One of the reasons marriages fall apart after a number of years is that they just can’t survive the weight of garbage that has built up over time.
You want to have a good marriage, so you resolve your conflicts and move on. But it’s easy to overlook the bits of resentment still snagged on the corners of your heart. Those little bits have a way of attracting more, like flies to a carcass.
It begins to color the way you perceive your spouse and everything he says and does. You start to notice patterns, recurring issues. You hear yourself saying, “You always … ” or thinking, “There he goes again.”
On your wedding day, you never imagine you’ll be struggling to see each other over piles of decay, sick of the stink, and too tired to move it around anymore. No one thinks it will happen to them. But it does.
How do you keep resentment from suffocating your relationship?
Don’t get comfortable with unresolved issues. You can hide only so much junk under your bed and stuff so many skeletons in your closet before they start to take over the whole room.
Don’t wait. The longer you wait, the harder it is to dig out from under. If you wait long enough you might not want to bother anymore. Hard to imagine, but it happens.
Say “I’m sorry.” For some people like me, these words can be hard to say. There are a thousand reasons why it’s not exactly my fault. But this attitude keeps me from seeing how I contribute to the problem, especially if it isn’t in the immediate situation.
Make sure you know what you’re sorry for. “I’m sorry” doesn’t mean much if you don’t know how your actions have affected your spouse. It doesn’t hurt to actually ask.
“When I did that, how did it make you feel?” No one wants to hear the answer to that question, but it’s cathartic for the person who has been hurt and it can be eye opening for the person who has done the deed.
Be specific with your apology. Now that you’ve taken the time to understand how your words/actions affected your spouse, you can be specific. This may seem unnecessarily redundant, but your spouse will know that they’ve been heard and understood.
Ask for forgiveness. “Will you forgive me?” is more powerful than simply saying “I’m sorry.” It forces you to take a position of humility.
Say “I forgive you.” When your spouse asks your forgiveness, it’s easier just to say, “yes.” But actually saying the words “I forgive you,” makes your choice more real — to the speaker and the hearer. Don’t be afraid to be specific here, as well.
Pray together. Nothing cleans out those hard to reach places like prayer. Nothing creates unity like praying together.
Hold hands when you pray. It’s more than symbolic, that’s why it’s so difficult to do when you’re at odds. Read what Ally Vesterfelt has to say about the posture of our bodies and the posture of our hearts.
Confess your wrongdoing to God in the presence of your spouse. Ask God to forgive you for hurting your spouse.
If you’ve been hurt, ask God to forgive you for your anger and resentment. Tell God you choose to forgive your spouse as He has forgiven you. Ask God for grace to see your spouse with His eyes.
Pray for each other. If you’ve hurt your spouse, it’s easy to feel you’ve done your part after you’ve apologized. “I’m sorry” may help to staunch the flow of blood, but it doesn’t heal the wound.
If someone else had wounded your spouse, you wouldn’t think of walking away, leaving her to tend her own wounds. How much more so, if you are the offender? Pray that God will comfort her and heal what you’ve broken.
Finally, don’t be afraid to seal it with a kiss. A good, long hug with an “I love you” can’t hurt either.
How do you keep your relationship clean?
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