Happy Easter Sunday to everyone, happy Resurrection Sunday!
Well, as this is Easter Sunday, mindful of the sacrifice that Christ made for us on the cross, it would be fantastic to have a post on sacrificial love. Something I have to admit about this blog is that it unashamedly, unapologetically speaks from self-interest, the idea of choosing a marriage that would be best for me.
However, I am so aware that within marriage itself thoughts of self-interest often have to be discarded. This is what “for better or for worse” means. If your spouse is critically injured or for some other reason becomes totally dependent on you for support, for help, for day to day existence, then all the smart, savvy reasons you may have had for marrying them might fly straight out of the window, when they can no longer do anything for you. In this case the sacrificial aspects of marriage will come to the fore. This is when you give, and realistically you cannot expect anything back in return. This is a very important subject, and I believe that it deserves to be treated on an ongoing basis. It is especially important for someone like me to remember.
This is a deeply moving article on this subject from John Piper of the Desiring God website.
However, that will not be the post for today. Today I am going to share a few follow-up thoughts that I had regarding last week’s post about giving difficult feedback. The title refers to “feed-forward” as it is about each spouse volunteering to the other spouse issues that they are personally struggling with. So instead of waiting for your spouse to identify aspects in your behaviour that annoy, frustrate or disturb them, you would actually volunteer issues that you are struggling with.
It occurred to me that this “feed-forward” is likely to be a far more powerful way of dealing with issues in marriage than offering feedback, as long as it is handled with sincerity on both sides. I was thinking that if by God’s grace I do get married, this will definitely be the way I would love to deal with issues in my marriage.
How it would work
Just like I suggested in last week’s “feedback” post, perhaps a husband and wife duo could establish a regular time for giving “feed-forward”. The way I would handle it, when I hopefully get married, is that once again both partners would pray in the days leading up to the “feed-forward” session. Then you would hold hands to pray to enter the session. Then each partner would volunteer their “feed-forward”, acknowledging a big issue that they are struggling with, and asking for help with it.
(Who should go first? Well who is the Biblically defined leader in the marriage? So who should logically go first then?! Just sayin’…!)
The idea is that each spouse would listen as non-judgementally as possible to the admissions of their spouse. And then perhaps the spouses would hold hands and pray for one another’s issues to end the “feed-forward” session. And then, depending on how deeply you valued your marriage, you would go away and pray like mad!
It is a mutual thing
The point is that it is supposed to be a mutual thing. If I am volunteering big issues such as lust, pride, self-centredness, racist inclinations or feelings of rage, and then my spouse were to only talk about small things such as “I sometimes forget to pick up the milk! Silly me!” then clearly that would create an imbalance. It would give the impression from my spouse to me that “Yes, I appreciate that you are highly imperfect, but I am resoundingly excellent!” This is why I believe the husband should really go first, as then his wife could descend to the level of his admissions, and in that way he would be working in a tangible way to set the tone for his marriage.
It is about sincerity
Insincerity would completely defeat the object of this exercise. If you admitted things that are not genuinely an issue for you, or you don’t struggle with all that much, then that would fail to create the connection that this exercise could create between you and your spouse.
On the other hand, even if you admitted a real issue, then that does not stop it from being your own problem to deal with in prayer. Just because you have admitted it to your spouse, that does not mean that you have now shifted the problem to them and you can now happily forget all about it. It just means that you are enlisting their support to deal with this issue. If you are both doing this genuinely, sincerely, across a range of personal issues, then you are binding yourselves up deeply into one another’s life. Sometimes it can appear that people can share greater intimacy with others outside their marriage than with their own spouse. If you regularly shared with your spouse issues that neither of you shared with anyone else, then that would no longer be the case. I would love to think that I knew more about my spouse and I was more emotionally intimate with him than with anyone else on earth, and also that he was more emotionally intimate with me than with anyone else.
You are also giving one another the opportunity and privilege of extending grace towards one another, and of practising patience with one another. Perhaps the next time your spouse does something and you are tempted to retort angrily, you might remember how humbly this person admitted their faults, or how gracious they were about your own failings, and that might cause you to bite your tongue, or to address the issue with more gentleness than you might have otherwise shown.
Some feedback might still be necessary – that is, letting your spouse know about things that they do that disturb, frustrate or annoy you – this feedback would likely be easier to receive on your spouse’s side, and also easier to give on your own side when you relate it to your own struggles and imperfections.
You don’t have to wait till the established times to offer some feed-forward. You can ask for help or prayer at any time. However, if you make sure to maintain the established times as well, then that would help to maintain some structure regarding this. It would also help you to assess progress on issues that you have volunteered in previous sessions.
This does not preclude personal prayer.
If you and your spouse are both prayerful people, then hopefully the things that you volunteer will never have to be so serious, because you will have previously dealt with the truly serious things in prayer. Either way, it still remains your personal responsibility to deal with your own issues. As long as the things you are volunteering to one another are not illegal or criminal or otherwise dangerous, then hopefully you should be able to deal with them within your marriage, without seeking external help (within reason and common sense, of course).
I strongly believe that if you did this once a month, it would help create an atmosphere of honesty and plain speaking in your marriage for the rest of the month. I also believe that it would be a lot easier to receive difficult feedback from your spouse when you have established by your own repeated confessions that you are very imperfect – not just a little imperfect, but deeply imperfect. In a way it is like there is nothing left to lose.
Why it is better than feedback
I think it is easier to volunteer issues where you need help, than to hear another party suggest ways in which you need to improve, even if that other person is the most loving of spouses, even if they express themselves as gently as they can. I think that it would also help each spouse avoid defensiveness, if they are the ones actively volunteering their own issues. It is easier to make yourself vulnerable in this way when you are the one actively volunteering your own struggles.
I believe that if a husband and wife were to sincerely admit to one another big issues that they are struggling with, and if they were to then pray together for one another’s issues, this would be a phenomenal way to cultivate intimacy, trust and honesty in their marriage. Also if you were responsible for identifying your own issues then you could volunteer as many as you like. You wouldn’t need to be restricted to only one thing as I thought most prudent when giving difficult feedback to your spouse in last week’s post. That said, I guess there is a risk of overburdening your spouse, or trying to bury the truly important issues in mountains of inconsequential fluff.
All said, the key to this would be sincerity and candour. Each spouse would have to be able to trust their partner sufficiently to volunteer a real problem that they are genuinely struggling with. Once again, the likelihood is that your spouse might already have noticed the issue for which you ask for help. When you are just starting off, it might be difficult to make yourself so vulnerable to your spouse, especially if you are still new in your marriage, and you are still trying to impress your spouse so that they think that you are altogether wonderful. However, I believe that the more real the issue, the deeper it is, the more trust and intimacy will be fostered within the marriage when you admit it.
Seriously. Try the thing!
There are many times I say on this blog where I say I believe X is true, or I am confident that Y is the case. In this particular case, I am confident almost to the point of guaranteeing it, that if you and your spouse were to do this, to take it seriously, and to handle it with prayer, it would drastically revolutionise your marriage. Seriously. You know what, you can always give it a try. I will never know! If it does not work for you, then you can give it up. However I suspect that if it does not actually work, it will be because either one or the other – or both – of the spouses in the marriage, were unable to make themselves genuinely vulnerable to their partner.
If the interaction between you and your spouse has cooled, could this be something that you could possibly try working on together as a way to rebuild trust and intimacy? Perhaps you could start off by sharing little things, and then grow in confidence with it 😉
16 Confess your trespasses[a] to one another, and pray for one another, that you may be healed. The effective, fervent prayer of a righteous man avails much.
[in Greek, a righteous person, but with default masculine ending for adjective meaning “righteous”, dikaiou]
Photo of entwined rings from Pixabay