My husband and I sweated in the sun of an early southern summer morning. The dirt and dust of our belongings darkened our fingernails. It was garage sale day—cleaning out the old house to move into a new one.

Around the tables of knick-knacks and useless electronics and books, an unknown visitor scanned the premises looking for hidden treasures. As my husband and I straightened tables and lightly discussed the matters of the day, the woman standing just on the other side of the table looked at us and inquired of a treasure she didn’t know how to find.

“What’s the secret?” She asked.

Robbie and I looked at each other. “To marriage?” I clarified.

“Yes,” she replied, patiently anticipating our response.

We looked at each other again, and without hesitation Robbie said what I immediately knew to be true.  “Grace,” he said. “It’s just grace.”

Grace isn’t easy

Grace is defined as “unmerited favor.” That means grace occurs when you extend kindness, love, and forgiveness even when your spouse doesn’t deserve it.

There is no revenge in grace. The only justice is the freedom everyone receives, including yourself, when you just let things go—wanting the best for the other person and the situation and giving up the right to punish.

Having grace in marriage isn’t easy at first. By nature of the flesh, we are selfish people who look out for our own comfort and just desserts (James 3:14-16). But through the power of the Holy Spirit, we can trust God to give us the strength to let go.

When we reflect on all the ways God has forgiven us, how can we not have grace on others? Consider the parable that Jesus told of the king who settled his debts. One debtor owed millions, but the man begged for mercy, and the king had pity on him and forgave his debts.

This debtor then went to a fellow servant who owed him a few thousand dollars, and he grabbed him by the throat and demanded instant payment. The creditor had that man thrown into prison until his debt was paid. When the king heard what happened, he was angry and had the man who owed him millions tortured until he paid his debt in full (Matthew 18:21-35). Jesus’ point was that we should treat others with the same grace we enjoy, or else face God’s judgement.

Practical grace

There are several ways you can practice grace in your marriage. It’s not complicated, and to be honest, it’s not even a mystery. You simply have to find in your heart the desire for grace in your home. For the believer, the more you work at it, the more natural it becomes.

First, practice forgiveness. It’s true that there are consequences to actions. Sometimes actions are so severe they have to be stopped in order to have a healthy marriage—things like abuse, infidelity, illegal activities. A marriage is not going to be healthy with these kinds of despicable deeds.

Even in these cases, however, forgiveness is possible.  Forgiveness is not blanket permission for a person to treat you any way they want to, but you shouldn’t become embittered. Take action. Stop the problem. But don’t hang on to the desire for revenge. Romans 12:19 says, “Beloved, never avenge yourselves, but leave it to the wrath of God, for it is written, ‘Vengeance is mine, I will repay, says the Lord.’”

In most marriages, however, the major problems are the typical issues of life—miscommunication, differences in financial responsibility, things that are said in the heat of anger or frustration, unintended hurt feelings, or sensitivity in times of stress. This is where forgiveness can make or break a marriage.

My husband and I communicate love in different ways. I like the mushy kind of love—cuddling, pet names, encouraging words. But my husband demonstrates love through teasing and playfulness. There have been many times that his show of affection has hurt my feelings. But I had to learn to look past the outward appearance and see his intention, forgiving the initial hurt and giving him the benefit of the doubt that perhaps he didn’t intend to offend me at all.

Unforgiven transgressions will develop bitterness in your heart, and it grows like a weed in the garden of your love—it chokes out all the fruit and flowers and eventually kills everything. Hebrews 12:14-15 says, “Strive for peace with everyone, and for the holiness without which no one will see the Lord. See to it that no one fails to obtain the grace of God; that no ‘root of bitterness’ springs up and causes trouble, and by it many become defiled.” Unforgiveness in your marriage causes more pain than the original transgression.

Second, accept imperfection. Why do we expect our spouses to be perfect? Each of us is only human; we are not, nor will we ever be, perfect on this side of heaven. Romans 3:10 says it plainly, “None is righteous; no, not one.”

There have been times when I perceived that my husband had a standard of perfection for me. And it felt like a losing battle. I knew I would never be perfect. I could never win, so why even try?

But when I found out that he understands my human frailty and believed in me to be the best I could be despite my downfalls, then I felt freedom to be loved just as I am.

Give your spouse permission to fail. Let him know that no matter how badly he messes up, you will love him anyway. He doesn’t have to have the highest paying job. Let him know that you’re happy just as you are. Tell him you’re proud of him, even when he feels down … especially when he feels down. You can be the one to give him strength.

Third, put your hope in God, not your spouse. Because your spouse is only human—imperfect and incomplete—you can expect that he will fail you from time to time.  If you put all your hope and self-worth in the love and help of a spouse, you are already setting yourself up for failure.

But there is one who will never fail you. He will never make a mistake or slip into a selfish point of view. When you put your faith and hope in Jesus Christ, then you have a firm foundation. Your marriage will actually be stronger. Your spouse will feel free from the tyranny of perfection and disappointment, and you will feel confident knowing that you can trust God to be the foundation you need him to be.

Jesus told a parable that illustrates this principle in Matthew 7:24-27:

Everyone then who hears these words of mine and does them will be like a wise man who built his house on the rock. And the rain fell, and the floods came, and the winds blew and beat on that house, but it did not fall, because it had been founded on the rock. And everyone who hears these words of mine and does not do them will be like a foolish man who built his house on the sand. And the rain fell, and the floods came, and the winds blew and beat against that house, and it fell, and great was the fall of it.

A marriage built on Christ as the foundation will stand the test of time. No matter what troubles come your way, you can weather the storm.

Start today

Grace in marriage is beautiful—it’s like a lovely waltz of give and take, leading and following, falling and helping the other get up again. Grace wants the best for the other person and sees the potential of happiness together. But grace is only possible through one path—selflessness. It is love given without accepting anything in return, without keeping records.

Through our relationship with the Father, we have the perfect example of how grace works. And the more time we spend with Him, the more that grace becomes a way of life. Grace was God’s idea, and you can’t know God without knowing His grace. Let it fill you up and spill out over into your marriage.

Start today by talking with your spouse and telling him that you want a more grace-filled marriage. Pray together once each day that God would show you how to have more grace on each other, and then, most importantly, practice what you preach.

Whether or not you feel your husband is doing “his share” of showing grace, remember that there’s no score card. But the best part is that the more you pour out grace on your spouse, the happier you will be, no matter how it’s returned. Because God’s grace always comes back in blessings!

Copyright © 2018 by Sabrina McDonald. Used with permission.