Here’s another excerpt from a book I’m writing about marriage.
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“You are not my enemy”
When an enemy approaches we are on guard. Every movement could be the one that is meant to harm us. Every word must be analyzed through the filter of skepticism. This is how I treat my wife.
When we arrived home from our honeymoon in the western half of South Dakota (picture Mount Rushmore the Crazy Horse Memorial and lots of buffalo) we unpacked and drove 15 minutes to attend a marriage conference. Weekend To Remember is a conference hosted by Family Life, a phenomenal marriage ministry. The conference covers everything a couple needs to know to succeed in marriage. They discuss money, emotions, arguing, kids, romance, sex and personality differences. Of the 15 hours of conference time I remember one moment more than any other. They instructed us to turn toward our spouse, look in their eyes and say, “You are not my enemy” . It seemed silly at the time but it would prove to be one of the most important moments in my married life. It may be the reason I still have a married life.
If you met me you’d probably like me. I’m friendly, encouraging and helpful to most people. I reserve my poor behavior for my wife. I don’t know if was inherited from my dad, who is also all those great things to others but reserves his harshest moments for his wife. It’s not his marriage though, it’s mine so I don’t blame anyone for the behavior other than me. At the time I spoke those words to my wife it seemed silly. Those words have become a cornerstone of our relationship. When I have unresolved anger it becomes resentment. Resentment gets to work putting holes in our bucket that we filled with trust and goodwill. When the goodwill bucket is empty all that’s left are feelings of disappointment and resentment. My wife becomes my enemy and I assume a defensive stance mentally. If she speaks I assume her tone is sarcastic, angry or bossy. Everything she does is met with skepticism. She has become my enemy. She’s not my enemy, she’s my partner.
So what can we do to guard against viewing our spouse as an enemy? First, do what they teach at the Weekend to Remember. Tell your spouse, “You are not my enemy” and when they’re treating you like an enemy tell them, “I am not your enemy.” Speak truth when lies whisper.
Second, when you’re feeling resentment towards your spouse look at your life before you look at their behavior. When we get angry at our spouse it’s because we’re hurt emotionally. That hurt can come from them but more often it comes from our job, another person or something internal. I doubt myself a lot and when I get down on myself I carry an internal desire for my wife to be more encouraging. When she doesn’t encourage me I get resentful. Notice that she didn’t do anything wrong. That whole dialogue was internal. My resentment towards her was completely my issue, not her. You may have an issue related to HALT. HALT stand for hungry, angry, lonely and tired. If you’re any two of these then you’re at a very high risk of making some bad choices. Look at yourself. Stop (HALT) and figure out what’s going on internally before blaming anything or anyone on the outside.
Lastly, never compare your spouse to another spouse. We do not get to live other people’s lives so we cannot and should not use their lives to compare to our current marital happiness. I know couples that seemed to be exceedingly happy, had every material need met, were active in their church and were both attractive physically, who are now divorced. I know a few couples like that actually. The outside is not the inside so don’t judge their external view in relation to your internal reality. They’ll win every time because even rotten trees still have bark. Comparing your spouse to another spouse is very dangerous. It’s a path that has no good end. Turn around and get off that path.
Look at your spouse and tell them the truth. Tell them you’re frustrated, angry, resentful or whatever emotions you’re feeling. Don’t blame them for your burden but do share it with them. They’re your partner. When you hurt they should know it, that’s why God brought you together.
Am I the only one who has experienced this?