“It seems like I’m always irritated at her,” Greg said to me, referring to his wife of seven years. “I don’t know if it’s me being grumpy or what, but so many things she does just bug me.”
Greg and Lori had been coming to see me for marriage counseling for the past two months, and he had asked for an individual session.
“Like what?” I asked.
“I’m almost embarrassed to say,” he said. “None of them by themselves are anything important. But, stacked up they make a huge pile of irritation.”
“Okay,” I said. “Let’s talk about them. Then maybe we can decide if the issues have to do with her, or like you suggest, have something to do with your short temper.”
Greg went through a litany of issues that were common to most couples:
- Her failing to keep the house as clean as he liked it.
- Her losing her car keys.
- Her over-running their checking account, causing late fees.
- Her allowing their young children more freedoms than he agreed to.
- Her forgetting to pick up his prescriptions and other errands she agreed to.
As we went over the list, it was easy to see how any of these things could be annoying. Yet, each, in and of themselves, were also part of being human. When we marry, we agree to accept each other with all thier foibles—and we all have them. Whether it is forgetting to put the toothpaste back in the cabinet, failing to lock the doors at night, running out of gas or any other number of idiosyncrasies, they come with marriage.
“What about your idiosyncrasies?” I asked Greg. He looked surprised by my question.
“What do you mean?” he asked.
“Well,” I said. “She clearly has her unique habits that get on your nerves. What are yours?”
He stopped to think.
“I guess I’m always so focused on hers that I don’t think of my own.”
“Exactly,” I said. “Studies show that we tend to exaggerate the foibles of others while cutting ourselves a lot of slack on our own. We’re able to see the speck in our brother’s eyes far easier than we see the log in our own. So, what are yours?”
“I guess I can be critical,” he said slowly.
“You think?” I said playfully.
Smiling, he added, “And I know I can be pretty distracted. Peg will ask me to do something for the kids and I’m zoned out. That bugs her. And I know I lose my temper, which can be a problem for her.”
Greg’s mood seemed to change as he considered what he was like to live with. He was able to see that he had traits that could grate on his wife’s nerves as much as hers grated on his.
As we explored both his concerns with his wife, as well as her concerns about him, we discussed the issue of keeping things in perspective. As a backdrop to our discussion, I reminded Greg of the Biblical principle of “Bear with each other and forgive whatever grievances you may have against one another. Forgive as the Lord forgave you” (Colossians 3:13). By doing so we actually strengthen our marriage.
Reflecting upon this principle, we further discussed these ideas:
First, remember that grievances are a two-way street. It isn’t simply that our mate does things that bug us—but we too do things that bug our mate. While they may not comment on them, trust that they could! Then where would we be? If we voiced every little thing our mate does, or they voiced every little thing we do, we’d be spatting every day.
Second, we are called to forgive grievances. This isn’t just good psychology—though it is!—but is a Biblical imperative. Holding onto grievances is toxic to your marriage or any other relationship. Someone has said that bitterness is the poison pill we take to hurt someone else.
Third, keep issues in perspective. Is forgetting where she left her car keys really that big of a deal? Does leaving a towel on the bathroom floor really make or break a marriage? Pull back and decide what issues are big enough to make a deal over, and which are not.
Fourth, if these are big enough, handle them effectively. Sit down with your mate and come to an agreement, together, about how to find resolution. Don’t bicker over any of these issues, but create a forum where you can air a problem and find a solution.
Finally, ensure that these ‘problems’ are the real issue. Make sure that you are upset about other matters of importance, perhaps at home or the workplace, and these trivial matters become the smokescreen for other problems. Be honest with yourself, and then your mate, about what is bothering you.
We are all a ‘work in progress.’ Marriage is that unique place where all of our dirty laundry gets hung out for our mate to see. Be careful to extend grace to them as you’d like grace to be extended to you.
Share your feedback or send a confidential note to me at TheRelationshipDoctor@Gmail.com and read more about The Marriage Recovery Center on my website www.MarriageRecoveryCenter.com and YourRelationshipDoctor.com.You’ll find videos and podcasts on saving a troubled marriage, codependency and affair-proofing your marriage.
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Publication date: July 16, 2012