In my many thoughts about marriage, something that I have thought about a lot is a constructive way of handling difficult issues, or letting your spouse know that something that they are doing is unhelpful or destructive or inadequate. On one hand I believe in candour, that is, openness and frankness in marriage and when discussing with your spouse. That is, I believe that you should be able to frankly say “This is good” or “This is bad” or “I find it frustrating when you do this”. On the other hand, for a while I’ve wondered how best to correct a spouse when you feel that their approach needs to be corrected in some matter or the other. This is because I know that handling this badly or insensitively could lead to arguments, sometimes full-scale rows. It could also sow the seed for long-term simmering resentment between the spouses.
I think it is important and constructive to express gratitude for positive things and attributes immediately you notice them, and as often as you notice them. We all know that both parties in a marriage will need lots of affirmation and encouragement and it can only feel incredibly positive to be in a partnership where you both genuinely like one another so much!
When it comes to offering correction to your spouse, however, if you express your displeasure immediately, then sometimes disgust or some other negative emotion might be evident in your voice or your facial expression etc. This might cause your spouse to recoil from you or to answer defensively or to adopt anger as a defence. For this reason, I think it would be best to consciously leave some time between your noticing of the issue and your dealing with it, to give yourself time to compose yourself. Leaving some time will also give you a chance to gain some perspective on the issue, or give yourself time to reflect on what could be the underlying cause.
This is the idea that has occurred to me in regarding this. That is, that you might regularly set a schedule to discuss these items of concern in your marriage. This might be once a month, once a fortnight or once a week or whatever is appropriate for you and your marriage. The advantage of having a regular time in your schedule is that you can both prepare for it in prayer, that God would give you a pure heart, a listening heart, sincerity to not want to hurt your spouse, humility to make necessary changes in your own weaknesses. Then you could also pray the same things for your spouse, focusing on any areas of weakness that you know that they have when dealing with giving/taking correction. For instance, some people might feel very dejected when they have been corrected, and might feel unable to relate playfully to you for whole days afterwards. In prayer you could ask God to help them with that, so that the issue might be dealt with, and then forgotten.
And then, once you actually get to the meeting, you could feel confident about being able to handle the relevant issues successfully. And then I would follow a policy for these meetings that at each one, each spouse will only bring up a single issue that needs correction in their partner, just one! This is because I believe that having to deal with lots of issues that need correction would be enough to make most people feel defensive, especially if you have really done your homework, and your poor spouse has to listen to a hundred criticisms levelled squarely at their head. “And you do this, and you do that, and I’ve noticed that you do that…!” And no, the idea is not cleverly to try to roll up 10 different issues into a “single” issue – just the one single issue.
This is a little counter-intuitive, but I was thinking that in a strange way, if you only offered up one issue for your spouse to deal with, that might cause them to sit down and reflect on their behaviour, and they might by themselves recognise more of the issues that you find problematic, and to your surprise and delight, as well as dealing with the issue that you actually raised, they might also start to deal with some others of these issues that you have not specifically mentioned, causing greater peace all round in your home. And yet this might not be the case if you literally throw at them all their weaknesses at once. This is because throwing all their weaknesses at once might cause them to become defensive, and to totally disengage from the process. However, only having to deal with a single issue is unlikely to cause the same effect, especially when deep down they are aware of these failings themselves. If they start dealing with some of their other issues themselves, without/before your having to mention them, then with those other issues you can act like you never even noticed them. Mutually helping one another to save face can only be a good thing!
If you only offer up a single issue then it would also be easier to assess your spouse’s progress in that issue. From your assessment, you might be able to deduce how seriously or not your spouse is taking your concerns, and from this you could gain further clues on what aspects to focus on in prayer for your spouse. And then during the meeting itself, while giving the feedback, you could work to make sure that your voice, your demeanour, your attitude towards your spouse – everything communicates loving support and unqualified commitment to them and your marriage. It might also be an idea to schedule something exciting and unashamedly romantic for after this meeting so that the negativity of giving difficult feedback would immediately be offset by the positivity of being able to express your ongoing love for and excitement about each other.
The key to this idea is that in the run up to the meeting you can both prepare your minds in prayer to handle all issues with grace, maturity and love. Then you could start and end up the actual meeting with further prayer. This way you could emphasise to one another and continually build it into the foundations of your marriage that even when correcting one another you remain “on the same team”.
Giving quicker feedback
I think that the idea given above would work for many issues. And yet there might be some urgent issues that cannot wait for your regular “debriefing” sessions, but must be handled more quickly. For those situations if I had to deal with a single urgent issue in marriage, I would handle these in a similar way by calling another meeting, but for say a few days later, like 2 or 3 days later. Then in preparing for this new meeting both you and your spouse could once again pray deeply, so that your minds would be prepared for accepting/dealing with the feedback. And then you could go ahead to proceed as with your regular feedback sessions. And hopefully all of this would mean a positive way to deal with handling difficult issues in your marriage.
Do not let any unwholesome talk come out of your mouths, but only what is helpful for building others up according to their needs, that it may benefit those who listen.
Photo of “arguing” seagulls by Sabinurce on Pixabay