So Jacob served seven years to get Rachel, but they seemed like only a few days to him because of his love for her. Genesis 29:20
When Simon and Chana Taub decided to disagree and couldn’t resolve their conflicts, a judge ordered a wall built right down the center of their three-story house, separating the angry couple from each other. I’m not sure whether or not the judge had heard the story about Solomon’s decision to divide a child down the middle, thereby finding out which one of the women was actually the mother of the child. But I do know that when hearts are divided, those same walls divide the hearts of children as well.
It is usually the small things–irritations, thoughtless acts, sloppiness, being less than truthful with each other–that escalate into the brick and mortar that eventually put invisible walls between us.
The following are what I call the A, B, Cs of wall-proofing your marriage. Grab paper and pencil and write them down or go to our website at www.guidelines.org and print out what I’m about to say.
A stands for appreciation. Saying “thank you” always is meaningful but showing appreciation through acts of kindness, unexpected gifts, cards, and, yes, flowers—even though they die in a few days—is important. The opposite of appreciation is criticism—name calling, belittling remarks, correcting each other about the length of the fish your husband caught, or how much weight your wife has gained. One of the things that annoy husbands the most is when a wife corrects his grammar when they are arguing. That’s like twisting the knife, after it’s been buried to the hilt.
John Gottman is a marriage counselor with years of experience, and he says that “the best single predictor of whether a couple is going to divorce is contempt”—one step removed from criticism.
B stands for blessing—the ones that you bestow upon your husband or wife. I suppose you can bless someone you do not love, but if you really love someone, it is certain that you will bless them. And what does it mean to bless someone? For a moment, think how God blesses you. He withholds His judgment. He restrains Himself, showing His compassion and mercy, and then He generously touches your life with His grace, giving what you do not deserve, cannot afford to pay for, and would never have apart from His goodness. One of the greatest threats to any relationship is selfishness. “I want mine now,” but putting the other first always is how you bless the one you chose to give your heart to and share your life.
C stands for communication. The novelist Charles Dickens, whose marriage was less than ideal, wrote, “Never close your lips to the one to whom you have opened your heart.” Communication means you share your thoughts, your ideas, your likes and dislikes, and your concerns with each other. Never, never sleep on disagreement. Should you talk all night and feel groggy the next day, it’s better than letting the little foxes spoil the vines.
D stands for discipline—not the kind that corrects the other, but the self-discipline that is absolutely vital to keeping from living far apart under one roof. Discipline what you say. Once you’ve said it, you can apologize, yet the wound is still there, and what you said may never be forgotten though it is forgiven.
Learn to discipline what you do. That translates into picking up your socks, cleaning up your own mess, taking coffee to your wife, or carrying the heavy box that you see her struggling with. Isn’t that common sense? Perhaps, but common sense is not so common in marriage anymore.
Finally discipline your thinking. Is that too much to ask? Paul didn’t think so, which is why he instructed the Philippians to guard their thoughts and replace negative ones with honesty, purity, and so forth.
Resource reading: 1 Corinthians 13:1-13