At a recent friend’s bridal shower, the guests were given a piece of paper to write down a piece of marriage advice for her. I didn’t have to think long about what I wanted to write; Ethan and I have been faithful about not saying negative things about each other to anyone for our entire relationship, and it is has greatly benefitted us.
I am not saying that it isn’t okay to go to someone trusted when you’re having an issue, seeking advice to resolve a problem. Sometimes we need the wisdom and outside perspective of a more experienced person. I also don’t think it is wrong for someone who has suffered abuse to talk about it to trusted persons as they process and heal. (And I hope it would be understood, but if you are suffering abuse of any kind at the hand of your spouse, please please seek help immediately)
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What I am talking about is the so often heard gossiping/ griping/ whining/ complaining about the annoying things your spouse does to others, for no good reason. I see it during negative conversations at parties, in snarky memes on Facebook, and in casual conversation all over: less-than-flattering visions of our spouses spread to others about nagging wives and incapable husbands.
We are all going to disappoint or annoy our spouses; this is bound to happen just because of our fallen human nature. (Thanks Adam and Eve!) But publicly broadcasting the bad qualities of our spouse doesn’t help resolve any issues stemming from them and it can injure their reputation.
What we say to others sticks with them. If you go out and have a gripe session about your husband with your girlfriends, listing off all of the bad things he does that get on your nerves (you know, he forgets to text when he is running late after work, he doesn’t wipe up the counter after using the sink, he isn’t half as patient with the kids as you are, he forgot your anniversary, etc.) they are probably going to go away focused on their negative impression of him.
Never mind the fact that the same man in question could be “failing” at these things because of years of habit, being exhausted from working long hours to provide for his family, and simply being human and having shortcomings.
You could think your spouse is the best person you know (and I hope you are blessed to be married to the best person you know!), but if you casually gripe and gossip to others about the 10% of the time they fail you, those people won’t come away remembering the 90% of wonderfulness your spouse embodies… And just as bad, it only reinforces your annoyances, letting those negative feelings grow and fester.
At the bridal shower in question, I gave the guest of honor one of my favorite books on marriage, By Love Refined: Letters to a Young Bride, by Dr. Alice VonHildebrand. (Her husband Dietrich was a famous theologian whose books are well worth reading, too!).
It is a set of wonderful fictional letters to a new Catholic bride from an older friend, helping her navigate the first year of marriage and the joys, sorrows, sacrifices, and growth that come with it. Early on, the book contains one of my favorite thoughts on your spouse that I have ever read.
The author talks to the bride about her “Tabor vision” of her husband. When Jesus was Transfigured on Mount Tabor, He revealed to those Apostles whom He loved so much His Heavenly splendor, His glorified Self.
When we fall in love with someone, they show us their Tabor self as well, their true self, their inner most thoughts and feelings that they guard from others. In our Tabor vision of our spouse we see the best of them and we easily excuse their annoying traits in light of all of the wonderful things they embody.
As time goes on this Tabor vision can easily fade, and we might dwell on the negative qualities of our spouse, more than the good.
My Tabor vision of Ethan came slowly as he shared with me the sorrows of his past, hopes and dreams for his future, his deep devotion to prayer, the Church, and the Sacraments, and things that not everyone gets to see.
He has trusted me, and been most vulnerable, sharing everything with me. This special bond should be taken seriously, and he should know that I choose to love him despite his imperfections, and to trust that I will not broadcast those to others.
There have certainly been times after an argument with Ethan that I would have loved to have run to someone and rattled off a list of my annoyances with him and what I thought he did wrong in a fight, thinking it would make me feel better. I am sure he has felt the same way about me.
But we don’t. We take a deep breath, ask for forgiveness, go to Confession, and we move on, trying to remember and focus on all of the good the other person is and does for us.
You will never regret not detracting from your spouse to others, but if you do, you won’t be able to take the words back once they are gone. Give them some grace. Remember that they are not perfect… and neither are you. Be grateful they are not sharing all of your annoying traits and habits to others. (And if they have been, make a commitment together to speak well of each other in your conversations with others.)
Pray and sacrifice for your spouse.
Stop spreading your annoyances with them to others.
Remember your Tabor vision of them, instead.
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