To endure the tough times, every spouse must be equipped with the tools necessary to fix the problems that emerge in the relationship. There are all manner of these tools: effective communication skills, healthy arguing, and mutual submission to name a few. Perhaps the most important tools in the marital toolbox are “grace” and “selflessness.” Grace refers to forgiving without reservation. The Bible uses the term to refer to God forgiving people without them having to earn it. It is an act of love. Just think over the history of arguing with your spouse and reflect on how often “old arguments” have come up and extended the conflict. Or consider the times when resentment over some slight has lingered in the relationship. As time passes and these resentments accumulate, a marriage will naturally drift apart. The cure for this is simple: grace. There is an old saying about marriage: “Before you wed, look as critically at the imperfections as possible. After, do your best to ignore them.” Or better yet, do your best to forgive them, even if they don’t deserve it. Many a married man (or woman) will read the previous paragraph and find themselves saying: “Easier said than done! You don’t know my husband (or wife)!” Ultimately, forgiveness requires that the second tool comes into play. Selflessness is the primary attribute of love. One of the most popular Bible verses read at weddings is 1 Corinthians 13: “Love is patient. Love is kind… it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs…” For all of the qualities given in the chapter, there is the shared condition of selflessness. Real love cannot be about “me.” Real love focuses on the partner in the relationship. This is love that is more than just a warm feeling that fades after the honeymoon ends. It is a life direction that endures even when the marriage is just plain tough. Forgiveness is far easier when I don’t need to win every fight or get my revenge for hurt feelings. Grace is only possible when it arises from selflessness. While these two concepts may seem to be simple enough, they require commitment and hard work. The Bible goes so far as to suggest that we can only accomplish them with God’s help. At a minimum, learning to selflessly consider your partner’s needs and forgive their failings involves repeatedly committing to do so. It is hard enough that the only reason to take on the task is out of love.
Tools in the Marital Toolbox: Grace and Selflessness
4 years ago, my car broke down in the middle-of-nowhere Wyoming, stranding my 5-month pregnant wife and me at a hotel in a tiny town. After a 5-mile round trip walk to purchase a crank position sensor from the nearest auto parts store, I set out to repair my broken down Honda Civic in the hotel parking lot. Unfortunately, the repair required that I take the front of the engine off to replace the sensor. After digging through my glove compartment, I found a wrench and a screwdriver. I began working with my meager collection of tools by removing every screw and bolt that matched the phillips head screwdriver and 13 mm wrench. Unfortunately, I had reached an impasse. I walked to a nearby K-Mart and purchased a socket wrench and a couple of sockets. With my new socket wrench in hand, I removed every bolt that matched my new sockets, until I encountered a small bolt that I did not have a socket to fit. Another trip to K-Mart had me working again, until I came across a bolt that required a box end wrench. Another trip and another tool purchase. This continued for the better part of a day, until I had completed the repairs. By the fourth or fifth visit to the store the cashiers started teasing me. Eventually, it became evident that my effort to avoid purchasing an entire set of tools had cost me a great deal of time. The whole process would have been much easier had I possessed all of the tools I needed at the outset of the project. The same is true of many married couples, who start their lives together without adequate relationship tools. When trouble arises and breakdowns occur, they simply do not have the relationship tools and skills they need to fix the issue. Unresolved issues, if they become plentiful enough, can lead to larger and larger problems. Ultimately, too many problems can lead to communication breakdowns, resentments, and divorce.