I’m excited to welcome four new voices here writing on the theme of Everyday Grace on the four Fridays in July!
Today, meet Jessica. My friend Dan introduced us recently, and I’m grateful. I admire the way Jessica tackles tough topics with grace, compassion and humility. Today she’s talking about marriage, communication and the practice of showing grace (and believe me, I need to listen in!).
I distinctly remember the reaction I had, while in college, reading a passage in Deborah Tannen’s I Only Say This Because I Love You. Tannen, a well-known writer and scholar on linguistics and interpersonal communication, often includes transcripts of real people’s conversations in her books, pointing out where these interactions demonstrate helpful or unhelpful patterns.
In this case, Rachel has just gotten home from work, running late, and she and Gregory are supposed to leave for a birthday celebration. She greets their cat and dog as she’s coming in the door.
RACHEL: Have they been fed?
RACHEL: Have they been fed?
RACHEL: Hi. [kiss]
GREGORY: Hi. [kiss] So it’s going to be a tight squeeze here, getting supper in and a movie and all that sort of stuff.
RACHEL: Sorry, I got sucked into an interview. I’m ready to go now.
Reading this, I was surprised that she didn’t jump on the opportunity to chastise him for not having fed their pets yet. This was immediately followed by surprise that this would be my first reaction to such an exchange.
Clearly, the model I was using as a guide for marital interactions was not a great one.
After almost nine years together, four years married, this is still something I struggle to avoid with my husband. The nagging wife / henpecked husband model driving the laugh track on many a sitcom is unfortunately the default place my brain tends to go, looking for reasons to criticize – especially if I’m feeling defensive.
If I were Rachel, I’d be on the defensive about being late, looking for an opportunity to turn it around and make it more his fault than mine: “Yeah, I’m late, but I had legitimate work stuff. But now we’re going to be even later because we have to feed the pets, which you could have done while you were waiting.”
I’m not great at giving grace to my husband.
When we think about grace and forgiveness, we often think in grandiose terms. Jesus bestowing grace on the worst of all sinners. Brothers reconciling and forgiving one another after decades of estrangement.
But grace is not just something that comes into play in the most broken, most damaged relationships. A lack of everyday grace can cause just as much damage to a relationship over time as one large act of betrayal.
This is not new advice. It comes to every engaged couple in the form of “Pick your battles.” But I’ve found that that advice can be frustratingly vague: Which battles do I pick? How do I know?
Instead, I’m working on using this mantra: “Show grace.” This doesn’t just mean I choose not to point out every thing my husband does that is wrong or annoys me. It also means that when I do bring something up, because I’m genuinely hurt or because it’s an ongoing issue, I do it in the least critical way possible, saying, “In the future, could you please…” or “That hurt me because…” rather than “You always…” or “How could you possibly…”. And when it’s resolved, I don’t dredge it up again later.
I’m still far from achieving this ideal all the time, but I think it’s one worth working toward. Showing grace to my husband each day is one of the many ways I can help our relationship be a model of God’s love in the world.
Jessica lives on the West Coast with her husband, Mike. She blogs at Faith Permeating Life, working to create thoughtful dialogue around big issues like marriage, faith, social justice, and sex.