“Well, if you don’t know what’s wrong, I’m certainly not going to tell you!”
Have you been guilty of blurting out that line? Maybe it just went through your mind, or you’ve heard it from your spouse, but have you ever stopped to think about how incredibly flawed that reasoning truly is? It seems a bit ridiculous. When you think about it, how in the world could that statement possibly be beneficial in a conflict? Even so, it’s laughable because it is said so often.
It’s interesting how statements like that are such commonplace responses to marital conflicts. The underlying belief behind a statement such as, “Well if you don’t know what’s wrong, I’m certainly not going to tell you” may be, “I shouldn’t have to tell you what’s wrong, you should pay attention enough to know,” “you should care enough to know,” or “you should have listened enough to know.” If that is the belief, it only makes sense that as a result, a spouse may feel ignored, neglected, unappreciated, unimportant, uninteresting, or a number of other emotions. As a result, behaviors such as throwing verbal “jabs” may occur. In the situation of our quote above, a spouse may cling to the right to feel hurt or offended. While it is true that we have a right to feel the emotions that we feel, it’s easy to allow prideful indignation to interfere and keep our tempers steaming.
It’s a defense mechanism. When we’re hurt, we naturally want to throw up defensive walls to protect ourselves. The claws come out and the teeth are bared. In a marriage, however, building walls only serves to tear down the marital bond. As scary as it may be to feel vulnerable, a healthy marriage requires a willingness to let someone in, even after hurtful words or actions have surfaced. This is where forgiveness comes in.
We are often led to believe that forgiveness means giving someone permission to do the same, hurtful thing again and again. Please allow me to challenge that notion. Forgiveness is choosing to love someone, allowing yourself to be vulnerable, even though they’ve done something to hurt you. A favorite quote of mine by C.S. Lewis states, “to love at all is to be vulnerable.” If we are truly going to love our spouse, our family, our friends… if we are truly going to love others as Christ instructed us to do, we must allow ourselves to be vulnerable. Love isn’t self-centered. Granted, we’re not expected to bare our souls entirely to everyone we meet, but in a healthy marriage, vulnerability is what builds intimacy.
When you feel the stubborn pride rising up into your chest after a “jab” by your spouse (or other loved one for that matter), take it as a cue to be loving. When you blood starts to boil over something that should have been done but wasn’t or shouldn’t have been done but was, take it as a cue to respectfully communicate with your spouse about the problem. After all, maybe the jab is a defense, and maybe the action that seemed uncaring was simply because your spouse didn’t realize how important an issue is to you. Remember that none of us are mind-readers. If you don’t share your expectations of one another clearly, someone will end up feeling hurt.
I challenge you to make an agreement with your spouse to lay down your defenses. Help one another feel safe in the marriage by refraining from jabs and allowing yourself to be vulnerable too, even when it’s hard. Allowing yourself to be vulnerable in your marriage may be scary, especially if you’ve been hurt time and time again, but if both of you are committed to the marriage and can lay down the defensive walls, amazing things can begin to happen!
What is the most ridiculous thing you’ve caught yourself saying to your spouse in retaliation for hurt feelings?