Marriage is that relationship that becomes comfortable over time, like your favorite pair of jeans or shoes that are broken in just so. With that comfort, though, is an alternate reality–familiarity can breed contempt. The things we say to our spouse out of anger or frustration sometimes are things we would NEVER say to a stranger or even a close friend. But oh, the venom that can spew in the intimacy of marriage, will damage the toughest of souls.
Anyone married more than a year knows that marriage has its highs and lows. Couples that learn to weather the low times significantly increase their chances of enjoying a long term marriage. In 36 years of marriage, I have accumulated many tools to help our marriage thrive, but sometimes advice comes from the most unlikely places–like being seated next to someone in a restaurant. I don't MEAN to eavesdrop, but when you are seated 3 feet from someone, it is nearly impossible to tune out the conversation!
Advice from strangers
We were waiting for our meal recently, and overheard the table right next to us–a lady talking with a younger couple about her marriage. She described a time when her husband had become very paranoid and possessive, even checking her odometer when she had gone somewhere. She said when things were at their worst, she finally put her foot down and told her husband, “Let's just be kind to each other for the next 24 hours. Then we'll worry about the next 24 hours.” She went on to share that things eventually got better, and they have now been married over 25 years. She laughed when she reminisced how petty their conflict seemed in hindsight, but she was grateful they had held on in the tough times.
Two things that help when marriage is tough:
1. Remember the saying you heard as a child: “If you can't say anything nice, don't say anything at all”? Silence might be misinterpreted, but never misquoted. When you are tempted to hurl hurtful words, decide ahead of time not to speak words that can't be taken back.
Sometimes, though, silence is really, really hard, and we need an outlet. If you just need to spew, write down what you would regret saying in the heat of the moment, then throw it away, burn it or delete it. One of the things that differentiates humans from animals is the ability to pause between impulse and reaction.
If it helps to write something to your spouse, consider using a marriage journal — write out things that may be too hard to say, or use it to ask questions when your partner is shut down. The journal can also be a place to write down milestones and happy times you have shared as a couple. When we are in a tough place relationally, it's easy to forget the good times. Going back over the things you love about your spouse, or the memories of better times, can help couples hang on until they can get to the other side of the conflict.
2. Another truth many of us learned in church offers a way to BE with each other in the hard times: “Be kind to each other, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, just as God through Christ has forgiven you.” (Eph. 4:31, NLT) Treating your spouse with kindness when we would rather stomp and demand our way may feel shallow, but I have never heard anyone complain about being treated with kindness. In fact, when people treat us with exceptional kindness, it captures our attention, and softens us. The New Testament is full of “one anothers”–and these are not only meant for fellow believers, but MOST importantly, they are to be practiced at home. So go ahead, and follow the mantra: “fake it til you make it” and see what may soften over time.
Looking down the road
It seemed very good advice that the lady was sharing with this younger couple, who we learned are planning to marry. Not every day can be nirvana, but taking the relationship one day at a time may be necessary to get down the road, and continue looking ahead.
The quote below reminds us that this partnership cannot last if we bail when the going gets tough. Sometimes, it is enough to hold our tongue for a time and treat each other with kindness.