Gain a new understanding
My wife and I entered a new journey in our marriage when I became self-employed. To save on overhead, we decided I would work out of our home. The only problem was that, at the time, we lived in a town house.
With three children.
In fact, working at home did wonders for our marriage. For the first time, I could see for myself what it was like to spend an entire day being Lisa, the cumulative, never-ending, day-in-and-day-out responsibility of raising and teaching kids in a homeschool environment, while also cleaning the house, planning meals, and preparing for her own Bible study. And then, when your husband comes home, you’re supposed to have enough energy to act like a wife.
On the other hand, my wife saw what it was like for me to sit in front of a computer all day long. Some days I was tired; other days I was sick. Sometimes the weather outside was beautiful, but always I stayed in my chair and worked. I made the phone calls I didn’t want to make but needed to make. She saw my determination and discipline.
You don’t have to work out of your own home to experience this empathy. Instead of focusing your energy on resentment over how sparsely your spouse understands you, expend your efforts to understand him or her. As a spiritual exercise, find out what your spouse’s day is really like. Ask her. Ask him. Draw them out — what is the most difficult part of your day? When do you feel like just giving up? Are parts of your day monotonous? Is there something you constantly fear? Take time to do an inventory of your spouse’s difficulties rather than of your spouse’s shortcomings.
When I am thankful for my spouse, the control that the familiarity of contempt has on me is broken. I look for new things to be thankful for. I try not to take for granted the routine things she does. I never eat at another person’s house without thanking them for providing a meal; why should I not give my wife the same thanks I’d give someone else?
There are few things that lift my spirits more than simply hearing my wife or children say, “Thanks for working so hard to provide for us.” Those nine words can lift a hundred pounds of pressure off my back.
Contempt is conceived with expectations; respect is conceived with expressions of gratitude. We can choose which one we will obsess over — expectations, or thanksgivings. That choice will result in a birth — and the child will be named either contempt or respect.
Remember the effects of the fall
We need to understand how profoundly broken this world is. Sin has radically scarred our existence. As a result of humanity’s fall, I will labor with difficulty and angst (Genesis 3:17 – 19). Lisa will mother our children and enter relationships with mixed motives and frustrated aims (Genesis 3:16).
Even an unusually good marriage is unable to completely erase the effects of sin’s curse on individuals and on society. This calls me to extend gentleness and tolerance toward my wife. I want her to become all that Jesus calls her to become, and I hope with all my heart that I will be a positive factor in her pursuit of that aim (and vice versa). But she will never fully get there this side of heaven, so I must love and accept her in the reality of living in a sin-stained world.
Accepting the fallenness of this world — with its bitter disappointments, physical limitations, and myriad demands — helps me to understand how difficult life is for Lisa, which helps me in turn to have contempt for contempt.
Taken from Sacred Marriage by Gary Thomas. Copyright © 2000, 2015 by Gary Thomas. Used by permission of Zondervan. www.zondervan.com.
Gary Thomas is Writer in Residence (and serves on the teaching team) at Second Baptist Church, Houston, Texas and author of 18 books, including Sacred Marriage, that have sold over a million copies worldwide and have been translated into a dozen languages. He and his wife Lisa have been married for 30 years.