My husband and I completed what may have been the most significant collaboration of our marriage–a book on marital conflict. Trust me when I assure you we’ve personally tested every idea and approach in the book. We did it contemporaneously with writing the book.
At one point, we realized we’re incredibly qualified to author such a work.
Marital conflict? We’ve been disagreeing for years. Forty-plus years, to be exact. We’re both strongly opinioned people who are not hesitant to share our thoughts. Intensely, at times. But at least no one around here can say, “Gee, I didn’t know you felt that way.”
Those moments have not dimmed the our love for one another. It’s as fierce as it’s ever been.
Recently, however, during one of those “he said, she said” conversations, I stopped to consider whether it might be time to cut one another a break now and then. The issue at the heart of the discord was insignificant; it was a matter of principle.
Or so I thought.
The Lord pulled me up short and encouraged me to examine which “principle” had placed me on my high horse, as my mom might say. “Was it love?” His Spirit inquired. “Or patience? How about selflessness or humility?”
Um. No. It was the, “I’m right, I know I’m right, and you need to know that too” principle.
It’s not in “the love chapter” (1 Corinthians 13).
I looked. Ugh.
Because God is a good, good Father, He didn’t leave me there. He brought a turn of phrase to mind. You two need to create a margin of error for one another.
What does that mean? Isn’t it a financial term? Math is my third language (apparently High Horse is #2).
I looked it up.
Here’s what I found:
Margin for (of) error:
1. an extra amount of something, such as time or money, which you allow because there might be a mistake in your calculations.
2. an amount (usually small) that is allowed for in case of miscalculation or change of circumstances.
An extra amount of something? Like humility, patience or love, perhaps? In case of a change of circumstances? Isn’t that where we live these days? At the corner of empty nest and it’s just you and me, babe?
When I consider our years together, I’m convinced we’ve beaten the odds of most who marry as teenagers. We had no clue what we were saying “I do, to” that day at the altar. And when I think about our age, while we’re certainly not old, I recognize we have a lot of stuff on our hard drive, better known as the brain. We walk into rooms without recalling why we entered. Then add in the increasingly frequent, “You never told me that!” “Oh yes, I did,” conversations recently.
So how do we fix it?
How do we inject kindness, patience, and mercy into our interactions?
Create a margin for error. We must accept there is a possibility, no matter how slight, that you said it and I didn’t hear you. Release the need to be right; send the high horse out to pasture. Refuse dogmatic positions with loved ones. Gumby up—be flexible enough to deposit a bit of extra love to smooth the path.
Here are a few tips to help create that margin for error.
- Face to face communication. Ditch the drive-by interaction with 10 assorted and unrelated topics on your way out the door, or while he’s brushing his teeth. The eye contact makes a difference in retention.
- Write it down. I’m a list maker. If it’s not on the list, I’m not responsible for it. If it’s there, it gets done. My husband doesn’t use lists, but science tells us something magic happens between the brain and the hand. We get it. It’s a done deal. Plus there’s a written record in the event you need evidence in court, “I’m sorry, your honor, I had to put him in time out. Dry cleaning pick up was definitely on the list! Please review my exhibit A!”
- Check for understanding. Ask for confirmation that you both heard and understand the details in the same way. “So, we need to leave for the airport by 4:30pm. Is that right? You’re comfortable with that?”
- Let. It. Go. I can hardly type the words without hearing the Disney darling belting it out. Let it go. It’s not my gift. Ron once said to me, “It’s not enough that I eventually just agree with you. You want me to believe that you are right!” Why is that a problem for him? I mean, I was right, right? So it shouldn’t be difficult for him to acknowledge it. Don’t you agree? And there’s the Holy Spirit, tapping His toe. I hear you.
Another definition tells us that margin is a place of safety or something that makes a particular thing possible. Like loving one another, fiercely, all the days the good Lord gives us with fewer bumps and scrapes. Or scraps.
And you know I’m right about that.
You can order your copy of Don’t Go to Bed Angry: Stay Up and Fight here.
Deb DeArmond is an expert in the fields of communication, relationship, and conflict resolution. Deb’s work focuses on marriage and family. Her books include: Related by Chance, Family by Choice (Kregel, November 2013). Abingdon Press released I Choose You Today: 31 Choices to Make Love Last (June 2015) and Don’t Go to Bed Angry: Stay Up and Fight (June 2016). http://debdearmond.com
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