When creating these “marriage situation” blog posts, sometimes what begins in our minds as a clear concise topic ends up morphing into a multifaceted jumble of vaguely associated issues. A run away blog post, if you will : ) Tuesday morning, as Paul and I were planning what to write, it quickly became apparent that our “hangry and hormonal” topic was one of these difficult-to-harness posts. Our answers could go in so many different directions. We could talk about forgiveness, we could examine pride, we could discuss communication strategies, we could make the case for sacrificial service, or we could even give the breakdown of the fastest acting granola bars when “hanger” strikes. As we pondered our options, we decided to go the very practical route (which is our MO, after all.) In order show that practicality for the specific issues of “hanger” and hormones, we wanted to first provide the biblical background for how we make our decisions. So this post will be a little more “teachy” and the next one will show some practical application. Ok? Clear as mud? Great!
So, what’s the first step?
So, you’ve just walked into your kitchen and discovered a spouse acting remarkably snippy, angry, depressed, sarcastic, unkind, moody etc. Before anything else, pause for a second and remember that your spouse lives in a broken world and is always fighting the curse of sin. We tend to forget this. Well, we forget it for others. When it comes to our own life, we are remarkably skilled at seeing the world’s general brokeness. We suffered through bad weather (without an umbrella!), traffic jams (when late!), ornery co-workers (with deadlines looming!), an honest mistake (that I should have known!), destructive toddlers (who never sleep!), unexpected bills, sad news from a friend, a broken dishwasher, and, and, and…the list goes on and on. Nothing earth-shattering (we’re not drama queens), but most days we realize, over and over, that life is not a walk in the park. So why don’t we remember that our spouse faced a broken world today too? A day that might be even further complicated by some physical impairment, genetically hard-wired into them? Say, a monthly menstrual cycle or fluctuating blood sugar?
So if you enter a situation where you spouse is sinning, stop and ask yourself if their world is unusually difficult/broken at the moment. By doing this you aren’t excusing their sin, rather, you are trying to understand why they seem to be struggling so much in this moment. After eleven years, I can recognize the signs of hanger if I look for them, and Paul can usually figure out if I’m PMSing if he’s thinking about it. But even if you can’t find some specific thing, ask God to help you take the focus off yourself, “put on [a] compassionate heart” (Col 3:12), and mentally prepare to show extra grace while responding to them (the same compassion and grace that God daily shows us, right? : )
Ok, then what?
Deep breath now, we’re heading into the battle zone. Once you begin to interact with your spouse and see the sin that’s ruling them and ensnaring them, you have to make another decision. In our marriage, Paul and I have broken the choices down into two basic categories. Well, the third and fourth categories are called “flip out and describe, in great detail, just how ridiculous they are acting” and “high-tail it outta there and return when the dust has settled,” but we figured you might have the basics of those actions already down already ;) So we’ll just move on to two biblical responses: to cover the sin or to confront the sin.
Confronting sin and covering sin seem to be on opposite ends of the response spectrum. But biblically speaking, they have one striking similarity. Both should be born of and done with love and kindness. 1 Peter 4:8 states “love each other deeply, because love covers a multitude of sins” and Galatians 6:1 states “if anyone is caught in any transgression, you who are spiritual should restore him in a spirit of gentleness.” It seems completely unrealistic, but given the ideological context of these verses, it appears that God expects you to act in grace toward the spouse who is sinning against you. Consider the verses about showing kindness to your enemies (Luke 6:27) or how love bears all things (1 Cor 13:4–7). How is it even possible to be nice someone who is hurting you? Well, it’s certainly not going to get done in our own strength. Rather, it requires an immediate one-on-one with God. Paul Tripp states it this way,
“Forgiveness begins by giving your offense to the Lord. This does not mean that you act as if something wrong is right. It means that you do not carry the wrong with you (bitterness) and that you do not treat the other person in light of the wrong (judgment). You entrust yourself to God’s mercy and justice, and you give yourself to overcoming evil with good.”
Once you’ve given the offense to God, loving your spouse means that you stop protecting and defending yourself and start caring for them instead. You stop being concerned with your feelings and start being concerned for their hearts. You can do this because God is good. He brought you into this situation and he knows that it has the potential to make you more like Jesus. It’s true! A moment of conflict can be a transformational moment if you learn to trust God more than you seek to protect yourself. (Just to clarify, we realize that there are situations when a spouse’s sin might be so extreme as to require immediate action such as leaving them and seeking help elsewhere. In that case, the loving thing to do is remove yourself and your children from a dangerous situation.)
Cover sin…with a blanket of love
What does “covering sin” even mean? At first glance, it seems as though the bible is telling us to overlook, or ignore, sin. And whoa! We aren’t real keen on doing that. What husband hasn’t thought, at least when he finally catches on to the pattern, “wow, she’s PMSing again. Every month it’s the same thing. How long am I supposed to put up with this!?” What wife hasn’t wondered, “What in the world! Why is he acting like such a baby? Why can’t he snap out of this and take care of himself!?” Is God commanding us to just put up with their sin? That can’t be right!
When the apostle Peter wrote “love covers a multitude of sins” he was obviously implying that there would be alot of sin to cover. As in, lots and lots, over and over kind of sins. In our “hangry” and “hormonal” scenarios, both Paul and I were sinning in ways that, sadly, weren’t new. Those types of sinful actions pop up on a regular (one might even say, monthly) basis. And guess what? We already know that they are sinful! I know that wild accusations, anger and snippy comments are wrong and Paul knows that moodiness, despondency and snarkiness are wrong. In fact, though I can’t speak for Paul, about halfway through my PMS rant I already hear the Holy Spirit gently chiding me. And many times I end up asking for forgiveness an hour (a day?) later because of his persistence. And here is where the “covering” comes to play. Even though Paul knows that my anger is clearly breaking one of God’s commands, he often decides not to confront me about it. He can do this because in the past he has seen the Holy Spirit work in this area of my life. He knows that I am fighting (sometimes still losing) this battle. So in the moment of sin Paul chooses to “cover” the sin and offer undeserved love instead of taking offense.
To be clear, covering the sin doesn’t mean ignoring it. No, we are called to takes that sin, and the hurt it caused, to God. Once entrusted to God, we are free to respond to sin with love, patience and grace. I call this action “absorbing the hurt.” Sometimes you just don’t need to point out the sin. Sometimes you just take the hurt and return with grace for it. Makes no sense from a judicial point of view (I mean, it’s like choosing to lose!) but then, we have a judge who is more than capable of convicting and changing our spouses. Sometimes we aren’t called to say anything.
Time for a little confrontation baby!!
Now, onto confrontation. (You’re all like, “Whoo-hoo! Now we’re talking! Forget all that covering stuff. That’s for wimps!” : ) I’ll admit that the thought of laying all of Paul’s faults out in front of him sometimes seems enticing. Like, rub my hands together and cackle, enticing. But biblical confrontation is a tricky business. Honestly, most of the “confronting” that we do is motivated by a selfish desire to increase our own comfort (“don’t ever do that to me again!”) and not about our spouse’s spiritual health. This is why many “confrontations” devolve into nothing more than a big ol’ shame fest where we simply try to make our spouse feel really, really, really awful about that thing that he did so that he will never, ever, ever do it again. There is little grace involved and even less compassion.
So before you bring up any of your spouses’ faults, make sure that your confronting flows from love. Things like fear, bitterness, anger and a sense of injustice shouldn’t be the motivation for discussing a spouse’s sin. If you can’t talk to him in the moment because you’re struggling with anger, wait and pray for a calmer attitude. Remember that you are a vital part of God’s “search and rescue” team, not a “search and destroy” team. Your goal is for your spouse to recognize the Holy Spirit’s conviction, make the choice to turn away from their sin and back to God. You want them to stop believing whatever lie has ensnared them (I Tim 6:9). You want to be an agent of rescue (James 5:19-20).
Ask yourself these questions, “Does my spouse know about this sin? Do they normally ask for forgiveness later? Have I seen growth in this area as evidence of the Holy Spirit working in their life?” Now, they may not be to the level of spiritual maturity that you’d like (read, “would make your life easier”), but if you see change and you know that they are aware of their sin, it might be best to cover the sin rather than bring it up. (If nothing else, sometimes you should make sure to encourage them when you see improvement! What a novel thought!)
But if this sin is habitual and your spouse doesn’t seem aware of it, or if it is new and rather alarming, the loving thing for you to do is gently point it out (Gal 6:1, Matt 18:15). Who else will? Not only are you married to them, you are their friend, spiritual sibling, and co-laborer! Think of all the proverbs about friends confronting friends (Prov 27:6, Prov 27:17) or the commands for one brother to confront another in the church (James 5:19). A wife is supposed to be a strong helper. What kind of helper fails to point out flaws? A husband is supposed to be a spiritual leader. What leader ignores a wounded follower? This is your calling; to look out for your spouse and care for his or her spiritual needs. Not always very pleasant. Not easy for you to do with the right attitude. Paul Tripp observes,
“Husbands, it is not spiritually helpful for you, or loving toward you wife, to act as though what is not okay is okay. Wives, it is not good for you or kind to your husband to act as if a sin committed against you is all right. The Bible nowehere calls us to grin and bear it for the sake of the relationship. In fact, I am persuaded that our silence in the face of wrong is not motivated by a desire to love the other well but by not wanting to hassle through the difficult process of kind and loving confrontation.”
Lastly, if up to this point you haven’t been practicing biblical (kind, gentle, other’s focused) confrontation, don’t be discouraged if your spouse doesn’t respond well to your amended attempts. If they are used to be accused, berated etc, it’s likely that their habitual response will be defensiveness. If you’ve sown the bad seed of confronting in anger you’ll have to wait a little while. Both for the bad fruit to die off and the new fruit of correct confrontation to appear. But don’t be weary in doing what’s right! In due season you will reap a better harvest! (Gal 6:9)
Phew, I’m exhausted just reading all this!
I warned you that this was a more complicated situation than some of our other topics. If not handled correctly, its one of those issues that can derail a marriage. Habitually handling your spouse’s sin (especially those sins affected by physical limitations like lack of sleep, lack of food, illness, hormones, etc.) the wrong way will lead to all kinds of problems – some loud and obvious, some just subtly destructive. And you’re supposed to make all these decisions quickly! As in, just after walking into the kitchen and feeling the blast of your spouse’s frustration! For split second decisions to be consistently biblical requires practice. So over and over and over you have to practice loving your spouse in a moment when they are hurting you. What that love looks like might change, but your love for them shouldn’t.
So this was all the deep, theological answer. Our next post, the one you really want to read, is about how we’ve learned to handle Paul’s “hanger” and my hormone specifically : ) It’s the practical application. It will be funny and light-hearted. Paul plans to give some survival tips for men dealing with PMS, which should be….amusing to say the least. I’ll make sure to check his answers before posting them so that women everywhere won’t want to burn him in effigy after reading them : )
Anyway, stay tuned. Thanks for hanging in there with us. We hope and pray that what we write is helpful to you!