I've eaten moldy bread my whole life.
At our house growing up, we just cut off the infected part and ate the rest. It seemed perfectly reasonable to me. After all, the rest of the bread looked fine. Why throw away a perfectly good piece of bread just because one part is ruined?
But then someone told me the truth: There was more to the mold than what my eyes could see.
Mold sends out tiny hair-like probes that you can only detect through a microscope, and that's how it spreads—unobservable by human eyes. When it actually begins to show, it's much further developed than people realize.
Bitterness in marriage is just like moldy bread. Before you can see the damage caused by bitterness, the harm has already been done—beginning in the heart.
As a young wife, I've seen how easily bitterness can sneak into my soul. It's not the big problems that we face that cause me to harbor hurt; it's the little things that I hold against my husband, like being the brunt of a sarcastic comment, feeling isolated when he's working, or getting upset over small financial decisions. Like those long undetectable probes of mold, the bitterness stretches into my heart and begins to grow.
Many wives struggle with bitterness, and it's the cause of numerous divorces. The resentment builds and builds until the love that was once present in the relationship is gone. Then the embittered wife begins to convince herself that she never really loved her spouse in the first place. If you're at this place in your marriage, then read "Don't Let Bitterness Poison Your Marriage" to learn how to work through your hardened heart.
If you're not to the point of a hardened heart, but you have the tendency to carry resentment, then here are three steps to help you prevent bitterness from destroying your marriage.
First, expect your husband to fail. The only perfect person on this earth was Jesus Christ. Your husband will make mistakes—sometimes big mistakes—and he will continue to do so for the rest of his life. Romans 3:10 says, "There is none righteous, not even one."
When you took your vows, you made them "in sickness and in health, for richer, for poorer, for better, for worse." Getting married requires that you live with the good and the bad. Elisabeth Elliot once said that love is not a feeling, but it's an action. There may be days when you don't feel like loving your husband, but you can choose to love him.
No one has this life completely figured out, so it's nice when we're given a little grace. Your husband needs grace from you more than anyone. When he makes a mistake, give him the mercy that you would want if the situation were reversed. James 2:13 says, "mercy triumphs over judgment." Don't be too quick to judge your husband, but instead be quick to give grace.
Remember that you are not perfect, either. All of us need the grace of God, and He gave it freely even when we didn't deserve it. At Golgotha, as the soldiers gambled for Jesus' clothing, the dying innocent Christ prayed, "Father, forgive them; for they do not know what they are doing" (Luke 23:34). If forgiveness is given freely to us, how much more should we give it to our husbands?
Second, talk about issues when they come up. My rule of thumb is to wait a couple of days before mentioning any problems. If I can let it go without holding a grudge, I will. But if I find that the issue keeps coming up in my mind, and after a couple of days I'm still harboring anger over it, then that's my cue that it's time to talk about it.
Bring up these problems at a good time. Don't wait until your husband is ready to fall asleep to have a deep discussion. If you can't find a good time, make a date to discuss it. Make sure he knows why you're going out and the main topic you're planning to discuss.
Third, if your husband asks you, "What's wrong," don't say "Nothing." My husband can tell when something is wrong—he sees that I have a funny look on my face or that I'm acting strangely. So he'll ask me, "What's wrong, Sweetheart?" But if I say, "Nothing," guess what—he believes me.
Most husbands are that way. They figure they've given you an opportunity to talk, and you either don't want to talk about it or there's really nothing wrong. They trust that you're telling them the truth when you said "Nothing." We wives think we're giving them "hints," but men don't communicate the same way. Nancy Cobb and Connie Grigsby emphasize this point in their book How to Get Your Husband to Talk to You:
Women have a tendency of not saying what we really mean. Instead we dance around the issues—sending out subtle signals that we think are clearly telling our husbands what to do next. Men don't understand these vague signals—they understand signals that are direct and to the point. While a woman can read another woman's signals, men can't. They aren't even aware signals are being sent.
The way to resolve this issue is to say what you mean. If your husband asks, "What's wrong?" that's your chance to tell him. Take advantage of the moment to explain what's really on your heart. By being forthright with hurt feelings, you are less likely to hold a grudge and nurture the mold of bitterness that can spread through your marriage.
Copyright © 2008 by FamilyLife. All rights reserved.
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