Many couples say that the bedroom is the one room in the house where most of the arguments take place. But in our marriage, the room where tension boils over (at least, on my part!) is the kitchen. In the early months of married life, I struggled with my new responsibility of kitchen duties, not because I disliked cooking, but because it reinforced the foreign idea that I am a wife, a wife responsible for her domestic domain. I had never done this before, and I didn’t know how it worked.
It was a rocky transition at first. I would get irritated if my husband sat at the table and talked to me while I was busy getting dinner on the table, and I expected him to thank me for my time and energy that I’d just poured into our meal. My husband, to his great credit, always tries to pitch in by doing the dishes or setting the table, and he is usually very appreciative of me for making our meals. But my patience wears thin when I ask him to do something “simple” like stirring the pot to keep it from cooling or cleaning a countertop, and he asks me so many questions about how to do it right that I end up doing it myself. I’ve had to realize that he’s not trying to be difficult, he just honestly has no cooking abilities beyond the microwave.
I’d like to think that I’ve made some progress, and traded in my resentful attitude for the attitude of a servant. Don’t I want to bless and serve my husband? He does plenty of work in our house and takes care of many other things for the two of us, and I enjoy cooking, after all.
But this morning I was tested. It was 6AM, and the alarm went off for Zach to get ready for work. Since I start work later than he does, I usually ignore his alarm and go back to sleep. He is used to grabbing cereal on his way out the door. But this time, I decided to rise and shine. I decided that while Zach was in the shower, I would make him a nice, big breakfast. I heated up the skillet, threw on some bacon and eggs, and started tackling our pile of dishes in the sink.
By the time Zach came downstairs, half the dishes were done and a hot breakfast was waiting for him on the table. He greeted me good morning, sat down, and started to eat. Feeling good about myself, I waited for the “thank you.” And waited some more.
Then I had to give myself a pep talk, standing at the kitchen sink. Ridiculous, I told myself, that I should receive an award every time I do something for my husband. If that’s how I thought marriage worked, then I needed a wakeup call. I can’t spend all my time keeping tally of how many times I go out of my way for him, and whether or not he “owes” me a thank-you or something in return. Marriage is about mutual sacrifice, endless self-giving without thought of return, and I wanted to demonstrate that.
I knew I had a choice: I could either communicate to Zach that I wished he had told me “thank you” and let him know I was disappointed, or I could keep it to myself and dismiss it as a petty issue not worth confronting. I knew this was the loving thing to do. So I kept my mouth shut, and kissed him goodbye as he went off to work.
In preparation for marriage, I always wondered about two seemingly conflicting pieces of advice: that communication is critical to a marriage, and that a marriage is strengthened by learning to just let things go when your spouse frustrates/offends you.
On one hand, everyone will tell you that a marriage that lacks good communication will suffer. A husband and wife are a team, and the two of you need to talk about your relationship, your lifestyle, future goals, challenges you are facing, etc. You also need to be able to communicate in the midst of an argument, by discussing your differences of opinion honestly and respectfully. This is positive communication, even during a disagreement. And sometimes, I do think certain situations require us to confront our spouse, lovingly and respectfully, if it will benefit him/her and the marriage.
On the other hand, is it beneficial or detrimental to your marriage to drag every little misstep or frustration into discussion with your spouse? Learning to let these offenses go will save you both relational tension. You have to choose your battles, and decide the difference between a major issue and a minor one. Some are not worth the fight.
There is a fine line between communicating well and wisely choosing at times not to communicate. As the wisest man in the world said in Ecclesiastes, “For everything there is a season, and a time for every matter under heaven…a time to keep silence and a time to speak” (Eccl. 3;1,7b).
But as I stood at the sink this morning, feeling disappointed, I discovered where that fine line is drawn. It runs split down the center of two questions: will this benefit my husband and my marriage? Or will this benefit myself? The answer was obvious. I knew I would only be bringing it up to get it off my chest, make myself feel appreciated, and it would make my husband, who is usually very appreciative of me, feel like he had failed.
Ephesians 4:29 gives a helpful indicator as to when we are to speak and remain silent, “Let no corrupting talk come out of your mouths, but only such as is good for building up, as fits the occasion, that it may give grace to those who hear.” So when we find ourselves angry, frustrated, or hurt by our spouse, we can put our motives to the test by asking ourselves, if I confront my husband/wife on this issue, will I be speaking out of anger or will I be speaking out of grace? Is this a recurring incident that may require a discussion or is this a rare incident that I can overlook and put behind us? And most of all, will my words build up my spouse and our marriage, or break it down?
If you can pause for a moment to ask yourself these questions, you may reach a turning point in your marriage. It may make the difference between building and breaking your marriage, or in my case, between a good morning and a petty argument over spoiled eggs.