The Marriage Conversation You Ought to Have
Here's a true confession: whenever I think about "working on my marriage," I think of my husband's shortcomings before I think of my own. I picture myself sitting down beside him (perhaps with a neatly organized list) and talking through all my complaints, beginning with the petty irritations and working my way to the really irritating irritations. Surely if we could iron those out, we'd be on the fast track to eternal bliss, right?
Do you want to know how one of the best marriage conversations I've ever had started? Exactly the opposite. I had been reading about confession in a marriage book when I came across this statement: "It is a sign of God's grace when our consciences are sensitive and our hearts are grieved, not at what the other person is doing, but at what we have become."
"What we have become"—it felt like a slap in the face because the minute I read it, I knew that I was not proud of what I had become in my marriage. But it had been such a long time since I looked deeply and honestly into my own heart. After all, it was much easier to shine the spotlight on my husband than it was to shine it into my own soul. But that day, sitting on the sofa, God opened my eyes.
I asked Clint to come sit beside me, and I confessed. I'm not talking about those "I ate the last brownie" confessions. I mean, I really confessed. I confessed my secret fighting strategies for making myself look better than him. I confessed the awful habits that had made me become a wife I never wanted to become. I confessed the sins I normally excused away, on the grounds of "cutting myself a little slack." I confessed as honestly as I could, until I could think of nothing left to confess. As I confessed, I cried. And as I cried, he held me.
You know how as women we always want men to connect with us? We want that moment when he's totally engaged—when all his emotions are tuned in and he just gets us. Here's the thing . . . I always thought I could force that sort of connection by getting him to recognize his shortcomings. Not by confessing mine.
But that day on the sofa was the most connected I had felt to Clint in a long time. He didn't hug me like he was heading out the door late for work. He hugged me like he loved me with all his heart. And guess what else? He began to confess. That day we tasted grace, and it tasted just like the gospel—humble, forgiving, and celebratory.
Ephesians 4:2–3 says, "Be completely humble and gentle; be patient, bearing with one another in love. Make every effort to keep the unity of the Spirit through the bond of peace." Don't we long for unity and peace in marriage? And yet they can feel like such slippery attributes, sliding between our fingers somewhere between last night's irritation and this morning's carpool crisis.
But in these verses, Paul tells us where to begin. You want to grab hold of unity and peace? You're going to have to start with four other attributes: humility, gentleness, patience, and forbearance.
When we finished talking on the sofa that day, I was surprised by a random emotion. Vulnerability. (I think she's a sister to humility and gentleness.) As people who've been married for a long time, it's easy to believe the vulnerability has faded because we're so close. After all, there's no secrets or mystery—we know each other inside-out.
But actually, the vulnerability might have faded not because we're so close but because we've allowed ourselves to grow so distant. The surest way to kill vulnerability in a marriage is to build up defenses and reinforce them regularly. Choose to win instead of love. Choose to take instead of give. Choose to blame instead of confess. And one day you will realize you don't feel the least bit vulnerable with the man beside you. It won't be because you're close; it'll be because you're hard as a rock.
That's the scary thing about marriage. It can drift apart quietly without you even noticing. It's not like a teenager you can send off to college with a credit card. It's like a newborn baby you have to nurture every single day. Leave it to itself, and it will die. Nobody ever told me that at my bridal showers.
But invest in it, sacrifice for it, regularly choose it over yourself, and just like a newborn baby, it can become the delight of your life! Even on the poopy days. Even when the battles are hard won. It's never perfect, but it can be a steady foundation, a safe refuge, a joyful allegiance.
Today, as I sit in my world and you sit in yours, I don't know the state of your marriage. But I do know this—I gave you a vulnerable glimpse into mine because I believe marriage is worth fighting for. I wouldn't understand how marriages drift if I didn't have firsthand experience. I couldn't write about pride unless I knew exactly how it tastes. So, if you (like me) have ever tallied up your spouse's shortcomings or been reluctant to shine the light on yourself, maybe it's time for a conversation on the sofa. Take it from a stubborn, arrogant wife—the first step toward unity is humility.
By Jeanne Harrison
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