The Marriage Death Spiral
Husbands, love your wives, and do not be harsh with them. Colossians 3:19
In the entryway to our home, my wife has placed a little “Welcome to Our Home” sign. It’s right next to the key hooks and catchall tray, but for some reason, I frequently plop my keys and other stuff right down on her sign, often displacing it. She gently pointed this out recently, asking me to use the key hooks and catchall, leaving her sign alone. It was a reasonable request, but last night when I got home, I couldn’t help but pile my stuff on the sign. I thought it was funny, but as is often the case – You think you’re funny but you’re not.
I cleaned it up and it was over. There was a time though when that could have gone downhill. We’re better at it now, but sometimes we can still be contentious in a way that starts out small but then descends into something worse. I might say something unkind, thinking I’m funny, which evokes a mean response. Then, hurt, I respond poorly, taking it a step further. If uninterrupted, this can lead to a major conflict that can last for days, weeks, or months.
In my head, I’ve always thought of this as the marriage death spiral. Two people, who can’t even remember how it started, find themselves locked into a contentious posture towards each other and cannot get out. Both feel justified and neither is willing to stop and break the cycle. Some, it seems, have an entire marriage built on this combative foundation. So, they simply bicker back and forth, with never a kind word or action. Any observer would say they’re not in love. Rather, it looks like they despise each other.
In today’s passage, Paul provided the out. In it, he told men, Love your wives, and do not be harsh with them. Though unmarried himself, he understood the nature of men and told them to be something different. Instead of being unkind, men must choose to be compassionate. Instead of mean and funny, men must make a continual choice to be loving and supportive.
This is really the only way out of the death spiral – to stop feeling justified and to simply be kind. Paul’s command wasn’t conditional. He didn’t say that we should love our spouses only when they do what we want. That’s often the problem. We feel justified because our spouse hasn’t filled our needs. Responding harshly though, only perpetuates the downward spiral. If we want the kind of marriage for which God made us, we must daily choose to be loving and kind – even when we think we’re justified, or we’re just trying to be funny.