By Karen Ehman
Before you marry a person, you should
first make them use a computer with slow
internet to see who they really are.
Be completely humble and gentle; be patient,
bearing with one another in love.
My intense irritation at my husband’s actions didn’t visibly show. Since his mother was in the back seat of our car, I was careful to remain calm. However, I did sneak a darting glance toward him—a dagger that accurately conveyed how very much I hated what he’d just done.
His dire offense? Wait for it . . .
He failed to use his blinker when changing lanes.
I am a by-the-book driver. My kids chuckle when I dutifully use my blinker before turning into our driveway, even when no one is around—which is nearly 99 percent of the time, since we live near the end of a cul-de-sac. Therefore, it aggravates me when my dear husband sometimes behaves as if turn-signal usage is completely optional.
This particular day, we were shuttling my mother-in-law to her doctor appointment. As I sat in the waiting room, my mind began to tally, one by one, other perfectly irksome things I didn’t like about my man’s behavior.
He leaves the closet and cupboard doors open. Open!
He didn’t return the stapler to its proper place when he
finished using it the other day.
He never remembers the details of our conversations.
As each scenario popped into my mind, I grew more and more annoyed.
Meanwhile, on a TV in the waiting room, a meteorologist was predicting an ice storm later that afternoon and warning drivers to stay home. An elderly woman sitting next to me pooh-poohed the warnings. “Everybody’s got somethin’,” she declared.
I asked her just what she meant by that. “Well,” she elaborated, “when we lived in Kansas, it was dust storms and tornadoes. Then, during the few years we lived in southern Florida, we had to prepare for hurricanes. And when we were stationed in California, oh what a drought we had that one year. Like I say,” she said again, “everybody’s got somethin’.”
My waiting room friend’s observation snapped me to attention. Why, oh, why do I let certain aspects of my husband’s personality and conduct bother me so easily? Surely I do things that drive him equally crazy! Undoubtedly, I sometimes irk or offend him with my behavior. Indeed, “Everybody’s got somethin’ ”—some behavior, quirk, practice, or habit that wreaks havoc on others, tempting them to become slightly irritated or even all-out furious.
Proverbs 19:11 states that “good sense makes one slow to anger,” and it is a person’s “glory to overlook an offense” (ESV). In the original Hebrew, the word glory conveys “beauty, honor, splendor” and even “adornment.” It unearths for us this line of thinking: our patience in passing over an offense—refusing to speedily go from zero to furious over the actions of others—adorns us with true beauty and honors them.
I’m not saying it’s easy. However, it is the right—and righteous—thing to do. Why? Because we mirror the gospel when we perfect the art of overlooking—excusing another’s irksome behavior and loving them anyway.
So, what does this look like realistically? Are there any concepts we can cement in our minds to help us to love like Jesus as we embrace the grit and grace of living with our sandpaper spouse?
Yes, there are. First . . .
1. Choose your love. Then love your choice.
When our kids were younger, they were always thrilled when we took them out for dinner at a restaurant. At a restaurant, they didn’t have to eat whatever Mom had cooked or Dad had grilled. Instead, they could order anything they desired. When they did, however, we made them finish what they’d chosen. No looking at your brother’s chicken strips and then deciding you didn’t want spaghetti after all. Choose what you love, but then love what you choose.
That was our message at the restaurant.
We would do well to adopt this concept in our marriage. Once upon a time, you chose your partner. Now, years later, you need to keep choosing him daily by displaying love despite how you feel. By allowing the good characteristics of our spouse to outweigh the behaviors that aggravate us or even the recurring issues that exasperate us, we choose love, reflect the gospel, and, over time, build a strong, caring relationship.
2. Lose the attitude. Keep the marriage.
Pastor Chuck Swindoll has a great perspective on the part that attitude plays in our life: “I am convinced that life is 10 percent what happens to me and 90 percent how I react to it, and so it is with you.” Losing your negative attitude and adopting one that understands that life doesn’t always go your way—which includes the life lived with your spouse and the frustrations it sometimes brings—make all the difference.
So . . . chin up. Smile on. Forge ahead. Don’t clothe yourself with a drab, complaining attitude that drags you down. Wrap yourself up in a cheerful, encouraging attitude that lifts you—and others—up.
3. To make marriage work, you have to work at your marriage.
Love is not merely an attitude. It takes action as well. Fashioning a healthy and loving relationship is not for the faint of heart. It takes tenacious work to make a marriage work. However, the reward is in the work as well. President Theodore Roosevelt aptly observed, “Nothing in the world is worth having or worth doing unless it means effort, pain, difficulty . . . I have never in my life envied a human being who led an easy life; I have envied a great many people who led difficult lives and led them well.”
I love that! Especially when I think of the marriages I’ve observed over the years that seemed to be especially loving, vibrant, and successful. When I’ve gotten to know one or both spouses in such marriages, I’ve discovered that their relationships didn’t just fall neatly into place. Those couples put in a lot of hard work, consistently wrestling through difficulties and changes over the years. Forgiving often. Fighting fair. Realizing that to make marriage work, you have to work at your marriage.
4. Make your differences work for you, not against you.
When I was a young girl, I loved plush toys. One of my favorite stuffed animals was called Pushmi-Pullyu (pronounced “push-me pull-you”)—a character from the Dr. Dolittle movie based on the book by Hugh Lofting. In the book version, it was a cross between a unicorn and a gazelle; in the movie version, it was depicted as a two-headed llama joined by one body. But rather than this anatomical setup causing trouble—with each end going its own way, trying to drag the other along for the ride—the two heads of Pushmi-Pullyu worked in tandem.
This unusual beast typically used only one of its heads when talking. It used the other for eating its food. This novel arrangement allowed it to eat and speak at the same time, thereby avoiding a scolding for talking with its mouth full! It could walk, talk, and eat just fine, functioning without difficulty due to its two-heads-work-together ways.
Although we as spouses may have our heads in contradictory places, we too can learn to cooperate and collaborate. While marriage takes work, it is less work when we are rowing the nuptial boat in the same direction rather than working against each other in a battle of wills, going nowhere. When we stop viewing each other as the enemy and realize we are on the same team, we can channel our efforts into communicating with a three-pronged goal of understanding, coming to a compromise, and then working together to succeed.
5. Specialize to maximize.
Perspective changes everything. When you stop viewing different as wrong, you can perceive how having varying viewpoints, skills, and even non-strengths (my husband and I have learned to refer to each other’s weaknesses as “non-strengths”; doesn’t that sound so much better?) can be advantageous to your marriage. You just need to learn to specialize and maximize.
Todd and I have learned to divvy up responsibilities based on strengths. He is a detail guy who is observant and thorough. He pays the bills—on time and online—and makes the appointments for the repairman or the cable gal to come to our house when needed. He also researches and purchases home and auto insurance for our family. (Oh please! I’d rather have a root canal!)
My strengths lie elsewhere. I’m a big-picture idea slinger who loves interacting with people. I also have a great memory. (Which my hubby hates when I use it to get historical!) So, I do the communicating with teachers and coaches, as well as with extended family members when it comes time for a get-together. I’m also the one who remembers to send the cards and make the calls for birthdays, graduations, and anniversaries.
We split up household tasks and dive in to get them done, remembering that it isn’t a competition and recognizing that there will be give and take, especially when one of us has more on his or her plate than usual. I may be under a book deadline or have a parenting responsibility that leaves me feeling stretched thin for time. Todd may be putting in overtime at the factory. When this happens, the person with more white space on his or her schedule picks up the slack, knowing the other will do the same another time.
6. Get on your knees—quickly and often!
This is a whopping one! Trying to deal in a godly manner with a spouse whose conduct drives you crazy will require lots of prayer. Lots. Of. Prayer. You’ll need to pray for that long-suffering patience to overlook an offense. To ask for wisdom in knowing the best way—and the best time—to approach a subject. You may even need to fling yourself on your bed, begging God for help, before a massive blowup materializes.
Our prayer shouldn’t be, “Oh, Lord—please change him!” Our prayer should be focused on our own behavior as we ask the Father to help us control our own actions; to graciously respond, not overreact; to display godly characteristics when we interact with our husband; to let God do the work of refining us, through our sandpaper spouse; and to give thanks for the progress we will see both spiritually and relationally as we turn to God in prayer.
And finally . . .
7. Love your spouse because he is yours.
It is true with spouses—and also with children—that we make a powerful statement when we grant grace and show love for no other reason than that they are ours. This notion hit me in church one day as my pastor read about the baptism of Jesus by his cousin John: “As soon as Jesus was baptized, he went up out of the water. At that moment heaven was opened, and he saw the Spirit of God descending like a dove and alighting on him. And a voice from heaven said, ‘This is my Son, whom I love; with him I am well pleased’” ( Matthew 3:16–17).
I’d read this passage dozens of times, but that day it hit me. God verbalized his love for his Son before Jesus had performed any miracles or healed any sickness. No water-turned-wine phenomenon had occurred yet. No feeding of the multitudes from just a couple of loaves of borrowed bread. God didn’t lavish love on Jesus because of his performance. He loved him and was pleased with him just because he was his Son.
Will you join me in thanking God for sandpaper spouses? Rather than our differences driving us crazy, may they drive us all straight to our knees.
Adapted from Keep Showing Up: How to Stay Crazy in Love When Your Love Drives You Crazy by Karen Ehman. Click here to learn more about this title.
Discover how your “incompatibility” can become the strength of your marital team in this real-life guide to both living with and loving your spouse—differences and all.
In Keep Showing Up, Karen Ehman shows you:
- How to play to each other’s strengths as you work on your own weaknesses
- The difference between having a soul mate and having a sole mate
- How to become a faithful forgiver who also forgets
- Strategies for avoiding the social media comparison trap
- Why it’s dangerous to mimic a friend’s marriage
- How to unearth the magic in the mundane
- Why a spouse who drives you crazy can drive you straight to Jesus
Throughout Keep Showing Up, Karen includes ideas to implement in your marriage right now, such as powerful statements to speak to your spouse, date-night-on-a-shoestring suggestions, and discussion starters.
Whether you and your spouse disagree about finances, parenting, or how to load the dishwasher, your differences don’t need to divide you. They can actually bring you closer together—and closer to God.
Karen Ehman is a Proverbs 31 Ministries speaker, a New York Times bestselling author, and a writer for First 5, a Bible study app that reaches over 2 million people daily. She has written thirteen books including Let. It. Go., Keep It Shut, and Pressing Pause. Her passion is to help women to live their priorities as they reflect the gospel to a watching world. Married to her college sweetheart, Todd, and the mother of three, she enjoys antique hunting, cheering for the Detroit Tigers, and feeding the many people who gather around her kitchen island for a taste of Mama Karen’s cooking. Connect with her at www.karenehman.com.