Stopping the Snowball: The Role of Respect in a Godly Marriage

Stopping the Snowball: The Role of Respect in a Godly Marriage

BY SARA TERRY

          This spring was a tough season in my marriage. My husband Ben and I have spent more time talking about our problems than having fun together, appreciating each other, and encouraging each other. Neither of us has handled these situations with the grace, patience, and humility of Christ. However, if I am honest, I know it is my actions and words that start and end these conflicts.

          In the middle of this Houston summer, I like to think that our cycle of criticism and defensiveness is like a snowball rolling down a hill.  

          Tell me if this sounds familiar: you softly criticize your sweet, but sometimes clueless husband about something relatively small. You do not intend to start anything but are just trying to express your feelings. His rather unapologetic and defensive reaction, however, seems to escalate the matter, and you find yourself frustrated.

          Then you are reminded of another recent event or series of events that, in your mind, ties to a common theme, which you express more strongly and with a less-than-kind tone. As the cycle continues, you end up drawing larger and larger conclusions, such as, “You don’t listen or care about what I am saying!” (I am rolling my eyes with you, but it happens).

          By the end, there is a large snowball, two angry spouses, a fair number of tears, and many more hurtful words and actions exchanged than either of you wanted or expected. You just wanted him to take out the trash!

          It is relatively easy to justify my actions, insisting that I have the right to express my feelings and needs.

          However, I have found that being “right” in my eyes does very little to unify my marriage. In fact, I feel more and more distant from my husband. The more I criticize, the more withdrawn he becomes.

          The “simple solution”—just be a good, always positive, never critical wife—is not really a solution at all. There must be a way to be kind and loving while also being authentic and honest.

          After reflection, I am confident there is a deeper issue at play. More than the words that come out of my mouth, I struggle to quiet the voices in my head, pointing out more and more things about Ben that I think need to be changed. Yes, my criticisms are often motivated by love, but their expression is anything but loving.

          I want him to know Christ more. I want him to be a leader in our home. I want him to have deeper community with other men. I want him to be more…you get the picture. At some point in the negativity and criticism, I have forgotten all the reasons I admire my husband, all the things about him I respect and love and have fixed my eyes on something altogether unreal and unrealistic.

          All the while, guess how my sweet husband is feeling? Let me tell you ladies, men get the picture pretty quickly. They can hear disapproval and contempt in our voices and see it in our actions before we even realize it is there. If your husband, like mine, becomes deflated or defensive when you criticize, lean in and allow me share the counter-cultural commandment God gave wives for marriage.

          Our culture today says that love should be unconditional but respect should be earned. However, we find something altogether different in God’s Word. Ephesians 5:33 says, “However, let each one of you love his wife as himself, and let the wife see that she respects her husband.”

          God put a deep desire to be respected within men, to such an extent that His primary command to wives is to respect their husbands. God, the Creator of men and women and marriage, makes clear that my unconditional respect for my husband, based not on merit but on grace, is the foundation of a godly marriage.

          When I stop expressing respect and even admiration for my husband, my marriage cannot work the way God intended. The result is devastating disunity.

          The snowball rolls down the hill when spouses, men and women alike, feel they must take by force the respect and love they desire. Put simply, when I do not trust that Ben is actively working to love me, I cry out through criticism and control. When my husband does not trust that I admire and respect him, even when he makes mistakes, he becomes discouraged and withdrawn.The snowball effect is powerful and dangerous indeed because it pushes both people into their defensive corners and keeps them from giving and receiving the love and respect they were made to desire and need.

          Ladies, here is your homework assignment: Consider what you admire and respect about your husband and express those things to him with no strings attached. I have seen tremendous results, both in my marriage and in my own heart. And the recovery of unity in my marriage is only half of the reward.

          By respecting my husband, I am exercising obedience to God, fostering discipline in my faith walk, and sharing the grace so freely given to me by Jesus on the cross. My eternal reward is stored up for me in heaven as I choose to respect my husband.

Sara Terry loves sharing stories and wisdom she picks up along the way, mostly from her wonderfully crazy college girlfriends and her sweet husband, Ben. She moved to Houston, Texas a year ago after graduating from Vanderbilt University. Her new-found passion for writing is an exercise in trust and the next in a long string of adventures with Jesus.

Sara Terry loves sharing stories and wisdom she picks up along the way, mostly from her wonderfully crazy college girlfriends and her sweet husband, Ben. She moved to Houston, Texas a year ago after graduating from Vanderbilt University. Her new-found passion for writing is an exercise in trust and the next in a long string of adventures with Jesus.

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— H.B.W.
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