I fear that perhaps when I come I may find you not as I wish, and that you may find me not as you wish—that perhaps there may be quarreling, jealousy, anger, hostility, slander, gossip, conceit, and disorder.
2 Corinthians 12:20
What a hard list of bad behaviors Paul feared he would find among the Corinthians. Nor did he suggest that he was perfect and they had all the problems! Paul understood human behavior and the fallen nature, and it hasn’t changed in our day. Paul was honest and so should we be when we consider our relationships – particularly our marriages.
I enjoy eating out and, of course, I can’t help but watch the couples at the other tables. I imagine you have done the same. One could almost write a short story for each table, based on how the couple talks, looks at each other, smiles, laughs or just sits silently chewing. Occasionally one will see tears. How does the other person respond? Once I saw a whole blowout fight. How sad and uncomfortable. Once I saw one person get up and storm out of the restaurant, leaving the other person alone, stunned and embarrassed.
There are times in every marriage when one or several of the behaviors listed in our verse will appear. How does God call us to respond to conflict where we personally involved? I think Paul gives us the first clue when he admits he may be part of the problem. When we recognize that our marriage has stress and conflict and we see unwelcome and ungodly behaviors popping up the first step is to search our hearts with our Lord’s help and recognize what we need to confess. Are we looking for a fight? Are we attributing sin to our spouse when we have no proof? Are we telling our friends what a rotten spouse we have and that it is all of his or her fault? Stop here first and ask God what role we have played. Listen. Pray. Confess and ask for God’s cleansing and direction. Ask that he take the log out of our eye so we can see the splinter in our spouse.
Hostility and quarreling often show up hand-in-hand in a relationship. When our spouse no longer seems to be our friend, when we can no longer feel that they are on our side, hostility grows and our spouse’s behavior becomes front and center in our hostile mind. The next thing they say is somehow part and parcel of their whole problem and BAM! We let them have it. Or not. Maybe our hostility comes out as a slow, quiet burn.
What does scripture say? Matthew 18:15 tells us that when our brother (or spouse) sins against us go and tell him his fault, between you and he alone. Don’t grow secretly hostile, don’t tell your friends, don’t pick a fight. Find a time when you can sit down and honestly tell your spouse how you are feeling. Tell him or her how their behavior has affected you. Yes – be vulnerable to your spouse, your friend. Do not lash out. Be honest – but do not attack. Yes – this is hard.
Not only do we need own our part of the problem, but we must also recognize that many problems are simply not easily solvable. Marital research indicates that more than two-thirds of the problems experienced in marriage are more perpetual in nature. It does not mean that couples cannot make progress in hard issues, but it often means that such progress is slow and requires us to grow in patience towards one another.
I see many couples that are frustrated with marriage not being what they thought it should or would be. The gospel does not create perfect marriages, but it does change the context in which marriages exist. I firmly believe that few things expose the believer to the already/not yet dimension of life, redemption, and transformation like being married. We were already given what we need to love one another, but our ability and our spouses’ ability to do so is not yet fully realized. The reality is that some of us probably need to try harder in loving our spouses. Others of us probably need to love more wisely. Either way, marriage is not primarily about our work or our wisdom. Ultimately, it is God calling two people to be a part of God’s glorification of Himself. Marriage provides us a wonderful opportunity to decrease, so that He may increase.