Is there some small habit your spouse does that really irritates you? And then to make matters worse when you tell them how much it bothers you, they still do it? It can really be frustrating sometimes to live with someone under those conditions!
Well, if you find yourself in that kind of situation, here’s something Dr Gary Chapman wrote that might help you in some way. It’s from his book The Marriage You’ve Always Wanted (an updated version of his book, Toward a Growing Marriage). Gary writes:
“1 Peter 4:8 reads, ‘Love covers a multitude of sins” (NASB). If I could paraphrase the verse, I would say, ‘Love accepts many imperfections.’ Love does not demand perfection from one’s mate. There are some things that your mate either cannot or will not change. These I am calling imperfections. They may not be moral in nature but are simply things that you do not like. May I illustrate from my own marriage?
“We had been married several years before I realized that my wife was a ‘drawer opener,’ but not a ‘drawer closer.’ I do not know if I had been blinded to that fact the first three or four years or if it was a new behavior pattern for her, but at any rate it irritated me greatly.
“I did what I thought was the ‘adult’ thing to do. I confronted her with my displeasure in the matter and asked for change. The next week, I observed carefully each time I entered our apartment, but to my dismay there was no change. Each time I saw an open drawer, I fumed. Sometimes I exploded. My basic pattern was to vacillate between days of verbal explosion and days of quiet smoldering, but all the while I was furious.
“After a couple of months, I decided to use my educational expertise. I would give her a visual demonstration, along with my lecture. I went home and took everything out of the top bathroom drawer, removed the drawer, and showed her the little wheel on the bottom and how it fit into the track, and explained what a marvelous invention that was. This time, I knew that she understood how the drawer worked and how serious I was about the matter.
“The next week, I eagerly anticipated change. But no change came! For several weeks I seethed inside every time I saw an open drawer.
“Then one day, I came home to discover that our eighteen month old daughter had fallen and cut the corner of her eye on the edge of an open drawer. Karolyn had taken her to the hospital. There she had gone through the ordeal of watching the surgeon stitch up that open wound and wondering if it would leave a scar or impair vision.
“She told me the whole story, and I contained my emotions while I listened. I was proud of myself. I did not even mention the open drawer, but on the inside I was saying, I bet she’ll close those drawers now! I knew this would be the clincher. She had to change now! But she did not.
“After another week, the thought crossed my mind, ‘I don’t believe she will ever change!’ I sat down to analyze my alternatives. I wrote them down: (1) I could leave her! (2) I could be miserable every time I looked at an open drawer from now until the time I die or she dies, or (3) I could accept her as a ‘drawer opener’ and take for myself the task of closing drawers.
“As I analyzed these alternatives, I ruled out number one right away. As I looked at number two, I realized that if I were going to be miserable every time I saw an open drawer from now until I die, I would spend a great deal of my life in misery. I reasoned that the best of my alternatives was number three: accept this as one of her imperfections.
“I made my decision and went home to announce it. ‘Karolyn,’ I said, ‘you know the thing about the drawers?’ ‘Gary, please don’t bring that up again,’ she replied. ‘No,’ I said, ‘I have the answer. From now on, you don’t have to worry about it. You don’t ever have to close another drawer. I’m going to accept that as one of my jobs. Our drawer problem is over!’
“From that day to this, open drawers have never bothered me. I feel no emotion, no hostility. I simply close them. That is my job. When I get home tonight, I can guarantee the open drawers will be waiting for me. I shall close them, and all will be well.
“What am I suggesting by this illustration? That in marriage you will discover things that you do not like about your mate. It may be the way he hangs towels, squeezes toothpaste, or installs the toilet paper.
“The first course of action is to request change. (If you can change, why not do so? It’s a small matter to make your partner happy.) However, I can assure you that there are some things that your mate either cannot or will not change. This is the point at which ‘love accepts many imperfections.’ You decide where the point of acceptance will come.
“Some of you have had running battles for 20 years over things as simple as open drawers. Could this be the time to call a cease-fire and make a list of things that you will accept as imperfections? I do not want to discourage you, but your mate will never be perfect. He or she will never do everything that you desire. Your best alternative is the acceptance of love!”
We all need to remember there was only One who was and is perfect. The rest of us need grace, forgiveness and understanding. We can assure you that whatever “imperfection” your spouse has that irritates you today won’t matter much in eternity. (Please know that we’re not talking about abusive or adulterous behavior here, but rather irritations. We have other topics offered on this web site that explore those dangerous issues better than we will be able to do in this Marriage Message.)
We can also assure you that you have “imperfections” that irritates your spouse, as well. It’s just the nature of living together as husband and wife. Try to work together on irritating each other the least that is possible (to the best of your ability and to the degree that your spouse will join you), and release that which you can’t seem to change (to some degree or the other). It will drive you crazy, otherwise.
In our almost 41 years of marriage, we sure have dealt with (and are dealing with) many irritations and “imperfections” we see in each other. But we also work hard NOT to let them drive us crazy. It’s just not worth the problems it can cause in our relationship. It’s a matter of knowing when to make a point, which will help in some way, and when to drop it, because all it will do is heap additional problems onto the matter.
Lord, please help us to be dispensers of grace, rather than vessels of criticism —holding onto that which won’t matter 100 years from now. Help us to know when we are to “speak the truth in love” and when we just need to release it and let you work within the situation, and within us, as your children. And may we never lose sight of what is truly important as it pertains to Your kingdom work both outside of our home and within, and the ways in which we should participate.
Cindy and Steve Wright