I started this piece intending to do something I’ve never hazarded before—offer advice about marriage. But I changed my mind, sort of; I have lengthened my reach.
First, I have no expertise in marriage. Far from it. After 21 years of experience, I still know almost nothing about the topic. Second, through my many mistakes, I’ve stumbled upon a triad of tips that I’m convinced will increase goodwill in any marriage but will also improve harmony with everyone in your life—spouse, children, siblings, friends, etc.
There’s a reason these tips will make a difference for you, married or not. Christian ambassadors are on duty 24/7 with every person they encounter. Arguably, the most powerful tactic to increase your influence is good old-fashioned kindness. That’s why Peter tells us to defend the faith “with gentleness and reverence” (1 Pet. 3:15).
Common kindness takes many forms, but I’ll limit my focus to three principles since a triplet is simple to keep track of. Plus, it’s personal for me. These are the ones I’m focusing on—for a long season, I suspect—so I can be a better husband, father, friend, and ambassador. There are two “don’ts” and one “do.”
Don’t Pick at Small Stuff
Here’s the first one: Don’t pick at small stuff. Relationships—especially close ones like marriages—are delicate things, easily bruised. There are enough weighty issues to confront. Don’t waste effort on inconsequentials. It’s not worth it. It’s a terrible habit of mine, and I need to constantly repress the impulse to correct trivial mistakes.
If your wife says, for example, “That gray car rolled right through that stop sign,” don’t tell her it wasn’t gray, but brown. If your husband refers to your cat as “he,” and it’s female, don’t take issue (cat gender is meaningless to men). If your kid says you’re driving 85, don’t say you were only going 82. It’s still speeding. You get my point.
Sure, sometimes precision is important, but in mundane matters, it generally isn’t. Usually, perfect accuracy is not critical, so let it go. Don’t draw attention to the mistake. Petty corrections create a negative environment that can launch useless squabbles.
Solomon said to abandon a quarrel before it breaks out (Prov. 17:14). That’s good advice. Every time you have an urge to correct someone, ask, “Is that actually necessary? Will it really matter? Does it change anything significant?” If not, don’t do it.
Most menial corrections are small darts that don’t draw much blood. Never mind. Little wounds add up and slowly degrade relationships. It’s not gracious to correct someone for no good reason. Don’t sweat the small stuff. It’s unkind.
Here’s the next one: Don’t retaliate. Our strongest instinct is for self-preservation, so it’s natural to lash back when we feel threatened. But this is precisely what we are not allowed to do. At least five Scripture passages forbid it.*
Of course, committed Christians don’t blatantly return evil for evil, especially in close relationships; we implement our reprisals in subtler ways. To be painfully candid, on self-examination I have realized that virtually every device my seasoned Christian heart devises to respond to hurt is a cleverly disguised, subtle attempt at retaliation.
There is a better solution. Bless instead. Overcome evil with good. That is not an easy alternative, but I read this sage advice once a week to remind me of its wisdom:
When you decide to return good for evil, you’re choosing to stop yanking on the rope of conflict and making the knot so tight it can never be untied. By simply dropping your end of the cord, you loosen the tension and preserve the possibility that the still-loose knot might somehow be untangled by the two of you. [Paraphrased from Lee Strobel’s Outrageous Claims.]
Simply put, don’t tighten the knot. Bless, do not curse. Measure your own motives when you react to hurt. Is your response a true blessing or a clever retaliation in disguise? Let David’s prayer be yours: “Search me, O God, and know my heart; try me and know my anxious thoughts; and see if there be any hurtful way in me” Ps. 139:23–24.
Finally, show gratitude. Lots of it. Paul Tripp wrote that lasting joy is the product of constant gratitude. There is a special grace in being grateful, in simply saying to those close to you, “Thank you. I appreciate that. You did a good job.”
The simplest way to develop gratitude is to express gratefulness, so be alert for every opportunity to show appreciation to others for what they have done. Catch them doing something right. Find the good and fuss over it. “If there is any excellence and if anything worthy of praise,” Paul said, “dwell on these things” (Phil 4:8).
When I was a kid, my dad had us all thank Mom after dinner for the meal she’d cooked. Soon, it became a habit for us. Now, at the end of each day, I take a knee by my bed and quietly thank God for the good—and the bad—He’s given me that day. As Paul put it, “In everything give thanks” (1 Thess. 5:18).
Being grateful is a virtue. It is a kindness returned. Ingratitude, however, is an ugly vice and robs both giver and receiver.
So here’s the simple formula: One, stop finding fault in little things. Two, don’t return evil for evil. Three, be lavish with your gratitude. Not too complicated, and it will improve every one of your relationships, especially your marriage.
*Rom. 12:14–19; 1 Pet. 3:9; 1 Thess. 5:15; Prov. 20:22, 24:29