By Kendra Fletcher, Crosswalk.com
Marriage is a microscope that allows us to see not just the surface faults of the person we vowed to love and cherish for always, but the inner workings that cause those faults to stand up and scream, “Hey! Look at me!”
It can also be a hotbed of offense, if we allow it to be. “I can’t believe he said that to me!” and, “I can’t believe she did that again!” can become the daily, latent mantra that undermines the entire relationship, and with it, any dream of marital bliss we might have once had.
Little by little, those seemingly small things become the whistling steam that threatens to make the kettle boil over.
So when it comes to a marriage relationship and all of the offenses and faults and idiosyncrasies that both husband and wife bring to the table, how do you know when to speak up and when do you just let it go?
Speak Up or Overlook?
Some of us are born to see the shortcomings of any situation, whether it’s the small tear in the seam of a carpet or the way our spouse noisily chews his food. We can’t help it; it’s just the lens with which we view the world.
While a person who can see where problems lie in an organization may bring much-needed improvements to the systems and overall health of the business or community, those suggestions and reforms can be viewed as abject criticism if not tempered by a loving relationship and carefully chosen words.
In any case, we have to make deposits before we can make withdrawals, and if we’re always pointing out the faults in others without cheering on their successes, we’re taking out more than we’ve invested.
Others of us are more prone to overlooking problems because it’s a lot easier to sweep things under the rug than face what might need to be said.
This may seem like the kinder, gentler approach than that of the one who always comes across as a critic, but the truth is, when we let things fester for months and years, they never truly go away.
In fact, they can grow into something they never started out to be, and before we know it we have a crisis on our hands that could have been cautiously and thoughtfully handled much, much earlier.
Am I Truly Concerned or Just Annoyed?
So what do we do when we have a genuine concern? And how do we know if we should speak up? Which issues ought to prompt a frank discussion, and what can we overlook?
First, it is always a good idea to ask ourselves if what we are about to do or say is actually an attempt to step in where only the Holy Spirit should have dominion in the life of our spouse.
Try as we might, we are never as effective as God’s hand in the life of someone else.
Teens are often a great illustration of this principle. When one of our sons was 15, he met a youth pastor who would go on to influence him in poignant and meaningful ways.
Like many 15-year-old boys, he was prone to rolling his eyes at whatever we said, even if only covered by his hoodie so we couldn’t see the eyes do their thing. Along came Youth Pastor Guy Tim who appealed to our son in a way we couldn’t; he was younger than we were, way more fun than we were, and a new dad who wasn’t experiencing the type of parent/child conflict that wears you down from day to day… yet.
“Dad, do you know what Tim said today?” our son would greet us after each youth group meeting or coffee meet-up. “No,” my husband would reply. “What did the wise sage Tim say this time?”
His response was a good-natured jab at the fact that our son was all ears to whatever Tim said, all the while ignoring our parental wisdom and previous warnings. Ironically, everything Tim was saying had been said to our son before, by us.
But do you know what? Our son had ears to hear it from Tim. And the truth is, we had prayed for this, and God chose to meet that need through Tim the Youth Pastor. Instead of stepping in and trying to be our son’s Holy Spirit, we prayed and asked God to show up, and he chose to do that through someone else in the life of our son.
When it comes to spouses and children and, well, everyone else, there is only one Holy Spirit, and it isn’t us.
What to Do When There’s a Genuine Concern
But what if the offense is egregious? I mean, it’s so bad, we can’t turn a blind eye? That is something we all need to determine for ourselves, and in order to do so, I like to ask myself if the offense falls into one of three categories: annoying, illegal, or unbiblical.
If the offense is an annoyance—say, your spouse has persistent body odor they aren’t aware of or they keep returning the car to you on empty—then you can choose to either overlook it or make a non-accusatory comment.
The same applies to ways in which you feel your spouse has spoken harshly or thoughtlessly; is it a repeat offense that may need to be carefully brought to light, or was it a one-off that can be excused as a breach in your spouse’s normally kind demeanor?
With offenses such as these, it is always a good idea to stop and pray and ask for both patience and wisdom. God tells us that if we ask for wisdom, He will give it to us liberally. You can trust that.
However, our concern takes a more serious turn when the offense is an actual illegal act or is in direct conflict with Scripture. In both cases, we have an obligation to speak up.
If you believe your spouse will put you in an unsafe position because you’ve called them out in this way, make sure you have a plan in place that offers you protection.
Shoring Up Eachother's Weaknesses
The problem with sin is, we don’t always see our own sin. In fact, I would have to agree with Alfred Lord Tennyson, who famously quipped, “Sin is too stupid to see beyond itself.”
And that’s the truth, isn’t it? The Bible tells us outright, “But if we walk in the light, as he is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus, his Son, purifies us from all sin. If we claim to be without sin, we deceive ourselves and the truth is not in us. If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness.” 1 John 1:7-9
What I so appreciate about those verses from 1 John is that while they show us we are all sinners who don’t even see our own sin, there is a remedy in the love and forgiveness of Christ.
When we confront our spouse from that position, we are lovingly reminding them that they are wholly cherished by God, and whatever sin they are chasing is a cheap substitute for the grace of the cross.
At the end of the day, we all must essentially choose our battles. We have to ask ourselves if this offense is the one we must speak up against, or if it’s merely a personal annoyance.
If the latter, the Bible has some wisdom concerning that as well: “Good sense makes one slow to anger, and it is his glory to overlook an offense.” Proverbs 19:11
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