Yesterday I had the privilege of discussing the offensive approach to marriage. Offense by planning well, showing love through action and conversation. Today I get to give a fuller picture of the analogy as we talk about the defensive approach to marriage.
The Defensive Approach to Marriage
While we talked about LOVE being the offensive approach in marriage, the defensive approach would be MERCY and GRACE. These go hand in hand. Mercy is withholding a punishing response that is deserved, while grace is extending actions that are loving in spite of the other person not deserving it.
As in our offensive approach, the defensive approach needs to start with a good plan. Keep in mind the heart of your spouse. The person you married is most likely not ill-willed toward you. Give them the benefit of the doubt and season your response with mercy and grace. I have to confess that I am not always good at this. I can spiral into darkness quickly and not keep my husband’s best qualities in mind when he is approaching me.
Defense through mercy is the response. Think back to the last few times you’ve responded to your spouse. Did you respond gracefully, or did you respond poorly? Most of you can probably think of a time when you did not respond well to your spouse. I don’t know anyone who always responds gracefully. We are sinful by nature, and unfortunately, that nature comes out more often that we might want it to. We need Christ’s grace in our lives, and we should try and reproduce as much of the grace as we can, especially in our interactions with our spouse.
Mercy. Imagine your spouse says something that doesn’t feel very good. Maybe they aren’t being respectful of your time or your family. Maybe they forgot something important to you. How do you feel? How do you want to respond? Your nature probably tells you to lash back in some way, make them feel the pain in return. They would deserve a nasty response, wouldn’t they? Mercy is the opposite. Don’t give them the response your flesh desires. God forgave our sins by dying on the cross. We need to reenact that forgiveness with our spouse. Don’t try to get even, forgive them. This act of forgiveness will help you as much as it will help them. Forgiveness is mercy in action. Mercy is love in action.
Grace. Give your spouse your all. In the context of our relationship with God, grace is God extending blessings that we, as sinners, don’t deserve. I’d like to think that our spouses deserve our best. In your spouses worst moments is when they don’t deserve a loving response. However, we are called to give them a response that is probably not very natural feeling at first. Try being merciful by showing them grace. Extend an act of kindness. A gentle hug. Do something for them. Get them a gift. You can diffuse a negative situation quickly with this grace filled kindness and love. This goes back to being on offense and planning by understanding your spouse and the ways they prefer to be shown love.
Please be sure to understand that if you are in a dangerous or abusive place, I am not asking you to stay in that place. Get out and get help. Protect yourself. Your local church should have resources for help in this regard. It doesn’t mean divorce right away, but it does mean getting the help for you and your spouse you need while protecting your family and trying to find healing.
Thankfully, most relationships are not abusive. Though your spouse may be repeatedly act in a disappointing way, we are called to forgive, repeatedly, even for the same offense. Forgiveness is not forgetting, but pardoning your spouse for some offense. Forgiveness is not granting trust right away, but it is letting go of the feeling that your spouse owes you something. Forgiveness is an incredibly powerful concept that is beyond the limited scope of this post.
Practically speaking, if you feel personally attacked, it is great to respond with an “I feel…” statement. If you are familiar with the love and respect series by Emersen Eggerich (affiliate link), you will learn that women primarily need to feel loved while men primarily need to feel respected. The same results were found in the books by Shanti Feldman called “For Men Only” and “For Women Only (affiliate links).” After becoming familiar with this concept of love and respect, another great response we have learned to say is, “That felt unloving. Have I been disrespectful to you in some way?” (for women) or “That felt disrespectful. Have I not been loving you the way you need?” (for men). It can be a humbling approach, but it acts as a diffuser because you approach the conversation with the heart attitude, “What can I do to help?” vs. responding in a negative and defensive way or a personal attack.
When we feel like we are being accused of something or have done something wrong, an automatic response is often the fight or flight method. You feel attacked, so you want to attack back. Other personalities want to flee the situation when they are being confronted. Try and avoid these two responses.
If you are more of the “fight” person, try and first accept personal responsibility using a phrase like, “I’m sorry I did that.” You can address issues you have with the other person in a loving way, but owning your own stuff first is the best response because it breaks down the walls and shows an attitude of humility.
If you are someone who needs time to process or needs to get your anger or frustration out in another way before discussing the issue further, gracefully try and buy yourself some time. You could say something like, “I want to talk about this with you, but I want to respond in a thoughtful way, so I need a little time to think and then we can come back together to discuss it.” Try to avoid stonewalling that person by shutting them out and not allowing them to begin reconciling with you.
Now, get out there and make a plan to better your marriage through a strong offense, and defense. Go team.
More Marriage Help
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