When my husband eats chips, you likely can hear it in the outback of Australia. We live in Nebraska. And I have that fun condition called misophonia. The sound of chip-chewing is my worst enemy.
I relate to James and John, “The Sons of Thunder” and my husband is more “Joseph the Carpenter”— mindful and careful with his word and people’s hearts.
My husband doesn’t like tattoos. I’m a big fan.
Sometimes my husband and I vote differently.
We often think differently, act differently, and communicate differently.
Dave and I are different people sharing a common life together. We have been married twenty years and I’m ready to say with confidence, “There are times in our marriage we don’t like one another very much.”
I’m thankful our marriage doesn’t rest on how much we like each other in any given moment. Yes, Dave and I try to communicate kindly. We work hard to wrap our words and differences in empathy and compassion. We attempt to avoid assuming things. We have learned to ask each other a lot of questions. We are always growing individually in our understanding of ourselves and in our understanding of our marriage. But our marriage doesn’t rest on any of these things.
Our marriage rests on one thing:
Christ’s love pouring itself into us so that it can be poured out on one another.
Christ’s Love Poured Out
Romans 5:1–5 reminds us that Christ died not only to save us from our sins but to give us access to grace. Our marriages need grace like our bodies need breath.
“Therefore, since we have been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ. Through Him we have also obtained access by faith into this grace in which we stand, and we rejoice in hope of the glory of God. Not only that, but we rejoice in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, and hope does not put us to shame, because God's love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit who has been given to us.” Romans 5:1–5
If we’re honest, most marriages aren’t all suffering and sorrow.* Most marriages are frustrating with moments of beauty or beauty with moments of frustrating. Whatever your marriage looks like, through Christ, God gives us access to grace, and that’s a pretty good place to be to figure out our marriages. The momentary struggles of marriage, as well as the enduring hardships, build endurance in our marriages and shape our character as people. This process brings the hope of Christ alive and fresh into the relationship.
Christ’s love poured into our hearts, practically speaking, turns into something else inside of us as the Spirit does His work.
Unconditional Positive Regard
Unconditional positive regard is a term coined by the research of psychologists Drs. John and Julie Gottman. It is also what we think of from the Eighth Commandment in Luther’s Small Catechism as “the best perspective.” The Eighth Commandment urges us to be honest and forthright with one another, to hold one another accountable in our relationships, but also to extend grace on the front end, not because it’s deserved but because Christ has died to bring it to us. We hold in tension in marriage getting our needs met, and being honest about those things, with a basic belief that our spouse always has our best in mind, even when they are not meeting our needs. I believe Dave has the best in mind for me and for our life together when he thinks, speaks, or acts, and Dave believes the same of me.
Unconditional positive regard is not easy. We have to practice this belief every day. But Christ’s love poured out into us makes it possible to walk in this belief, imperfectly, but with one foot in front of the other. There have been times in our marriage when the messages back and forth would look like this:
“You must not care, otherwise you’d take out the trash.”
“You must not care, otherwise you’d change your mind.”
“You must not care, otherwise you’d…”
We needed the reminder that even when we don’t like each other very much, love fills the room between us. Christ’s love poured out helps me to see Dave with new eyes and Dave to see me with new eyes in the relentless and beautiful everyday work of marriage:
“You must care, because you took vows that said you do.”
“You must care, because you’re still standing here having this argument.”
“You must care, because you’re you and I am me and Christ is faithful.”
God meets us with His love when we don’t like one another. He brings access to grace when we’re not sure where to find it. It is in His hope we can say honestly and graciously:
“I love you, even when I don’t like you.”
*If you are in a marriage and concerned about your safety—physically, emotionally, mentally, or in any other way—please see your pastor and/or a licensed mental health professional for help. God does see our suffering, and there are many resources that can offer help. You can also turn to https://www.thehotline.org/ to find resources in your geographic area.
Scripture quotation is from the ESV® Bible (The Holy Bible, English Standard Version®), copyright © 2001 by Crossway, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers. Used by permission. All rights reserved.
God meets us with His love, and that’s Altogether Beautiful.