Like so many other newly married couples, within a few months of our wedding ceremony, Lynne and I began to experience more conflict in our relationship. And, not unlike most other newlyweds, it didn’t take long before we both became frustrated and isolated. What we were experiencing certainly wasn’t what either of us envisioned for our marriage, and without a “Marriage Manual” to help us understand what was happening, we were stuck in a rut. Sound familiar?
All too often when couples are dating and falling in love, various characteristics and habits that tend to aggravate one person or the other are overlooked. One reason is because they are intentionally trying to meet each other’s needs and desires; therefore, overlooking those nagging dispositions and habits are easier. Most spouses discover that what they somehow believed would change after marriage, but didn’t, have become major barriers in their relationship.
It wasn't until I realized I wasn’t responsible for changing Lynne—yet I was responsible for loving her the way God intended (Ephesians 5:25-28)—that my frustrations begin to subside. Surprisingly, because Lynne also realized the same, she began to respond to my actions with more patience and understanding. While, even after 35 years of marriage, we find ourselves occasionally still trying to change something about the other, we can generally recognize what’s going on and make necessary mid-course corrections. Here are a few suggestions that seem to work for us:
Demonstrate teamwork in the home. Even though Lynne and I are better at doing certain things both inside and outside the home, neither of us are immune from sharing chores. For example, we share responsibilities like emptying the dishwasher, doing laundry, making the bed, and getting groceries. Lynne also enjoys gardening and landscaping, so who am I to tell her she can’t! Right??
Bear each other’s burdens. Galatians 6:2 tells us we are fulfilling the law of Christ when we bear each other’s burdens. While I can’t fix Lynne’s health problems, I can support her by offering comfort and encouragement during difficult days. We intentionally try to share emotional burdens, family issues and financial concerns, while at the same time doing certain things in the marriage each of us have agreed to do (Galatians 6:5).
Don’t get sucked into believing you are responsible for your spouse’s happiness, nor are they responsible for yours. Only they can experience their emotions and make decisions for themselves, and vice versa.
Extend grace when one or the other neglects to do their part. Let’s be realistic: there are times when we forget or extenuating circumstances arise that keep us from fulfilling our responsibilities. Instead of demanding justice when things don’t go as agreed, try extending grace to your spouse the way you prefer when it’s you who doesn’t fulfill your responsibilities (Matthew 7:12).
If you and your spouse have never intentionally determined what each other will be responsible for in your marriage and what you will share, I encourage you to download this Responsibility Chart and make time to complete it together. Doing so just might help you better realize you too are not responsible for your husband or wife, but you are responsible to them.