Your relationship with your husband or wife is the most valuable and powerful relationship you will ever have. Nothing has more potential and force than a husband and wife living out of a deep love for each other in a blessed and purpose-filled marriage. Marriage should be your place of safety, hope, recovery, fun, energy, strength, and faith. Together, you should be building memories, chasing down dreams, and growing and learning as your family develops underneath and all around the two of you. I know my marriage is just that, but marriage is a place of strain, mistrust, deep hurt, and lost hope for some. Many couples aren’t entirely on the rocks, but they do face what is considered an uphill battle to experience the full blessing of what marriage is supposed to be. It’s not that couples set out to make it difficult for one another, but rather, that they do inherently expect it to be complicated. Is there ever a wedding reception without some or other misplaced joke about how difficult it will be? And so, when it does get tricky, many will just accept that that is how it is supposed to be. But, in time, a constant battle can develop into pain that is difficult to heal and lasting unforgiveness.

In the months after we got married, we enjoyed the fun of moving into a new home, going out together almost every night, and of passionately discovering each other in our newfound roles of being husband and wife. But we also fought and held grudges and gave each other the kind of silent treatment that would last a week or two or three. Mainly because we couldn’t agree on finances, which washing machine to buy, or how to hang the towels correctly. Since then, we’ve matured, and today we resolve our disagreements sooner and with much less effort than before. Of course, we still fight and disagree on many things, but making up is easier now, and it doesn’t take nearly as long as it used to. As a result, we’ve come to fully experience our marriage as a blessing. It’s hard to pinpoint what we actually fight about, but that’s precisely the point; it is never a question of what we are fighting about, but of why we are fighting. And the why is almost always up to us and not our spouses.

Here are two things we discovered and started practicing that transformed how we work something out.

Trust

The first thing we learned about ourselves is that we both have the same desires and goals in mind and at heart. It’s just that sometimes we like to get to the same place in entirely different ways. For example, Bernadien and I work in the same office, but we always drive a different route to the same place. Often when I ride with her, I am tempted to say, “rather ride this way,” and she is just as likely to criticize my route to work. In the end, it really doesn’t matter which way we drive, even if one way takes a whole 30 seconds longer. What does matter, though, is that we both show up! When it comes to making big decisions, it is just as important that both of you show up. So often, couples will get stuck endlessly debating the route instead of getting there. Figuring out the ‘how’ comes later, but first, affirm and confirm that you both want the same outcome. To clearly define that outcome is 80% of the work.

An example of an ‘outcome’ is that you both want to spend more quality time together, and the ‘how’ would be figuring out which nights to cut out of your schedules. If you both agree on the outcome, one person can decide that he trusts the other person’s ‘how’ and doesn’t mind giving up his own way. Another option would be to mix it up and weave two different routes together! Or, because two people are so different, you could trust each other to get there in two different ways.

When two people can agree to show up in a safe and secure place after choosing two different routes, they each demonstrate their own strength, but also the faith they have in each other. For example, when Maria Goff is asked where Bob is, she might reply, “I don’t know… but he’ll be home for dinner at six.” Bob and Maria Goff are demonstrating that it’s good to have the trust and faith in each other to go ahead and enjoy their days in their own different ways without constantly checking up and checking in. Still, Maria knows without a doubt that Bob will be home for dinner at 6. He has promised to always show up, and she has promised to always be ready and waiting for him.

To Reconcile is Better than to Forgive

Inevitably, one of you is going to get hurt. Sometimes we hit a nerve by accident, and sometimes we poke, prod, and drive on purpose. When pain has been dished up, the ‘why’ no longer matters. What matters now is that someone has been hurt and needs to heal. Contrary to popular belief, healing does not happen through forgiveness. Recovery can only take place when there has been a reconciliation. So often, metaphorically speaking, one of the two is battered to the ground in a series of arguments and sharp-witted accusations and insults. There, beaten down and crying, that person is then expected to forgive and forget so that it will all be over and back to normal. But it never is; the wounded don’t forget the pain regardless of their ability to forgive. Forgiveness is most often just the bandage that covers the wound. It puts the pain out of sight and out of mind. But a wound that never heals is only bumped and scratched over and over again. The wounded are often forced to forgive 70×7 times and then again. But genuine reconciliation needs only to happen once.

Reconciliation happens when the person in the wrong takes complete ownership of the pain they caused, whether on purpose or by accident. It is the act of recognizing the pain you have caused in someone else. You can’t make it all go away or return things back to normal but can recognize it and acknowledge it. To reconcile is a brave and vulnerable act that requires faith and trust in both partners. Here’s how I would reconcile if I had hurt someone else’s feelings. “Jane, I recognize that when I said what I said, I made you feel small and unimportant. I was only thinking about how I looked in front of my friends, and yes, I did place their feelings above yours. I know that I did not look out for you when you needed me to, and quite frankly, I was being selfish. Are there any other ways I might have hurt you?”

According to Barry and Lori Byrne from Nothing Hidden Ministries, when reconciling, we need to own our actions say what we have done to hurt our spouses without justifying or explaining our actions. Instead, simply acknowledge the pain, no if only’s and no buts. To me, this was the most powerful tool I learned from their Love after Marriage Workshop.

Meaningful, heartfelt reconciliation has the power to dissolve anger and build trust. It invites real forgiveness. Above all, it communicates, “I hear you, I feel you, and I care deeply about you! I am going to fix what I broke so that you never have to feel that away again.”

May your marriage experience profound new heights of trust, restoration, and reconciliation!

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