Q. My wife and I are at odds with each other. We often bicker over minor issues. We’re short with each other and then become distant. We may have a few days of some closeness and then it’s back to arguing again. We love each other and don’t understand the problem. What can we do to change things? Do we need counseling?
A. Most of us need to learn what makes a marriage work. We expect marriage to be easy and take no effort. This is a false expectation. We need to learn that everything you do in your marriage is either building up the relationship or tearing it down. If you want to have a good marriage you need to pay attention to this fact and make a point of doing the things that will build up your relationship and not doing the things that tear it down. If one person does these things it will change the relationship for the better.
You can no doubt think of many ways to either build up or tear down your marriage. I will list a few to get you thinking in the right direction.
Building up: Treat your wife with respect. This includes being courteous, friendly, kind, patient.
Tearing down: Disrespectful words or actions hurt your relationship. You’re disrespectful when you’re sarcastic, gruff, mean, belittling and any time you raise your voice.
Building up: Accept your own part in the issues. Take responsibility for your own feelings and actions. Your wife is not responsible for your feelings or your happiness. You are.
Tearing down: Blaming is destructive and will elicit defensiveness. Blame hurts the relationship. A blaming sentence often starts with “You…..” Instead use “I” statements and tell your wife what you want. “I would like it if you would….”
Building up: Be honest and open. Tell your partner the truth about yourself and your feelings. Let her know when something bothers you. But do this using “I“ statements.
Tearing down: Telling a lie or hiding the truth is destructive. When you avoid the truth even when your motive is to keep the peace or not hurt the other person’s feelings - you are hurting your marriage. Your wife can’t please you if you don’t share your wishes and needs openly.
Building up: Give time and attention to your wife. Listen carefully to understand her. This is love in action.
Tearing down: Not being available is hurtful and so is not listening. When the TV is on your attention is divided even if you’re talking with each other.
Building up: Be cooperative with your wife; work together, realize you’re both “on the same team” and have each other’s interests at heart.
Tearing down: Trying to “win” an argument damages the marriage. Why do you have to prove you’re right and she’s wrong?
Building up: Say “I love you.” Be affectionate. Remember birthdays and anniversaries. Give positive feedback: “You look nice today.” “I love your smile.”
Tearing down: Ignoring your wife, and being rude or condescending to her tears down the marriage.
Building up: Learn to forgive when you’ve been hurt. Learn to say “I’m sorry” when you know you’ve hurt the other person. Do what you can to make amends and repair the damage.
Tearing down: Refusing to admit your mistakes damages the marriage. Holding grudges does also.
Counseling can help you both stop the bickering and learn to build up your marriage. The Third Option group for hurting couples or the Weekend to Remember can also help you build up your marriage. To find Christian counselors or marriage programs contact a local church and ask for resources or see www.smartmarriages.com.
“Love each other with genuine affection and take delight in honoring each other.” Romans NLT