“How can she leave every light in the house on? I can always tell where she has been because she leaves a trail of bright bulbs in her wake.”

“How can he leave coffee cups everywhere? It’s a short walk to the kitchen and it wouldn’t hurt him to actually put them in the dishwasher.”

These are thoughts Pam and I wrestle with regularly because we are married to wonderfully imperfect people. We both have irritating tendencies and know life would be easier if we changed these habits. We also know they have been very slow to change regardless of the effort and prayer we have put into them. But there’s a trick to loving your spouse despite their faults: grace.

Step 1: Apply Grace

The only way to prevent these habits from defining the emotional atmosphere of our relationships is to apply grace. Making grace practical in your love life begins with understanding that grace has two strategic facets. The first is forgiveness. Jesus recognized that we are all imperfect, so He died on the cross to forgive us. As a result, there is no condemnation for those who in are Christ. (Romans 8:1) If we are people of grace, we will seek to keep our relationships free from criticism and bitterness. Instead, we will be motivated to be tender toward the other person’s shortcomings.

Step 2: Accept Shortcomings

Grace doesn’t stop at pardoning others, however. It also “teaches us to say ‘No’ to ungodliness and worldly passions, and to live self-controlled, upright and godly lives in this present age.” (Titus 2:12) In other words, grace motivates us to be our best selves while allowing others to be a work in progress.

Step 3: Find Patience

I find I am very patient with myself and the collection of dirty coffee cups. I easily explain away the habit with statements such as:

  • “I was busy doing important things.”
  • “It’s just a small flaw.”
  • “I would have eventually gotten to it.”

If I am loving by grace, I will extend this same patience to Pam. I will look at the lights that have been left on and say:

  • “She was busy doing important things.”
  • “It’s just a small flaw.”
  • “She would have eventually gotten to it.”

An unexpected thing happened when we started to give each other the same grace we give ourselves. Pam started thanking me for my work ethic. Somehow, the stray coffee cups turned into a reminder that I am willing to work hard for the sake of our lives. At the same time, I developed a new appreciation for her creativity. I have lived a bigger life than I would have on my own because of Pam’s inspiration. Each unnecessary light became a beacon of the fact that I am living with a thriving, innovative woman.

We didn’t set out to reach these new conclusions. It is simply how love grows when you give grace.

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