My husband Tom and I were driving our well-worn path to Wilmington when the revelation came. Irritation is a pivotal part of marriage. I’d keep the thought to myself until I took time to tease it out fully.
Frequently irritation shows up when we’re in a hurry, as we were that morning. Little things like, “You’re bringing the carrots?” with a pronounced sigh and wrinkled brow. Always frugal, I don’t want food to spoil before we return. It’s the small insignificant opinions that cause frustration. Tom likes to leave early even if a few perishables are left behind.
Growing up I learned to avoid conflict. I was taught to be nice, agree, and get along. I ran from discord literally and figuratively.
After 36 years of marriage to Tom, I’ve finally learned to embrace and even value our conflict for its benefit.
I wonder what would happen in marriage if we didn’t collide in disagreement. What sort of person would I be if everything always went my way? How amiable would I behave if my opinions, attitudes and behaviors weren’t challenged? Growth doesn’t happen without change.
We should expect conflict in marriage. Two uniquely designed humans don’t always agree. If we anticipate friction, we can imagine how we’ll handle it positively.
I thought of the innocent little oyster and how it creates a pearl. An irritant works its way into the mollusk and its defense system secretes a fluid to coat the foreign material. Over time many layers of coating land on the irritant until a lustrous pearl is made. Pearls can take up to four years to form. The natural unique beauty comes from an invasive unwanted irritation.
Wisdom from Scripture came to mind.
As iron sharpens iron, so one person sharpens another.Proverbs 27:17
A steel blade needs a sharp edge to be useful. A dull knife is still a knife but isn’t effective and can be dangerous. A harder substance grinds away material on the blade to improve it. The sharp edge is honed by an abrasive process.
This concept applies to all relationships. Solomon is teaching us that we’ll be refined and sharpened in community with other people. It’s a mutually beneficial process.
The process is particularly crucial in marriage. In friendships, we can walk away, but in marriage we’re together 24/7. You can try to escape the friction, but it won’t work. The problem stays even if you don’t. Evaluate your heart and examine what you’re trying to avoid. We naturally love ourselves more than our spouse. It takes a lot of practice to prefer another person, especially the one closest. Instead of running away from discomfort, seek connection with your spouse. We must deal with the strife together. God uses the sharpening and refining process to sanctify us.
A few months ago, I got very angry with my husband. He arrived home from work late while our supper warmed in the oven. I greeted him with a big hug and smile. Then, the phone call came. To my shock, he answered. Instantly my face hardened and my breathing was short. Nervous energy surged through me. I felt completely justified in my anger. I went outside to walk, hoping to work off steam. It didn’t help. I came back to find him still talking. Supper got cold. I took a shower. I couldn’t shake my angst and didn’t know what to do with myself. He was still talking! When he finally ended the call, I had a choice. My default method— to pout and retreat to our bedroom in silence—or face the situation head on. Against my natural bent, I chose the better option. I went to my husband and gave him a hug. “I love you and I’m glad you married me, but I am furious with you right now.” Tom apologized right away. He agreed that taking the call was a bad decision. We had a good talk. I let him off the hook and forgave him.
I was at peace when I rested my head on the pillow. I’d navigated conflict in a redemptive way and matured after years of trying to avoid it. Being transparent led to a closer connection with my husband.
Before you react combatively, take a deep breath and choose your best option. Put on love. Agape love is displayed through actions, not feelings. You can act in a redemptive way even if you don’t feel redemptive. Reach out with a smile and a kiss. Compliment him rather than criticize. Move toward your spouse and build deeper connection and oneness. Your feelings will catch up to your positive choices.
Our marriage of 36 years has carved us into the people we’re meant to be. We’ll be learning how to love til the day we die. We cherish each other more each year. The Holy Spirit helps us to be faithful to our covenant and to show the world around us what love is.