How do you know in marriage when you should bring up an issue, or when you should let it go?
Should you sweat the small stuff?
We’ve been talking this month about how iron sharpens iron, and how marriage should make us better people. This week, the third in our series, I gave some concrete examples of how to speak up when something’s bugging you.
In the comments there was some great discussion that illuminated some big thoughts, and I wanted to draw attention to some of those and expand a bit!
Don’t forget the power of prayer in preparing your spouse to deal with an issue
First, Anonymous said this, which I thought was excellent advice:
I’ve only had a couple of disagreements with my fiance so far, but one thing that has really helped us is PRAYING! We had a major disagreement (major as in big difference of opinion, not major as in shouting and yelling!) a few months after we started dating and another around the time of our engagement, and both times, we prayed about it together and separately, that God would show us the right path – and he did. And I think those disagreements actually brought us closer together as a result.
A couple of times, there’s been something that concerns me and I’m not sure if I should raise it or if it is me over-reacting. So I’ve prayed about it. And a few days later, he’s raised the issue and either said he’s planning to do what I hoped he would or else he’s asked me what I think about it, giving me the perfect opportunity to share my thoughts.
I do set a ‘time limit’ on these things, asking God to either have my fiance raise the topic or that it will no longer bother me by a set time, and committing to the Lord that I will raise the issue if neither of those things happen (because I am someone who hates conflict and would naturally pray about something for months rather than speak up!) But it’s amazing how many times I don’t have to say anything because one of those two things have happened by the ‘deadline’!
I’ve found this true in my own life as well. Pray about something, and often God does speak to your spouse and then they’re prepared to hear what you think, too. I just want to reiterate the last bit of what she said–she does set a time limit, so that if it’s not dealt with by that time, she will raise it. I feel like in the church we give “just pray about it” as a pat answer so often that I likely shy away from talking about it too much, which is wrong of me (so I’m glad that Anonymous raised it). But here’s what shows she’s not just treating it like a pat answer: she does say that if it’s not taken care of by then, she will do something about it.
Prayer should not be a substitute for doing what God is calling us to do. But prayer should be preparation for what God is calling us to do. And often through prayer, God softens the ground!
Thank you spouse when they do change–let’s reinforce positive behaviour!
Flo also mentioned this:
I think it is also very important when something has been fixed to notice and mention it. “Thank you for fixing the issue with X that I talked to you about, it really makes a big difference.”
Love that. If you’re going to speak up, then thank your spouse when they listen and show they care. In fact, getting in the habit of thanking your spouse for things can help you notice when your spouse is doing good things. If you’re looking for those good things, you’ll notice them and you’ll think about them more, rather than being preoccupied by things your spouse does that bug you (something I dealt with at length in 9 Thoughts That Can Change Your Marriage, too!).
And if they’re trying but not quite getting it? Love this from Hannah:
I have to put in a word for the gentle reminder strategy though, because sometimes that’s the way to go. We had the socks in the hamper problem when we were first married, and it took many, many reminders for him to put things in the hamper. He does now! Interestingly, I’ve gotten messier and he’s gotten tidier, lol. But I knew he was trying to do it and wasn’t trying to be disrespectful, so the second and third (and tenth and twelfth) conversations went more like, “Babe, don’t forget to put the socks in the hamper” rather than really upping the seriousness. He already felt bad; there was no need to rub it in. So just something to think about for those like me who have really good-hearted spouses who are trying their hardest!
But shouldn’t we also just let things go?
Doug also brought up an important counterpoint to this argument, when he said this:
One thing I have done to help eliminate some of the discord that can come about in a marriage, is to just recognize that we are different. I can, and have focused on those things that really drove me crazy. For the last 5 years, I have just taken it on myself to do them. In the past, dishes in the sink have always bothered me. I never really said anything, but I have to confess it stirred a certain amount of resentment. Now, when I see them, I just take a moment and wash them. After dinner, I generally go straight from the table to the kitchen sink. I know it blesses her, and it takes something that used to be a problem for me and eliminates it altogether. I am sure some are probably thinking that I should do so anyways, so what is the big deal. The truth is that I work as much as 80-85 hours a week in construction, when you add in my random commute. We are empty nesters, so she really doesn’t have anything that has to be done other than cleaning and cooking. I could handle her workload in a few hours every day.
The truth is there are many ways she blesses me but she is simply not as tidy as I am, and it is easier for me to do myself. When I first began doing so, she took it as a critique, and would get defensive. Now, she might get a little bit defensive about it, and say something like “You don’t have to do that”, and I just respond that I know I don’t have to, but I want to.
One benefit to it, is that often she will join me and one of us will wash and the other dry.
Some things just are not worth fussing about.
He’s right. Some things are likely not worth fussing about, and loving your spouse and blessing them is great. HOWEVER–here’s the caveat to that, which I mentioned in my reply:
That’s a great point, Doug, and one that I brought up in 9 Thoughts That Can Change Your Marriage, too. See, I pick up Keith’s clothes off the floor at the same time as I pick up my own. It really isn’t a big deal to me. But that’s because it’s not indicative of a bigger issue in the relationship. If there’s a bigger issue that this is a symptom of (like disrespect or being taken for granted), then it likely should be dealt with. If it’s a small thing that doesn’t bother you that much that you don’t mind doing, then by all means, let it go!
My only caution is this: often those who shy away from conflict rationalize to themselves, “It’s not that big a deal.” But after 10 years of doing it, day in and day out, and seeing your spouse grow more selfish, it becomes a big deal. Whereas if it had been dealt with simply, at the very beginning, it never would have grown that big.
So we have to use discernment, yes. And overlooking small things is often a good strategy. But it’s not always, especially if you’re a people pleaser. Some people gravitate towards saying nothing, and in the long run, that doesn’t always serve your marriage. So ask yourself: Is this part of a wider problem that shows disrespect/bad behaviour in the relationship? Is this something I can live with happily for the rest of my life? Is this something where I can simply bless my spouse, or is this something where I may cement a bad habit in my spouse? Is this something that easily could be let go, or is this something which honestly is serious (being out late at night and not calling is serious; being home for dinner late when the kids are waiting without communicating is serious, overspending is serious, becoming enmeshed with your mom is serious).
So very much Christian information says just what you’ve said: Let it go. What I’m trying to provide this month is a counterbalance, especially when “let it go” doesn’t work or ends up making things worse.
And I want to end on my last point there. I do believe that Doug is right, and many of our marriages would be blessed by just letting more things go. However, that tends to be the common message in most Christian marriage books, and sometimes we need to hear the other side. God doesn’t want us enabling selfishness and immaturity. He wants marriage to make us better people. And so sometimes you need to speak up!
How do you know when you should speak up, and when you should keep silent?
I guess it goes back to Anonymous’ first comment–you pray. And you listen. And keep in mind your own bent. My bent would be to make bigger issues out of things I could let go. Other people’s bents may be to bury them. Whatever your bent is, that’s what you’ll want to hear from God. So challenge yourself to really listen!
Thanks, everyone, for your thoughts. Next week we’ll get even more practical about what to do if you’re trying these things, and big things still aren’t changing.