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The following comes from Wallace Goddard’s series, Discoveries: Essential Truths for Relationships. To see the previous article in the series, click here.
I know a couple—two good and hard-working people. Occasionally the husband got irritated and complained that the house wasn’t clean or the children’s chores weren’t complete. Clearly he held his wife responsible. This went on for some time. Finally she got tired of being criticized and declared, “You know, you have faults, too!” The husband replied, “Yes. But they don’t bother me like yours do!”
There is the dilemma of marriage. We humans are wired to protect ourselves and assure that our own needs are met. That is our biological mandate. We complain when things are not as we want them. We grump along when we are not taken care of.
Yet happiness and closeness in marriage depend on doing the opposite. We must enter into the feelings and needs of another person. We must lose ourselves to build a marriage.
So the natural spouse—any of us unchanged by the Spirit—is an enemy to marriage.
Yet you can be “a force of Nature instead of a feverish selfish little clod of ailments and grievances complaining that the world will not devote itself to making you happy” (George Bernard Shaw).
Imagine that the husband in the story above entered the house with a different attitude. Though tired himself, he prayed to be sensitive to his wife’s weariness and overload. Imagine that he greeted family members warmly. Imagine that he asked his wife how he might help her. Or he might simply jump in with cleaning the house or helping the children. Would it make a difference?
It would make all the difference.
Rather than think of all his hard work and give himself the “Noble Husband” award and his wife the “Not Quite Good Enough” award, he could think of his wife’s challenges. He could focus on the needs around him.
Irritation—that universal reaction to a world in disarray—is an invitation. It is an invitation to help. It is an invitation to soften our hearts. It is an invitation to see the needs of others.
Rather than see our irritation as an invitation for our spouse to make us happy, we can see our irritation as an invitation to think differently about our spouses and their needs. That is the difference between self-centeredness and compassion.
Irritation is a universal problem. You do it. I do it. Everyone lets their own needs shout down the needs of others.
And every day we get to decide. Every day we choose to be “a feverish selfish little clod of ailments and grievances” or to be a disciple. The One who commanded that we love as He loves not only died for us, He also washed dirty feet, wiped away tears, and held squirmy children.
President Hinckley said it simply: “Cherish your spouse as the greatest possession of your life and treat him or her accordingly. Make it your constant goal to add to the happiness and comfort of your companion.”
It will not be long before you are assaulted by some irritation. Prepare yourself. Prepare your mind and heart to pause, to consider the needs of others in the situation. When you feel irritation tugging at your spirit, ask Heaven for inspiration: “What can I do to be a messenger for Jesus?” It will make a difference.
For a gospel perspective on marriage, read my book, Drawing Heaven into Your Marriage.