Marriage Perspectives: Choosing Your Battles
- 2010 28 Sep
As I write this, I am staring at an incredible annoyance. It’s a small thing––just an empty bag of chips. But it has been in its resting spot for three and a half days now. (Yes, I’m keeping track.) Of course I could easily throw it away and I would no longer have to look at it. But you see, I didn’t leave it there, so why should I have to take care of it?
My husband, the person responsible for this atrocity, could just as easily pick it up. So instead, I will roll my eyes every time I walk by it, mumble under my breath about how ridiculous it is to leave trash lying around the house, and try to bite my tongue while I keep track of how long it takes Ryan to finally realize the error of his ways and correct the wrong.
I know from past history that his ability to ignore his offense will inevitably outlast my ability to keep quiet about it. I will either grumpily ask him to throw the bag away “sometime in this century,” or I will use it as fuel for our next argument, which, whether it starts on this topic or not, will undoubtedly expand to cover the disparity in household chores. The bag will either become fodder for a twenty-minute argument or it will cause resentment and general crankiness in our household for up to an entire afternoon. But at least I won’t have to throw the stinkin’ bag away myself! I will have won!
Or will I?
After six years of marriage, I have realized that it’s usually easier to just pick up after my husband than to try to “train” him to clean up after himself. Unfortunately, realizing and learning are not always interconnected. Far more often than I apply this life lesson, pride or indignation cause me to ignore it. After all, I really am right! Ryan should take care of his own messes. But then, I’m sure there are countless times I wrong him and, for the most part, he keeps it to himself. Unlike me, Ryan has never rattled off a laundry list of wrongdoings. In fact, today, for the first time, he finally brought up a fairly major offense of mine from five years ago.
When we moved into our old farmhouse I enthusiastically painted all the walls and then proceeded to slap four coats of white paint on the window frames. Ryan warned me not to paint the windows shut, but in my haste, I ignored him and permanently “locked” every single one. Today, we were washing those windows, a tedious process that involves borrowing a ladder, navigating bushes and wasp nests, detaching the storm windows, and after a thorough scrubbing, attempting to match screw holes.
Ryan is not the most patient worker bee. After being on the receiving end of a few gruff answers and overhearing choice words muttered under his breath, I let him know that he had no right to talk so harshly to me. I included in my rant a list of his latest offenses and a few not-so-recent ones. When I was finished, Ryan reminded me that I should know by now that he gets frustrated easily when we do this type of work, and that the job would have been much easier if the windows hadn’t been painted shut.
Ouch. It felt like a slap on the wrist to be reminded of a years-old mistake. But I was silenced when Ryan said, “I’ve never said anything about that until now, but that’s why this job is so frustrating.” I realized then that he had every right to let me have it about that fateful paint job. You can bet if the tables were turned, Ryan would have heard about those windows every time a house-maintenance topic (related or not) came up!
I guess my husband is more aware than I of the truth that humans are flawed and meant to love and forgive each other, despite those flaws. The perfectionist in me wants to fix the flaws first. But that’s not how Christ loves us (and praise God he doesn’t, or we’d all be hosed!)
Likewise, we are to love our spouses (and others) as Christ loves us. Ryan’s not perfect, but neither am I. I can choose to dwell on his flaws, or I can save us both a lot of trouble and love him for who he is. There are some things that might warrant a calm marital “discussion,” but I doubt the empty potato chip bag staring me in the face is one of them. In fact, I think I’ll go throw it away right now.
A Seasoned Perspective
One of the great things about being married for multiple decades is that you start to understand there are very few things worth making a big deal over. During Ken and my newlywed years, our two big issues were: shoes left lying around the house (mine), and the whole who-will-change-the-toilet-paper-roll controversy. (He never did!)
The truth is, the sight of a pair of my shoes anywhere but on my feet or in the closet still, thirty years past our newlywed days, makes my husband grind his teeth. And the thought of putting a pair of shoes away in the closet when I’m just going to be wearing them again in a matter of hours is equally annoying to me. But we’ve reached a sort of compromise over the years. If I do slip my shoes off around the house, I’m careful to tuck them under my desk or by the back door or somewhere where Ken won’t trip on them, or have to look at them for any length of time. He’s done a great job of turning a blind eye.
One tool we’ve used that I think has really helped keep our accounts short is to have an annual “state-of-the-marriage review.” Each year on our anniversary, we spend an hour or so of give-and-take answering these questions:
• What three things would I change about you if I could?
• What three things do I love most about you?
• What one thing am I most looking forward to in our next year together?
By mutual agreement, we do not pull out the heavy stuff during this discussion. If there’s a larger issue looming in our marriage, we deal with it separately at a different time. No sense in ruining a perfectly good anniversary date night. But this is a good time to deal with those niggling little things that have been bugging us about each other. I wish he’d turn his T-shirts right side out before putting them in the laundry. He wishes I wasn’t always three minutes late walking out the door for church. I wish he would listen better when I tell him what’s on our schedule for the week. He wishes I wouldn’t throw the newspaper away the minute I’m done reading it.
It’s important that we do this “negative” part of the state-of-the-marriage review first so we can end on the happy notes of what we love most about each other and the goals for our future together that we’re excited about.
And that’s the point. There is so much to be grateful for in the life God has given us together. Proverbs 21:9 and 19 say that it would be better to live on a corner of the roof, or even in a desert, than with a quarrelsome and ill-tempered wife. I want my husband to look forward to coming home to me each day. We got married because we found much to like about each other, so why would either of us choose to dwell on the few picky things that irritate us?
Oh dear. Does that mean I’m going to have to bite my tongue and ignore the fact that somebody just left three squares of toilet paper on the roll without changing it?
Read Proverbs 26:21, Proverbs 27:15-17; and 2 Timothy 2:23-24.
1. What are some pet peeves about your spouse that you need to let go?
2. Do you have any annoying habits that you could choose to change as an act of love for your spouse?
3. Do you and your spouse have other issues that truly need to be dealt with? How can you determine the difference? How can you deal with either type of issue in a loving manner?
4. What does the Bible have to say about how we should handle petty annoyances? Read Proverbs 19:11, Proverbs 15:1 and Ephesians 4:2.
5. Read Proverbs 27:15-17 and discuss how verse 17 could be a “remedy” for verses 15 and 16.
Pray with your spouse that you won’t allow anything petty to come between you.
Tobi Layton is a fifth grade teacher and freelance writer in southeast Missouri. Tobi has been married for eight years to Ryan Layton, a high school biology teacher. Tobi and Ryan are involved with the high school and junior high youth groups at their church in Cape Girardeau, Missouri. The Laytons have two sons.