I know. I used to really resist the notion that it’s never just about the other person as well. (Actually, hate is probably the more accurate word! I hated when people said that!) The truth is that relationships take two, and the only person in the relationship you can change is YOU! That means my choices impact the relationship even when the other person has major issues.
We’ve all dealt with that person. The person who is all about him or herself. The person who treats you great as long as you agree with him, but the minute you disagree, the gloves are off and you’re decimated by a barrage of demeaning or belittling language. The person who is happy as can be until a situation arises that she can’t control, and suddenly chaos ensues. The person that lies to you, mistreats you, takes advantage of you, or disregards your feelings…. That is indeed a difficult person with which to be in relationship.
However…. (You knew there was a “but” coming, didn’t you?!?) However, you have responsibility in how you respond to that person. You cannot make them be considerate of you, express empathy toward your hurt feelings, or show respect for you as a unique individual with differing likes and dislikes. But, you do have power in theses circumstances! You have power, and you have responsibility!
So let’s look at a hypothetical situation.
Your husband arrives home from work, tired, cranky, irritable, and spent. He’s angry with you for not preparing dinner, meaning it’s another expensive meal out. He doesn’t think to ask you how your day went. He doesn’t know about the arguments you refereed between your children, or the close call in the neighbor’s pool that could have seriously injured your daughter. He doesn’t know that the homeowner’s insurance rates went way up, the washer flooded the utility room, your best friend’s marriage is falling apart and she spent the afternoon crying on your sofa, and that you’ve had a migraine all day. To make matters worse, this isn’t anything new. He always seems to think only of himself, showing little regard for you or your feelings. So in your mind, this is but another infraction in a long line of infractions where he has shown little or no concern for you and has, instead, “beat you up” with criticism, judgment, and contempt.
Normally you “suck it up” and take it, stuffing your hurt and angry feelings, or you respond in kind, telling him what a jerk he is for not even asking you how your day went. But this time, you make a different choice. This time, you have spent some time in prayer before he arrived home. You cast your burdens on God, your frustrations, your fears, your pain, and your sorrow for your friend. You asked God to help you really “see” your husband and to understand that he’s had a hard day too. You’ve committed before God–again–to love, honor, and cherish your husband for better or worse, realizing that today falls into the worse category. You asked God to give you what you need to be the wife your husband needs today, in this instance.
So when your husband walks in the door, instead of being frazzled and used up, you are still weary, but you are buoyed by the Spirit of God. When your husband barks as he comes in the door, upset because dinner isn’t on the stove, you silently hold up your shield of faith and deflect those harsh words and tones, sending them instead to the Throne of God. You take your husband’s briefcase from him, meet him with a tired but sincere smile, and you let him know you’re glad he’s home. You apologize that dinner fell off the schedule today, and suggest that perhaps you make the kids some PB&J’s for dinner, and that the two of you go out for a quiet meal together–using the two-for-one coupon you received in the mail that day.
Your husband has choices about how he responds, and the truth is that he may still vent his frustrations on you. But as before, you can deflect them, realizing that you know a lot about your day that he doesn’t, and even more, God does know and He understands completely. Again, you meet your husband’s frustration with kindness, suggesting he change into more comfortable clothes, wash the dirt of the day off his face, and let him know that you see him, regardless of whether or not he sees you.
Now this isn’t a perfect formula that will work every time. It may work or it may not. But here’s the thing: you won’t know until you try. One of you needs to break the cycle of demanding that your needs be met. One of you needs to take a step toward the other in kindness, understanding, and love. But here’s the other thing: when this kind of response becomes your norm, one of two things is going to happen. Either he will begin to soften and reciprocate, or he won’t. If he does, you’ve won over your husband and improved your marriage. If not, you’ve still done the right thing before God. And that’s no small thing!
God honors those whose walk is blameless. Strive to walk blamelessly in your relationships–not just in your own eyes, but in God’s eyes, depending upon Him to meet your needs and to make a way where there previously wasn’t one. This process isn’t about stuffing your feelings, it’s about taking your feelings to God, turning to Him to meet your needs, and filling up your peace, love, and joy bucket so that you have those things to pour out to the other person. What they do with your kindness is their responsibility, but I will tell you that kindness breeds kindness more often than contempt does. Contempt only breeds contempt. You can count on that!
You can also count on God. When you get out of the way, it makes a way for God to work in that other person’s life.
So here are some practical tips:
- Plan ahead. When you know the end of the day is usually when arguments erupt between you and your husband, plan ahead. Take 10 minutes or whatever time you can carve out, and pray. Relinquish your burdens of the day to God, press into His love and compassion, and ask Him to prepare you to be the spouse you need to be when your husband walks through the door. Pray for your husband that God will use the drive home to minister to his heart, to drain off the stresses of the day, and to give him love and kindness toward you. Pray spiritual protection over your husband, asking that no weapon formed against him would prosper.
- Know and rehearse the truth.
- Know that your husband is NOT the enemy! We war against powers and principalities, not against flesh and blood! (Ephesians 6:12)
- You know what kind of bad day you had, but your husband does not. Likewise, you don’t know what stresses he had. Be thoughtful toward him anyway.
- Know that regardless of the circumstances, you chose your husband because you love him; you committed yourself to him (before God) for better or worse; and your responsibility is to be Christ to him. That commitment is between you and God, not you and your husband. Likewise, how he treats you is between him and God, not between him and you! Do what you know to be right, and ask God to do the same work in your husband.
- Know also that the fact that you didn’t make dinner does not make you a bad person, an inadequate person, or a lazy person. Know and accept the truth, and commit to deflecting things that are not true. (Attach yourself to God’s truth; detach from the lies of the enemy.)
- Clothe yourself with kindness, compassion, and love for your husband. Instead of looking to have your needs met, strive to be there for him.
- Treat him as you want to be treated. Pray that God will soften his heart in the same way.
- Entrust the inequities in the relationship to God’s care and justice. God does care for both of you. God is a just and righteous God–meaning there is no wrong in Him. Trust Him with your relationship with your spouse or whomever you may be having difficulties with. Do the right thing. Trust God to do the right thing. Pray for the other person to desire to do the right thing. And leave the results to God.
Our relationship struggles are never just about the other person. We have the Power of One. We have the power of prayer and the power of choice. Never let the enemy convince you the issue is all the other person. Commit to being God’s instrument of love, peace, and kindness to the person you’re in relationship with. Do your part. Trust Him to do His. Let God be God.
Rejoice in hope, be patient in tribulation, be constant in prayer. Romans 12:12 (ESV)
No go and make today count!
In His grace,