‘It’s All His Fault!’—Peace Despite Differences
“WELL, if you straighten up and do what you’re supposed to,” snapped Sherry, “then I’ll do what I should be doing.” Her husband, Allen, absorbed the outburst. But in his mind he felt it was the other way around. Both knew what the Bible said, but each felt that the other was not applying it.
Couples often reach such an impasse, believing that their problems are mainly the other’s fault. Convinced that it was Allen’s fault and that he was not going to change, Sherry moved out. “I felt that there was no point in my trying,” she said. “The situation seemed hopeless.” Have you ever felt this way? Fortunately, this couple found a solution that saved the marriage.
Is It Only One Person’s Fault?
While at a meeting of Jehovah’s Witnesses, Sherry heard something that touched her heart. A minister said that humility was vital in developing marital communication. Sherry humbly began to look at herself, to see if she had contributed to their problems.
Actually, we are all quick to absolve ourselves from blame. “The man who first puts his cause before the judge seems to be in the right; but then his neighbour comes and puts his cause in its true light.” (Proverbs 18:17, The Bible in Basic English) Blaming a mate only provides a shallow excuse and avoids the painful search into yourself for possible causes of the predicament. According to the Bible, you can either ‘build up’ or ‘tear down’ your marriage with your “own hands.” (Proverbs 14:1) Looking at ourselves in the “true light” often reveals room for improvement.
This soul-searching was the beginning of the solution for Sherry. She realized that she was not likely to change her admittedly bossy husband by the way she had gone about things. But she could change her response and how she talked to him. This might influence him to improve. So she returned home, determined now to watch her speech. The results were positive.
The Power of the Tongue
The “tongue that speaks peaceably is a tree whose fruit gives life,” says the Bible, but the “tongue undisciplined can break hearts.” (Proverbs 15:4, The Holy Bible, by Ronald A. Knox) Thoughtless, “undisciplined” speech will often elicit anger and resentment. “I always used to throw it up to him that all he married me for was to have someone keep his house and kids,” admitted Sherry. “He would get mad and start shouting. Well, I stopped saying this. I quit being so picky and critical. Instead of putting him down in front of the kids, I would wait till the right time to discuss things that I didn’t like. I tried to listen more and to compliment him when I could.”
Their marriage warmed as Allen responded. Do your words enrich your marriage or cause pain, ‘breaking the heart’ of your mate? Do you heed the Bible’s command to show ‘fellow feeling and tender compassion’?—1 Peter 3:8.
For instance, another couple, Larry and Michele, was considering which dessert to prepare for a dinner party. “Keep it simple. Buy a cake,” urged Larry. Michele insisted on baking an elaborate cake. Sure enough, just before the guests were to arrive, Larry heard a wail from the kitchen. The unmolded layers had crumbled. “Didn’t I tell you it was dumb to try to make that cake?” said Larry, totally insensitive to her distress. “Now what are you going to do for dessert?”
“I came within an inch of throwing the whole mess in his face,” confessed Michele. Only the arrival of the guests averted violence. They scarcely spoke to each other for days afterward. But could Larry claim that it was all her fault? On the contrary, his thoughtless remark ‘stabbed like a sword,’ producing a fiery response. (Proverbs 12:18) How much more constructive if he had expressed sympathy and suggested another dessert!
What, though, if your mate is upset because of a bitter personal problem or failure? Oh, you realize that you are really not the target. But still, how do you manage when, out of frustration, that one lashes out at you?
Instead of withdrawing, the Bible counsels: “Go on carrying the burdens of one another, and thus fulfill the law of the Christ.” (Galatians 6:2) Since offering support when a mate is upset is tough, applying “the law of the Christ” is crucial.
Jesus commanded self-sacrificing love. (John 13:34, 35) This love “does not look for its own interests.” (1 Corinthians 13:5) Even if you have a legitimate “cause for complaint,” this love will move you to forgive and overlook it. (Colossians 3:13) Self-sacrifice calls for ‘taking the lead’ in showing honor and responding to evil with good.—Romans 12:10, 17-21.
Yet, being self-sacrificing does not mean doing absolutely anything to appease a mate. The Bible tells of Sarah, who was submissive and self-sacrificing. Nevertheless, she did not hesitate to speak her mind straightforwardly to her husband when the situation demanded it. She placed the long-term benefits to the family above any immediate loss of peace.—Genesis 16:1-6; 21:8-11.
So, if your spouse pursues a harmful course, “better is a revealed reproof than a concealed love.” (Proverbs 27:5) But choose the right moment—away from the children and others. Appeal to your partner, helping that one see the wisdom of changing.
The Vital Concern
At times, though, a mate seems to refuse to change. You may suggest approaching a qualified counselor for assistance. In the congregations of Jehovah’s Witnesses, there are spiritually qualified overseers who are willing to help. (James 5:14, 15) Perhaps such help will move the mate to apply the Bible’s counsel, especially if he or she values a good relationship with God.
But what if your mate does not? Then love for God’s laws must be your overriding concern. The psalmist, who at the time was under extreme mental pressure, wrote: “The way of faithfulness I have chosen. . . . I shall run the very way of your commandments, because you make my heart have the room.” (Psalm 119:11, 30, 32) The psalmist, who treasured God’s laws, not only increased knowledge of God within his heart but also developed greater confidence in God’s ability to sustain. God therefore helped him to have “the room” in his heart to bear this emotional distress.
Jehovah is thus capable of helping you also to make room in your heart to accommodate even an uncooperative mate. Knowing that you are pleasing God by keeping his commands gives an inner peace.
It Really Works!
Happily, for nearly ten years, Sherry and Allen have been reunited from their separation. Both, though imperfect, have tried to apply the counsel from the Bible. “Sometimes I revert to some of my old ways of acting,” admitted Allen. “But I keep trying to change.”
Yet, Sherry tries not to overreact. “You have to learn to accept some things about a person,” said Sherry. “It’s the way he is. You can’t change everything about him—no more than I can change all my own imperfections.” Frankly, Sherry reached an essential conclusion: the need to forgive petty mistakes. (Matthew 18:21, 22) “Since I’ve seen Allen’s response to my changed attitude,” confessed Sherry as she reflected on the hostile seven years of marriage before the separation, “I’ve thought, ‘Why didn’t I do this before?’ Those years would have been so much easier.”
So do not expect near perfection from a mate. Marriage, even to the best of mates, still brings ‘tribulation in the flesh.’ (1 Corinthians 7:28) Face problems squarely, rather than running from such by a frivolous separation or divorce.* Strengthen your personal resolve to keep God’s laws, and you will experience the truth of Psalm 119:165: “Abundant peace belongs to those loving [God’s] law, and for them there is no stumbling block.”
The Bible does allow for divorce on the basis of sexual immorality that frees the innocent mate to remarry. (Matthew 19:9) For some serious reasons that could result in separation, see “When Marriage Ties Are at the Breaking Point” in the September 15, 1963, issue of our companion magazine, The Watchtower.
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“Only in fairly rare instances, such as when, unknown to the partner at the time of the marriage, one partner is alcoholic or mentally ill, can most of the blame for a distressed marriage be ascribed to one of the partners instead of to both.” This is the conclusion reached by Gary Birchler of the University of California Medical School, after doing considerable research in the field of marriage.
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When tension mounts, will your words make the situation better or worse?