I don’t know about you, but when I got married, I wasn’t really prepared for a “real” marriage. I came into the relationship with hopes, fears, expectations and some skill at loving another person intimately. I didn’t realize that being in love with my wife would expose so much about who I am.
My Misguided Radar
Nobody makes me happier on earth than Pam. At the same time, nobody makes me as angry, scared or defensive as Pam. For much of the first 10 years of our marriage, I had an insatiable desire to change Pam so I would be more comfortable. I was, of course, “just trying to be helpful” in my suggestions because I didn’t want to be perceived as self-righteous or controlling. In fact, I viewed my reactions to Pam as radar that was uncovering her need to change.
After 10 years, Pam had changed because we all grow and mature over the years. Interestingly, however, my list for her wasn’t any shorter than it used to be. The conclusion was inescapable; I was actually frustrated with myself, but it was easier to think it was Pam. I believe this is the intent of Matthew 7:3 when it is applied to marriage: “Why do you look at the speck of sawdust in your brother’s eye and pay no attention to the plank in your own eye?”
Rather than view my reactions as a commentary on her life, I began to accept that my reactions were actually alarms going off in my heart. Most of the time, these alarms were pointing at areas in my life that needed to change. I was reacting because I was immature and carrying unresolved baggage from my past. Pam’s behavior simply shed light on the part of my life that had been robbed of its vitality.
Sometimes, the alarm was going off because it was a struggle in Pam’s life and had nothing to do with me. In this case, the alarm was a “false alarm” and I didn’t need to do a thing. As with all alarms, it would eventually quiet down on its own. When I viewed my reactions as alarms, Jesus’ application of the “plank principle” seemed to gain more wisdom:
“How can you say to your brother, ‘Let me take the speck out of your eye,’ when all the time there is a plank in your own eye? You hypocrite, first take the plank out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to remove the speck from your brother’s eye.” —Matthew 7:4-5
Change Yourself First
The next time you get bothered by something your spouse does, consider the following steps:
- Deliberately view the behaviors that bother you as alarms rather than as deficiencies in your spouse.
- Ask yourself, “Is this bothering me because of something I want to change in my life?” If so, make it your project of the week to adjust your reaction or behavior.
- Ask yourself, “Is this a false alarm that has nothing to do with me?” If so, ask God to give your partner strength as he/she deals with life.
With these steps, you’ll be able to react more lovingly when your spouse sets off an alarm in your heart: use it as opportunity to remove a plank!
You may also be interested in How To Keep Negative Criticism Out Of Your Christian Marriage
Thank you. This is definitely a guideline for me looking back at my thirteen year marriage and divorce. I not only feel but was not given the option to do the work; nor did I have the tools then. Dealing with physical and emotional neglect, there was no feedback to what could have been said or done differently. I am left to figure out where the specks and planks were, and where they may still be. I will recollect my actions and reactions.