So how should I respond to Paul’s “love fail”? And how should I deal with Liz’s disappointment?
While a more sanctified person would gently smile and think “well, it is the thought that counts” I found that much harder to do while staring at a grease-stained dress. But realistically speaking, this type of situation will happen often within a marriage. For example, when Paul first told me that he would “clean the kitchen” I later discovered that his definition of “clean” and my definition were…dissimilar. In my case, I used to proof-read Paul’s papers for seminary. That is, I did this until Paul discovered that I have an uncanny ability to miss salient grammatical errors. In general, if two people want to show love to each other (a good thing!) there will be those times when the attempt ends badly.
As the person on the receiving end, there is once again going to be alot of talking to yourself rather than listening to yourself. Though possibly fuming on the inside, resist the urge to chide, vent or lecture (or is that just me who has that urge?) because in that moment your spouse may not be ready to hear your words as anything more than angry accusations. Save the truly constructive criticism for a later time (Proverbs 25:11). Instead, look beyond the results and determine to give grace. For me, it is helpful to remember that God accepts our imperfect attempts to love him amidst all of our stumbling (James 3:2). So as we move forward, we must give grace by believing that genuine love was the motivation behind our spouse’s attempt (a “love win” if you will). Give grace by thanking your spouse for loving you (“I love that you think of me and want to make my day easier.”) And finally give grace by recognizing in your own heart that a loving husband is of far greater value than a cotton dress. (BTW, I think Erin’s comments are a great extension of these thoughts!)
And after a little time has passed, put up a sign on the laundry room door that says “thus far you shall come but no further!”
First, I think it is important to try to understand the situation from her perspective. Most men don’t understand the meaning of a ruined piece of clothing. Give yourself an analogy. What would my reaction be if Liz dented the car door when delivering a surprise lunch for me at work? Would I see her love or the dent? Second, as in many other “fail” situations, (work fail, driving fail, etc.), defensive pride is the enemy of the hour. Husbands (and wives) should be constantly learning to love their spouse better. Making mistakes is part of learning to love. Don’t focus on your own disappointment for the fail or your anger at her having pointed it out. Don’t let frustration quell future attempts to show love. Rather, try to salvage the love attempt at hand (see below) and commit to learning how to love better.
Salvaging: In this case, I want to make it easy for her to see my motivations (that’s all I’ve got left for my effort). Some steps might include: 1) Own the mistake. Acknowledging the fail is the first step toward presenting your original message of love. So I might say something like “I’m so frustrated that your hurt by this” or “I’m so sorry that I ruined your dress.” 2) Reaffirm your love. This is still your first priority (Eph 5:25) even as it was your original intent. Say something like “I wish that this hadn’t happened. I wish you could know how much I love you and wanted to help you today.” 3) Seek to make restitution, just as you would for other mistakes (e.g. the principle of Ex 22:6). In this case perhaps, offer to sort out the damage with her and go out shopping (shudder) with her to replace the clothes.
Learn to Love Better: At an appropriate time, try to figure out a way to eliminate the love fail. In this case, Liz would rather I not do any laundry except bath towels and jeans (this isn’t my first laundry fail:-). Here’s another opportunity for wounded pride to react. Instead of that, believe her and show your love in the way that she’ll recognize it. My love doesn’t have to take the form of a laundry service. I can love her in a myriad different ways. My ability to show love is not threatened by this, but strengthened. Finally, try again while taking into account the new information. Don’t let the frustration of a failed love attempt keep you from further, wiser attempts.