The Art of Choosing Battles in Marriage

The Art of Choosing Battles in Marriage April 5, 2017

 

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On my bathroom counter, there’s a toothbrush holder (boy, I really know how to draw a reader in, eh?). It holds two purple toothbrushes. One is mine. One is Shaun’s. Please do not mock Shaun for the feminine color. We buy packs of toothbrushes and whatever color is left is whatever color you get. Besides, with all the bizarre gender confusion going on in our world, a 6’2″ manly man using a purple toothbrush shouldn’t phase you at all.

Well, it doesn’t phase me. But it does confuse me. Every morning I question which toothbrush is mine. They’re different, but only slightly, and have I mentioned my brain fog? It’s real bad in the early hours of the day. I often hold up the two brushes, blink, blink, and blink again, sigh, and bravely brush, hoping beyond hope that I chose the correct toothbrush.

I think I’m getting it right. But the grossness of the mere possibility of getting it wrong haunts me every morning. I have a desperate need (need, I tell you!) to abstain from sharing dental cleaning tools. But then there’s the very real possibility that I will accidentally share, or that Shaun will accidentally share, and if that happens?  Really, what can be done?

Contact has been made and I’ll probably die.

You’re probably thinking, Oh good grief. What’s the difference between an accidental toothbrush share and kissing?

Everything. Everything is different. Not to get into great detail, but me kissing Shaun does not entail forcing my way between his teeth, and scraping off all the day old food particles and potentially harmful bacteria that have accumulated since he brushed last. We just kiss. And the difference between kissing and the intentional removal of plaque and germs is ginormous, okay? It just is. Even if it is ginormous in a way that is mostly emotional in nature.

I’m sorry. I will move on. What I’m getting at is that living in community can be challenging. There are toothbrushes to sort. Tubes of toothpaste to roll – or not to roll. Toilet paper rolls to replace – and how to replace them. Laundry to sort and fold and put away in a manner that doesn’t provoke frustration. Deciding who gets what side of the closet and why. Where to park the cars. Where to dine out and vacation. It’s dizzying, this thing we call marriage, and all the working together in harmony it requires.

Decisions that revolve around TP and parking spaces tend to take high priority in the first few years of marriage. It’s two people coming together with two different lifestyles and making a go of it. And then typically, the wee babies come, and the petty predicaments begin to seem … well, petty. After twenty-seven years of marriage and twenty-six years of raising kids, I no longer care if TP actually gets hung on the TP dispenser. If it stays in the counter until it’s dwindled down to a cardboard tube that a grandchild will likely spend hours playing with, awesome. Nobody has ever died over a lackadaisical decision by all household members to ignore TP duty. And a child is happy with his new toy. Win-win. And who began the TP violation is irrelevant, because by the looks of the tube lying on the counter, it’s evident that we’ve all followed in the sin of another.

It’s like, but not exactly like, the verse in Romans 5 that says For by the one man’s disobedience the many were made sinners; so by the one man’s obedience, many were made righteous.

One man (or woman) can violate the TP rule and even though all have followed suit, all can be made righteous, thanks to Jesus. The trick is to rejoice in that and move on.

Marriage is a blessed arrangement, but two people can only partake of that blessedness if both are willing to eschew sweating the small stuff. Both must be willing to let petty rules go — to value a person with an eternal soul over a cleaning method for a perishable house.

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One option, if the roll of TP on the counter is bothersome, would be to spend a few seconds attaching it to the TP holder – a far better choice than causing a riff. This would fit in with our practice of the Micah 6:8 Option. Perhaps Micah 6:8 lumped in “love kindness” with “doing justice” and “walking humbly” because, though it’s fairly easy to practice one out of three of those tasks, to practice them in unison is more difficult. If we only practiced “doing justice”, we would lay down the law and when the law was broken, we’d dole out the punishment. No exceptions. But add “love kindness” and “walk humbly with God” to the mix, and the response to empty TP holders will look different. And by different, I mean Christ-like.

We are called to live in unity with one another, and after twenty-seven years of marriage, I can testify to the fact that one of the best ways to do be unified is to practice the Micah 6:8 Option. Why? Because bigger problems than twin toothbrushes and misplaced TP rolls will come in marriage. So learning to work out the small stuff will help when it comes time to work out the big stuff. Being faithful to work out the little things should not be seen as insignificant, or unworthy of our attention, because if a couple cannot unify in the small challenges of life, the bigger challenges of life will be dealt with in utter chaos.

So what gives? I’ve said to not sweat the small stuff, and to work out the small stuff. So let me clarify:

The small stuff is not what’s important. What’s important is the ability to live peaceably with one another amidst the small stuff.

A question I often ask myself in determining whether something is small, but important, or small, but not that important is:

In light of eternity, what does it matter?

Asking it helps me choose battles wisely. A good rule of thumb is, if the dirty deed isn’t hurting my spouse spiritually in some way, I let it go. I determine it is indeed a small thing, deal with the dirt, and forget about it. If the dirty deed is small, but also the result of a glaring character issue, then I try and bring up the subject respectfully, out of a love and concern for my beloved’s walk with Christ. Then there’s the stuff that is truly big, of course, which should always be brought up respectfully and lovingly, but brought up, nonetheless. Marriage is, after all, not for the sole purpose of “getting what I want out of life” or “making me happy”, as modern culture would tell me. Marriage can certainly have some sweet benefits (you know, sex, romance, someone to share burdens and laughter with, the closest kind of friendship), but it’s also very often what God uses to sanctify two people. And sanctification is a messy process.

Learning what to battle or not battle in marriage is a bit of an art, but it’s well worth the time and effort. Marriage, of course, is the picture of the Christ and the Church. And as such, it is often made the battleground of the Enemy. Add to that individual daily battles of the flesh and the world, and it’s easy for both husband and wife to feel bombarded, which often results in short tempers.

So breathe, y’all.

In light of eternity, what does it matter? 

Unless it involves accidental sharing of dental tools, probably not much.

 

 


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