Dealing With Your Differences: Do Your Part

Side view of man with woman's smiling face against his back and her arm on his shoulder
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You are headed for trouble if you focus on your spouse as the source of your problems. Your partner obviously plays a role in your marriage. But you have no control over what he or she does. You do, however, have control over what you do to keep your marriage on track. Think about what you contribute to your marriage rather than what you get out of it or what your partner does.

This means that when conflicts arise, for instance, or when you perceive your spouse as being unfair, you take the responsibility to do the most constructive thing you can do, as opposed to blaming your partner. Far too often, when people believe that their husband or wife is doing something hurtful or unfair, they feel relieved of their own responsibility to be the best spouse they can be. Don't wait for your relationship to feel as though it's 50-50. You need to hold up your end of the relationship even when you think your partner isn't doing his or her share. (The major exception to this is if there is ongoing victimization of one partner by the other. That usually calls for strong actions of a different sort.)

Take responsibility for what you say. If what you are about to say to your mate can pass the standard given to us by the apostle Paul, you are in great shape: "Let no corrupting talk come out of your mouths, but only such as is good for building up, as fits the occasion, that it may give grace to those who hear" (Ephesians 4:29).

Handling issues well sometimes comes down to an act of obedience to the Lord. You can make a choice to "edit out" your negative responses and take control of the things you say and the way you say them. Remember: Most relationships can withstand only so much negative interaction. All the nasty stuff makes it next to impossible to be naked and not ashamed. It pushes us toward the fig leaves, if not fig-leaf parkas (Genesis 2-3). Jesus Christ, the apostles, Solomon, David and many others all gave significant warnings about the destructiveness of certain ways of treating others. We will all blow it sometimes. But if you really strive to limit the "reckless words [that] pierce like a sword" (Proverbs 12:18, NIV), you will create a climate that fosters openness and closeness in your marriage.

It is important to recognize your spouse's efforts to communicate well. Your encouragement can go a long way in keeping both of your efforts on track. For example, you can give your mate positive feedback when you think he or she is trying to bring up an issue constructively. Saying little things like "It really helped me the way you brought that up" or "Thank you for taking the time to listen to what I was upset about" is doing your part to make it easier for your mate to do his or her part.

So what's your part? Here are some simple ideas that you can regularly put into practice:

• Do things that please your spouse, especially the little things he or she appreciates but that you know you do not do very often.

• When your husband or wife expresses a concern, let any negative or annoying comments bounce off you. Just let the little stuff go most of the time.

• When you have concerns of your own, bring them up without any of those little digs that might trigger your mate to become defensive.

• Take good care of yourself physically.

• Manage your own stress level.

• Be the best you can be as a person. Take responsibility for staying mentally healthy and growing spiritually.

Excerpted from A Lasting Promise: The Christian Guide to Fighting for Your Marriage by Scott Stanley, Daniel Trathen, Savanna McCain and Milt Bryan, Copyright © 2014 by Christian PREP, Inc. Used with permission from the publisher, Jossey-Bass/Wiley.

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