heart (Matt. 11:29). Peter used the same word to describe Jesus when he instructs wives to adorn themselves, not with clothes or make-up, but with a gentle spirit (1 Peter 3:3-4).
In other words, don’t preach to him. It will only make him more defensive.
Instead, when you dress each day, prayerfully put on clothes of gentleness and ask yourself, “How can I gently and safely begin sharing my heart with my husband?”
Check out our post, How 15 Minutes is Changing our Marriage, for a more practical way to do this.
- Begin praying each day for your husband, specifically that God would show you how He sees him. Don’t allow your situation or husband’s action (or inaction) make you grow bitter and resentful.
The most effective way of regaining empathy and genuine concern for your husband is praying that God shows you a glimpse of who he is in His eyes—the hurt, the loneliness, the exhaustion, the pressure, or the rejection he might feel.
Pray this prayer a lot, especially when you’re frustrated with him.
- Take the Golden Rule and replace the word “treat” with the word “understand.”
That is: “Understand others the way you want to be understood.”
In order for your spouse to begin opening up with you about the hurts and fears that may be underlying some of his hurtful words or behaviors, he needs to feel safe and not like he’s blowing it as a husband. The more he feels understood by you, the more he’ll begin to open up over time.
All five of these actions foster one thing: emotional safety. And it’s emotional safety that predicts marital satisfaction.
The safer we become for our spouse, the more likely he/she will want to pursue our heart, fighting for us, not with us.