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Are You Playing God in Your Marriage?

Dr. David Hawkins - Marriage 911 Blogger

Discerning when to share our thoughts with our mate has got to be one of the hardest, ongoing decisions we make in marriage. Living with them, day in a day out, we soon realize our mate is not perfect, even though we might have thought so during the first three months of courtship. A little time, and a bit of experience revealed to us what we feared—they are only human.

They have warts and some of them aren’t pretty.

Learning what to say, and when to say it, seems to be as much an art as a set of skills. Sharing every critical thought on our mind is clearly wrong. The Apostle James advises us to be “quick to listen and slow to speak.” (James 1:19) He later warns about the dangers of the tongue, able to set a great forest on fire by a spark. (James 3:9) Certainly we’ve all been there, done that—a hurtful word spoken in anger can’t be taken back.  

But, what if you see something in your mate that truly bothers you? Perhaps you feel righteous indignation. Should you still hold your tongue? Consider this response to our Message Board.  

Dr. Hawkins, My husband and I have been married 14 years. We have four beautiful daughters. I love my husband very much and don't want to dishonor him in writing this...but I need wise advice. The older the girls get (oldest is 11) the more frustrated I get at the "gray" areas of our lives. I want to be genuine. I know we're not perfect and will make mistakes but are there any black and whites in a marriage and when raising kids. Examples: With some acquaintances my husband has a couple beers. He often swears when he's mad and talks bad about people. But with others, he doesn't show any of that....we see it all. He's a board member at our church and a home-school dad. I KNOW that I am also saved by grace and cannot act as the Holy Spirit in my husband’s life. I guess I'm just wondering what is "o.k" to address in marriage without seeming judgmental or disrespectful and what to "let be". I don't know what to "teach" the girls about some of these issues. I want them to honor their dad.

First, you are to be applauded for proceeding cautiously, being careful to honor your husband and not criticize him in front of others, particularly your children. You are wise to examine your motives, remembering that you are not perfect either.

You do, however, have an issue which must be addressed. It must be addressed primarily because his behavior violates your strongly held values (personal boundaries) and because it continues to bother you. While there is no magical formula for when we are to approach our mate with an issue, I believe it is important to do so when our values are jeopardized and when something continues to trouble us.

No matter how small or large a matter is, if we’ve prayed about it and it continues to bother us, it’s time for us to consider why it’s bothering us. By prayerfully considering a matter we can often discern whether we’re “making a mountain out of a molehill,” or, as appears to be the case here, a behavior violates a value that is important to you.

In such cases, harboring frustration and resentment will only turn to bitterness, and you don’t want this to come between you and your husband, not to mention your relationship to God. I don’t think the issue now is whether you approach him, but how you approach him.  

Fortunately, the Scriptures offer counsel. Here are some helpful guidelines:

  • Choose your timing carefully, letting him know, and have a choice about, when the discussion happens.
  • “Speak the truth in love.” (Ephesians 4:14) Enough said.
  • Share from your personal feelings, stating preferences, being careful not to be judgmental. (Matthew 7:1)
  • Being specific with your requests.
  • Be concise, clear and consistent in your feedback.  
  • Use wisdom which is “pure, peace-loving, considerate, submissive, full of mercy and good fruit, impartial and sincere.” (James 3:15)
  • Seek a point of agreement, rather than a tense, angry concession.

When we offer critical feedback utilizing these guidelines, and being “prayed up,” chances are the feedback will be received with the proper spirit. However, we can never control how others will respond. Hopefully, your words, combined with conviction by the Holy Spirit, will be enough to cause your husband to carefully consider your words.

Please see my book, Saying It So He’ll Listen, for more information on strategies for sharing challenging information with your mate.  

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