In the Bible’s account of the fall of man into sin, God calls Adam to account for breaking the only rule that had been given to them for living in the Garden of Eden. They had eaten of the forbidden fruit. The Bible indicates that Adam was standing right there and yet, said nothing as Eve was tempted. Adam isn’t innocent at all. He neglects his role as the spiritual leader in the family by saying nothing to correct the falsehoods in the serpent’s arguments. Adam stands by and allows everything to f all apart, then participates in the rebellion by eating the fruit. His problem is essentially passivity. God confronts him by pointedly asking: “Have you eaten from the tree that I commanded you not to eat from?” Adam’s response is characteristic of the passivity that got him there in the first place: “The woman you put here with me- she gave me some of the fruit from the tree and I ate it.” Notice what he did there: he blamed God and the woman before mentioning his own actions. It’s HER fault and YOU put her here! Eve in turn, blames the snake for tricking her. This exchange has essentially turned into a template for unhealthy marital interactions. Many an argument between spouses gets stuck in finger-pointing. One or both partners works to pin responsibility for some injustice onto the other. Accepting responsibility is difficult and it’s usually a poor tactic for winning a fight. Often, the best tactic appears to be either denying guilt or justifying behavior.
Denying guilt is easy to understand. If Adam had simply said: “I didn’t do anything,” it would be denying. Arguing results in heated emotions that can prevent individuals from recognizing their own culpability or even recognizing that a fight has moved well past the point of making sense. Sometimes arguments perpetuate because one or both spouses are angry and simply want the satisfaction of forcing their partner to take responsibility for the fight.
What we saw Adam actually do is justify his behavior. He explains why he was less guilty than everyone else in the room. This is generally seen in arguments when in individual is called out for a particular wrong, and simply responds by saying something to the effect of: “I had to ______, because you ______” or “you started it.” What it comes down to is the person making the argument acknowledges that they did do what they are being accused of doing, but they had to do it because of some outside force that is really at fault for their actions.
Neither denying responsibility nor justifying behavior is a productive response to conflict. They do not help the couple come to a solution that will strengthen the marriage in the long run or do anything but perpetuate bad feelings and/or arguing.
The solution is to simply learn to accept responsibility. Sometimes this means taking a few deep breaths, reigning in the emotions, and being open to accepting blame. This may feel like the equivalent of throwing down your rifle in the middle of a battlefield, but if that’s the case, perhaps it would be valuable to ask if a raging battlefield is how you want your marriage to be. Another potential objection to this solution is that “my wife/husband wouldn’t do this, so why should I.” Ultimately, we can only effect change in our own behavior. We can implore change in our spouse, but we cannot make them act differently. The final guideline is not to take a victim stance, but rather to genuinely accept responsibility, apologize, and strive to communicate in a healthy way. The simple statements: “You’re right. I shouldn’t have done that. I’m sorry” are a silver bullet to salve hurt feelings and end many fights. This is particularly important for husbands, who have a spiritual responsibility to lead their marriage through serving their wife and helping her to grow spiritually. Regular bickering and dirty fighting does little more than burn relationship credibility. Husbands need to put effort into building the credibility that is needed to lead their family. Biblical leadership is accomplished through service, not authoritarian rule. Husbands must focus on the big picture of the marital relationship, rather than getting mired in a win-this-fight-at-all-costs mentality.