I once met someone who told me that in the entire length of their long marriage they had never had an argument with their spouse. As that sunk in, I found myself wondering what other lies he had told me. If you have a marriage that has never known conflict, you are the equivalent of a matrimonial unicorn. Theoretically, some believe that they exist, but no one has actually seen one in real life.
Frankly, I can’t imagine what would be required to have a conflict-free marriage and I’m not sure that I would even desire that. It would seem to have a conflict-free marriage, someone would either have to be totally passive 100% of the time or there is a total lack of passion and communication in the relationship. My wife and I are both firstborns, strongly opinionated and verbal. In other words, from time to time, we can really experience “intense fellowship” in our marriage.
But over the nearly 35 years we’ve known each other and the same amount of time in ministry, I can tell you that I’ve found a series of toxic habits that will move routine marital disagreements and stresses into the world of unhealthy and unsustainable conflict that ultimately threatens to destroy any marriage where these practices are allowed to take root.
Here are my “top five”:
It is interesting how so many of us fail to see any negatives in a person until after we say “I Do” and then it appears that not only do we see them, we fixate on and magnify them. None of us enjoys being constantly criticized, assessed, evaluated, watched and scrutinized. But it seems that many spouses feel like doing so is their matrimonial duty and privilege. In the process of sharing their all-knowing corrections on their spouse, they kill the spirit of the person in whom they could see few flaws at the genesis of their relationship. It also often comes with a corresponding weak awareness of their own short comings.
As an educator, I can remember many times when a word of encouragement, praise, positive notice of a job well done or an appreciative comment would inspire growth, increased confidence and hope in the life of a student or a new faculty member. Perhaps a better focus for us (for our sake as much as theirs) is to offer two (or ten) positive comments for every negative one we drop on our spouse. Not only will they be blessed, but we might find our own negative perspective refocused.
For years, people would glibly say that a good marriage is a 50/50 responsibility. That is simply not true. Marriage is a 100/100 responsibility. If you aren’t willing to give your marriage EVERYTHING, you shouldn’t get married. While no marriage is truly 100/100, neither is any marriage 50/50. In fact, those percentages can and will change. During some seasons it might be 20/80 and at others it might be 80/20. Sometimes, you’ll be energized to carry more than half the load. Other times, you’ll be hurting and need someone to help you carry your share of the load and theirs. Comparing income, schedules, chores, stresses, responsibilities, communication styles and so much more will lead to conflict, disappointment, disillusionment and frustration. Don’t. Do. It.
It’s a dog-eat-dog world out there. Someone’s always vying for your seat at the table, the bigger office with the better view, the largest raise, the next promotion. Sadly, we often take that spirit of “competition” into the home and there, it creates an unhealthy focus on the wrong things. As such, we begin seeing our spouse as our competitor and not our partner. The reality is when we succeed individually, we succeed as a couple and as a family. Conversely, when we fail individually, we fail as a couple and a family. There is no “me/mine” in a marriage – it must be “us/ours”. You have enough competition in your life, don’t bring it into your marriage.
God gave us marriage as a gift. Without a spouse, many feel incomplete. Alone. Isolated. Yet, I’ve heard some describe those same feelings within the context of their marriage. Make no mistake, “coldness” is a symptom and it is important to look for the cause. God created in us a desire for intimacy, support, affirmation and wholeness and He designed marriage in such a way that those things can be fulfilled within a healthy covenant relationship. When we allow our hearts to grow cold toward our spouse, we will see it in reduced communication, isolated schedules, the absence of sexual expression, the presence of negativity and a desire for something more in a relationship that can drive us to look outside of our marital union for fulfillment of these unmet needs.
Coldness is selfish because it allows us to focus on ourselves at the expense of being warm and connected to our spouse. Whether it is demonstrated through sexual withdrawal, a lack of communication or simply living separate lives under the same roof, such an atmosphere must be addressed if a marriage is to flourish and be healthy.
The love that God demonstrated for us at Calvary is a specific word in the Greek language – agape. While in English, we might use the word “love” to describe how we feel about our spouse, our kids, our parents, pizza and our country – in the Greek, each type of love would be described with a different word. The word agape means love without condition. Put simply – it is loving someone simply because they need loved. Not because they loved us first, equally or attractionally, but simply because they need to be loved. Without condition.
The man/woman who determines to love his/her spouse with a love that will not be withdrawn, is not subject to performance, is not defined by expectations, is not subject to conditions will find that they will constantly make adjustments and efforts in their own life so as to grow and demonstrate that committed love and in doing so, they will hold nothing back in the process. Just like Christ did for us on the cross.
Have a conversation with your spouse. Ask them if there are any of these habits present in your home. Be willing to listen without defense or even response. Thank each other for being courageous enough to deal with it. Be humble. Be transparent. Be honest. Be vulnerable. See toxic habit for what they are – ingredients designed by the great Deceiver to rob you of God’s best in your home and life.
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