I confess, the little spats we’ve had in the first year or so have been rather….insignificant. Don’t get me wrong, whatever the topic was, I think we learned a GREAT deal from them. Especially as we figured out how to really resolve the issue as opposed to just moving on by sweeping it under the rug. But why we even got to arguing in the first place…
Usually we start with a topic that warrants discussion. A question about something, an observation, a thought to share. But then the conversation escalates into a “heated discussion” because it has digressed into matters on the trivial side. Some of our early marital arguments started over how directions were given to someone’s house or instructions on how to use the rice cooker or how to schedule items on our “To Do List”. They’re pretty benign topics but it tends to boil over account something from this list:
- word choice
- timing of tone or word choice
- he said/she said
One time in exasperation, Skywalker said he doesn’t know anyone who would’ve interpreted what I said as how I meant it to be understood. I replied that any one of my friends would’ve. And that’s the thing, my girl friends have known me much longer than Skywalker has. We’ve already hashed through, BFF style, all the miscommunications arising from any combination of the above list. They can hear my tone if I send them a single word text message. But with us, we’re still figuring each other out. And, happily, it’s coming along.
Understanding how we each communicate will set the foundation for when the “real” conflict items come along (they always do), like finances, in-law issues, job relocations, child-discipline tactics or feeling taken for granted. Though hopefully we will know each other well enough for it to not become a major conflict. It takes time and practice to build good communication skills (as well as apologizing skills).
What do you argue about? Or what makes you argue?
A short while ago I wrote on Apologizing…and how I will apologize for what “I” believe is wrong….which is problematic if I didn’t see anything wrong with my action but my spouse does see something wrong with it. Or vice versa. Has that happened to anyone? Yes?
Sometimes we run into a situation where our spouse is saying “I don’t understand why that made you hurt/angry…I wouldn’t be if I was in your situation.” Maybe that stops us….or maybe that makes us even more hurt/angry. At an Anger workshop lead by Dr Gary Chapman, we learned a few principles to help sort this out.
First thing he addressed was the purpose of anger. Yes there is a purpose for it! Anger in itself is not wrong…it’s an emotion received being created in God’s image. Recall the story of Jesus overthrowing tables and kicking money changers out of the Temple. He was furious at the people who were supposed to be enabling God’s people to worship but were instead cheating them through inflated pricing and taxes. Anger comes when a sense of “right” has been violated and should serve as a catalyst or motivator to drive positive change. Probably all social reforms or humanitarian or justice organizations grew out of someone’s anger over the oppression, plight or injustices others faced. Boiling it down, anger should fuel restoration and reconciliation.
There are two types of human anger (God’s anger is always right and just): Definitive and Distorted
Definitive anger is where an actual wrong has been done as defined and derived from the principles in the Bible. It’s something that God would be angry about…things like abuse, cheating, deceit, hypocrisy, selfishness, oppression, etc. Distorted anger is where no actual wrong has been done but rather, your personal expectations/agenda/demand has not been met…things like your spouse forgot to deposit the cheque and now you have to delay buying that TV, or your spouse’s illogical reasoning is driving you nuts, or the dishes/laundry wasn’t put away the way you wanted…again, etc. This type of anger-trigger is the most common with us humans. This type of anger is born out of our selfish pride and self-centered nature…and this nature is also what keeps us from recognizing when we really have done wrong and need to apologise.
It’s a slow process, a couple steps forward and many steps back, but Skywalker and I are working on these things:
- When angry…stop to ask “What wrong has been done? Is this definitive or distorted anger?”
- If distorted…confess it as selfishness and seek apology for being angry at the other person. You can also negotiate for something to change if it really bothers you. If that doesn’t work out…accept the humanity of the other person and cover it with love, grace and acceptance.
- If definitive…lovingly point out to the other person what was wrong, if s/he repents then forgive. If s/he refuses to admit wrong then release the person for God to deal with…and release your hurt/anger to God as well. You can forgive in faith and pray for their restoration and reconciliation to God and yourself.
- Fight the urge to retaliate…”In your anger do not sin“…as that will only deepen the hold anger has on you, turning into resentment and hatred which will eat up your life.
- Do GOOD to the other person instead…recognize that you’ve probably done (or will do) the same things and as it’s God’s KINDNESS that leads us to repentance, your kindness would certainly help. =)
Imagine if we all acted less on our distorted anger and acted more on definitive anger, our marriages…heck, the world would be a different place!
…Forgiveness is NOT a feeling
It makes sense that after writing about apologies, forgiveness is next to be discussed. The two go hand in hand. And is as hard to do as apologizing. Here’s what the author, Gary Chapman, advises forgiveness IS:
- Forgiveness removes the barrier and lifts the penalty…which means we choose to never hold that failure against that person again.
- Forgiveness removes the barrier and opens possibility for the relationship to be restored and grow again.
- Forgiveness is not a feeling but a decision….decision to offer grace instead of demanding justice.
…and what forgiveness is NOT:
- Forgiveness does not destroy memory. Especially when it comes to emotional hurts, certain hair triggers can bring on a flood of memories relating to the hurt. It doesn’t mean you haven’t forgiven…it just means you’re human and have feelings. I’ve made a conscious decision that whomever I have forgiven in faith, I will choose to not let the memory of the past offense impact how I respond to them today.
- Forgiveness does not remove all consequences of wrongdoing. Hurt and damage is still done and could need paying for….but you’ve released them from your desire to see them punished by you.
- Forgiveness does not rebuild trust automatically. Loss of trust is a natural consequence…and that needs to be rebuilt starting with a genuine apology followed by a continuous demonstration of a change in behavior. With an attitude of openness and a consistent pattern of honesty, trust can be rebuilt again.
- Forgiveness does not always result in reconciliation….it brings the possibility of reconciliation if both parties are willing. If you come wanting to restore the relationship but the other person does not, release them to God and release your hurt and anger to Him. Don’t let their unwillingness to reconcile destroy your life. And of course, sometimes you should not be reconciled because the other person will continue to harm you…they need to address and be healed from their problems first.
At the end of the day, forgiveness is the only healthy response to being hurt. Even if the offender never apologizes or seeks forgiveness from you. You may have heard these quotes or quotes like these:
Unforgiveness is like drinking poison, hoping the offender dies instead.
Unforgiveness is like holding burning coals that you’d like to throw at the offender.
Forgiveness is releasing the prisoner from your cage, only to realize you have just set yourself free.
Forgiving someone isn’t for their benefit…it’s for YOUR benefit.
Speaking more personally to my first year of marriage…learning to forgive is CRITICAL to building a healthy marriage. We’ve only had “little” offenses to forgive each other on this first year, but I’m not going to kid myself that “little” hurts are all that’ll ever touch our marriage. I can also see how a bunch of unforgiven “little” offenses, swept under the rug, can one day blow up when that cherry hits the top. Genuine forgiveness is the only thing that will keep roots of bitterness from forming and choking your marriage. It’s the only thing that will tear down walls of hurt that will otherwise isolate individuals in a marriage. Forgiveness must be continuous. I’ve fought negative thoughts that I won’t forgive unless he apologizes first because I know that if I want to be forgiven by God for my shortcomings, I MUST forgive. Whether or not the other person apologizes is between them and God. Extending forgiveness is ultimately something between God and myself…when I’m finally able to apologize to Him for my hard-heart, pride and self-righteousness and receive His forgiveness, then forgiving my spouse (or anyone else) will be a natural by-product of that. If I at all think that the other person is undeserving of forgiveness, I’m already in a position of needing forgiveness. Interesting how that works.
…Apologizing is a sign of strength
This was another breakthrough moment for us in our first year of marriage. Skywalker’s actually very good at apologizing. To clarify, it’s not that I don’t apologize…certainly admitting I’m wrong is hard but I always do it when I believe I’m in the wrong. It’s that the way I apologize doesn’t get received as being sincere. So I’ve actually identified two things that affect apologies.
First, in any apology, the hearer is usually willing to accept it if they believe the apologizer is sincere. Problem is how we determine whether or not something is sincere….and this all has to do with how you were taught to apologize. In my family, you could do or say something nice as gesture of apology, or if you used words, you just say “I’m sorry.” And that’s the end of that. In Skywalker’s family you say what you’re sorry for…like “I’m sorry I reacted without getting clarification first.”
So what happened in the past for us would go something like one of these situations:
- I do something inconsiderate. Skywalker points that out. I mull over this, agree internally that it was inconsiderate, go and do something nice as a gesture of apology. Skywalker gets mad that I glossed over the inconsideration as if nothing happened by doing a nice action. I’m bewildered.
- I do something inconsiderate. Skywalker points that out. I mull over this, agree and say “I’m sorry.” Skywalker says, “You’re not sorry, you don’t even know what you’re sorry for!” So I say, “But I agree with you! I’m really sorry!” And he says, “I don’t believe you’re truly sorry.” I’m bewildered.
Anyone else know what I’m talking about??
So the author details out five languages of apology that are universal to what everyone would consider a sincere apology:
- Expressing Regret. This language appeals to the emotions. “I’m sorry I spoke harshly. I know I’ve hurt your feelings and I’m so sorry for that.”
- Accepting Responsibility. This language spells out what was done wrong. “I was wrong to speak to you in that tone. I shouldn’t have reacted like that.”
- Making Restitution. This one is all about how to make back up and usually the request will fall in line with that person’s love language. “I can’t believe I reacted that way. Please tell me what I can do to make it up to you.”
- Expressing desire to change behavior. Pretty self-explanatory. “I keep losing my temper and I know that’s not right. I don’t want to repeat this. Can you think of anything that could help make sure this doesn’t happen?”
- Requesting forgiveness. This is where forgiveness has to be requested before the apology is seen as being sincere. “I’m so sorry I spoke harshly and reacted the way I did. I know this hurts you. Will you please forgive me?”
One of these apology languages will resonate the most strongly with you (for me it’s expressing regret). And likely, a different one will resonate more strongly with your spouse (for Skywalker it’s accepting responsibility). So now, we’re learning how to apologize in each other’s languages….as well as to extend the grace in accepting an apology that didn’t come out in our prefered language.
This wasn’t in the book…but it’s something I heard decades ago (sad that I can say that)…and that is to NEVER say “I’m sorry…but…” ….even if there was wrong doing on the otherside as well. The “but” nullifies the whole apology in that you’re excusing your bad behavior on their bad behavior. You ALWAYS have a choice over your actions so you’re just responsible for owning up on your end….God will deal with your spouse separately. =)
Remember I said there were two things that affect apologies? I’ve covered the first bit pretty thoroughly but the second thing is related to how I will apologize for what “I” believe is wrong….which is problematic if I didn’t see anything wrong with my action but my spouse does see something wrong with it. Or vice versa. But that’s for another post.
So….what’s your apology language?