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The Plank and the Log—What to do When Your Spouse Gets on Your Nerves

Every single one of us has something that our spouse does that grates on our last nerve. My husband quietly endures my need to walk around with a book open first thing in the morning; while I get dressed, while I make breakfast, sometimes even while I’m tying my shoes for a run. I also have this absurd need to have someone else fill my water bottle. I simply cannot do it for myself. For whatever reason, I like someone doing it for me. My husband and family answer to my cries of “I need water!” and fill my bottle, sometimes kindly, sometimes begrudgingly. It’s weird, but it’s me, and I’m a work in progress.

On vacation this last week, my husband poked at every one of my nerves with his endless need to do stuff.
“Do you want to ride bikes?”
“Should we go for a walk?”
“There’s a band at the park; do you want to dance?”
“The water looks good. How about we get the kayaks out?”

My response was less than stellar. Every time my husband asked me to do something, my nerves crackled. My internal dialogue spiraled down: “Why does he always want to do something?!” “Why is he bothering me?!” “Can’t he see I’m relaxing just fine over here?!” I know it’s ugly, but it’s the truth, and I would venture a guess that you all have your own version of this story.

Being married to someone is also being with someone a lot. That alone can muster up some nerve twitching. But forever is forever, and mustering through is no way to live. God intended better for us and for our marriages. We are to enjoy one another, not tolerate one another; to grow together more and more, not further apart. Our nerves are not the problem. Our response to them is the problem. It’s time to let some grace in.

When we feel that prickle of nerves on the back of our neck from something our spouse is doing, instead of grumbling and mentally eating our spouse alive, let’s try something different. We’re going to lean into it.

In Matthew 7:3–5, Jesus teaches us, “Why do you see the speck that is in your brother’s eye, but do not notice the log that is in your own eye? Or how can you say to your brother, ‘Let me take the speck out of your eye,’ when there is the log in your own eye? You hypocrite, first take the log out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to take the speck out of your brother’s eye.”

How often do we apply these verses to brothers and sisters around us and forget to see them lived out in our marriages? When the nerves prickle from your spouse chewing chips too loudly, leaving socks lying around, or any number of mysterious happenings at your house, take a moment and ask yourself—
“Why is this bothering me so much? What is in this moment that is getting to me?”

It’s uncomfortable. It places the responsibility of the reaction on ourselves and slows us down. It honors the plank before dealing with the speck.

It’s also a simple exercise to try. On vacation with my husband, I knew there was more than meets the eye going on because I felt so worked up every time my husband suggested an activity.
Leaning into it, I asked myself, “Why is this bothering me?”

“I feel really overwhelmed in life, like there’s all this stuff that needs to be done and I’m not able to do any of it really well.” So I knew I needed to sit and rest. My husband didn’t know this. He’s not in my head. He just wanted time together. Nature, the great outdoors, is one of his love languages I’m convinced, and he simply wanted to share that with me. Once I told him my struggle, instead of snapping at him to leave me and my book be, he asked if I’d be up for riding bikes with him to the beach for a glass of wine and some quiet. He told me I could bring my book. Now that is love!

Lean into it. God’s grace in the forgiveness and love of Christ Jesus allows us to deal with the log of reactivity in a way that isn’t “natural.” There is no shame in finding out we were wrong, that we jumped the gun, or even that we have a legitimate complaint with our spouse to deal with calmly. It helps us to step back, to let that grace out as a living and active part of our marriages. When the complaint is real, it can be heard because all of the junk of nerves and logs and planks melts away into Christ’s love poured out to two imperfect people, to help us grow and grow together.

Lean into it, my friends. His faithfulness will build strong and mighty towers where there were once only logs and sawdust.

Written by

Heidi Goehmann

I love my husband, my kiddos, Post-it notes, Jesus, red wine, dark chocolate, Star Wars, and new ideas . . . not necessarily in that order. If I could pour time and energy into anything in this life, it would be loving God and the people around me, even when I’m hangry (or slangry?).

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