Your spouse understands where you can improve better than anyone else—perhaps even better than you!
“Honey, the kids’ bikes are out in the yard again … and there’s a storm rolling in!” my husband said. I tried not to roll my eyes as I sent the kids to gather their bikes and put them in the garage. I do have a bad habit of letting the kids leave their bikes in the backyard, and it drives my husband crazy.
Do you have these kinds of small disagreements in your marriage, too? I think most of us do. When you’re married and living in such close quarters with another person, the tiniest differences seem to be under a magnifying glass.
We all have those moments of contention, over issues large and small. Most of the time, these disputes seem to be nothing but little annoyances, pinpricks in the fabric of life. We gloss over them and ignore them. But what if the disagreements we have with our spouses could actually help us become better people?
I don’t just mean that marital discord is an opportunity to practice patience and so on, although that’s certainly the case. No, I am proposing that these occasions of disagreement can unlock a path to spiritual growth.
Hear me out.
Nobody in the world knows you better than your spouse. Nobody else has such a front-row seat to your virtues and vices. That means that your spouse understands where you could stand to improve better than anyone else—perhaps even better than you realize yourself.
If you pay attention to the things your spouse complains about, you might start to see that they’re part of a bigger picture. Those little disagreements might reveal your temptation to sloth or anger or pride. Taken together, all those little things you do that bother your spouse can be a kind of road map for how to improve yourself.
Trying to improve at those things is not only a way to conquer your vices but also to show love for your spouse and family. It’s worth giving thought and attention to these marriage disagreements when they arise. (Of course, none of this applies in cases of abuse, but simply in healthy, happy marriages where the two spouses are naturally imperfect.)
The next time your spouse complains about something you did, try taking a different approach. Instead of ignoring the comment, or bridling up with irritation at being criticized, listen carefully to your spouse’s words. Is this an area where you could stand to improve?
Perhaps it doesn’t seem like a big deal to you. Why bother to make such a tiny and unimportant change? But clearly it’s important to your spouse, important enough for them to mention to you. That alone is a reason to try to change for the better, if only out of love for them, even if it seems like an insignificant complaint to you.
Sometimes it might seem that there are few opportunities to grow in holiness as a married person living in the world. We look at saints like Mother Teresa or Father Damien of Molokai, who went out into risky situations to help the most vulnerable people. It might seem like our easy, comfortable lives don’t have nearly the same potential for spiritual growth.
That’s exactly why this approach of listening to and learning from your spouse is so important. It’s a built-in way to grow in holiness, right where God has planted us in the midst of the world. Your spouse knows you so well, and in most cases, their concerns about your actions are valid and worth respecting.
So the next time your spouse complains that you, say, left the kids’ bikes lying all over the backyard, make a note that this is an area where you could improve, and form a resolution to do better next time. It’s worth a try, right?