I recently pulled out the workbook Christopher and I used during our pre-marital counseling six years ago.
The section that caught my eye dealt with the ideas each of us had for our new life together.
How would the housework be divided?
Who would pay the bills?
How many children did we want to have?
How would we discipline them?
How much time would we spend in the bedroom together?
While we laughed again about Christopher’s “the more the merrier” answer to how many children we would have (which wasn’t so funny when I thought he was serious), it made me realize how our desires are constantly changing and how dangerous it can be not to address them.
Sometimes I’ve felt frustrated with myself for having expectations at all, pushing them down along with my feelings.
Wouldn’t it be more loving to ignore a Saturday afternoon task that didn’t get done?
At other times, it’s sounded too exhausting to take the time to talk through them.
What if I couldn’t express my desires in a clear way?
What if he thought my ideas were ridiculous?
Sometimes I’ve wanted to force my husband to understand things from my perspective before making any effort to consider his own.
If only I felt like I was being heard, then I could be more loving and respectful when it was his turn.
But Jesus didn’t put qualifications on others. The Scripture doesn’t say, “Consider others better than yourselves if you feel like you’ve been listened to and appreciated.”
Jesus died for us when we were still stained by sin, ignoring the abundant life He longed to give.
Grace is only grace when it has nothing to do with our behavior and everything to do with accepting and extending His gift of mercy (Ephesians 2:8-9).
That’s the kind of communication He invites us into—gracious, loving, forgiving—all empowered by the Spirit.
Here are a few things that have helped me when conflict seems to build like a pressure cooker.
- Tell Jesus how I’m feeling.
We have access to a friend who knows our inmost being, sympathizes with our weakness, showers us with grace, and has the power to help us change. Would we rather trade that for Facebook sympathy?
Emotions can feel like cotton balls stuffed in our ears, preventing us from hearing what our husbands are really trying to express. But God’s Spirit has the power to hold us as we press our lips tight or ask questions that will prompt him into sharing. It might surprise us what things he values over getting dinner on the table on time.
3. Be honest about my struggle.
I’m amazed by the gracious response Christopher gives me when I admit to what I’m struggling with and confess the anger and resentment that I’ve allowed to grow.
And when I’m able to state my failed hopes in a non-hormone-charged way, it gives him a chance to process what I’m saying.
A few years ago, a counselor encouraged us to consider the trust we’d built up from resolving past disagreements as we allow ourselves to vulnerably share our feelings with each other.
4. Pray together.
Sometimes I ask Christopher to pray for me right in the moment if I begin to feel condemnation and lies running through my thoughts. Sometimes he suggests we pray together if the disagreement doesn’t seem like it can be easily resolved.
Because asking for wisdom is a request God delights to answer. (James 1:5)
So often I try to find a solution to our problems by relying on my own understanding, (even if I’ve just prayed for God’s wisdom), which is a kind of spiritual schizophrenia as Jen Wilkin said in her Biblestudy on James.
Something Christopher has said many times to encourage me is, “I’m on your side.” We are in this together as we fight against sin and selfish desires.
5. Evaluate the expectations I have for myself.
When I feel frustrated by how little I accomplished during the day, it’s easy to want to try to make up for it in the evening. I find myself going into squirrel-mode, grabbing as many acorns as I can and trying to make others around me do the same.
“Here—take this acorn and put it in the dishwasher.”
“Put all your acorns back in your toybox this instant.”
“Did you call the guy about reimbursing our acorns yet?”
But sometimes, a few of my acorns need to be left strewn across the floor in favor of helping with my husband and son’s acorns.
Often, they are better at showing me how to love them than if I try to love them how I think they should be loved. (They’re also really good at loving and enjoying me without any thought to how many acorns they have to step around).
When we make the effort to work through conflict, we have the chance to catch glimpses of the perfect relationships we will have in Heaven in the Jesus-filled way they were meant to be.
Will you ask for the Spirit’s power, living in the hope of the gospel as you work through the messes of today?
He is ready to help.