Mercy Or Judgment in Marriage

One of the hardest things in life is being married. Oh! It’s so romantic when you fall in love – sure! But being married is where the rubber meets the road. Being married isn’t for sissies! 

I’ve been married for 28 years. It’s been the best of times and the worst of times. Focusing on the best of times is healthier for both me and my marriage than focusing on the worst.

My husband just finished writing a book, Loving to Fight or Fighting to Love. I guess we’ve had enough major fights for each chapter of the book. Sheesh! Really?

I wrote one of the chapters, about how judging each other leads to unnecessary arguments. Being merciful, however, helps you stay connected.

Unmet expectations and disappointments affect every marriage. What was once endearing at the beginning can later become annoying or frustrating and escalate to judgments and criticism.

Disillusionment is a common stage of marriage that often develops from focusing on silly little things such as the other’s personality quirks or annoying habits – yes, even how the toothpaste is squeezed. Disapproval and blame can foster contempt—an attitude of superiority and disgust that’s one of the primary predictors of divorce.
Judging each other invents petty conditions for love that destroy intimacy, as, “If you loved me, you would do what I want or expect.” When you judge your partner like this, you create distance and feel separated. Ultimately, it makes you withhold love.2
In fact, marriages are made of two imperfect people who know each other’s imperfections better than any other human being. We’re all sinners saved by nothing but God’s divine mercy and grace that he simply chooses to give us, not because we’re so good, but because he’s so good (see Ephesians 2: 8-9). It’s God’s enduring love that initiated, determined and confirmed His covenant with humanity.
In the Bible, that’s called a covenant bond. It’s what marriage is designed to reflect.

When my husband and I pronounced our wedding vows before God, that is, we entered into a covenant, whereby we chose to love each other “for better or for worse.” My commitment isn’t dependent upon my husband keeping his part, but rather, on the fact that I entered an enduring covenant before God -- just like God once did for me.

A covenant marriage like this is different from the world’s contract— legally defined as “an agreement with specific terms between two or more persons or entities in which there is a promise to do something in return for a valuable benefit known as consideration…. A bilateral contract is one in which a promise is exchanged for a promise.” 3

A covenant, however, is unilateral, that is, one-sided. Unlike a contract, a covenant commitment isn’t based on whether or not the other partner fulfills their part of the deal. Rather than a 50-50 arrangement, it requires 100% dedication on your part.

To our natural human minds, that sounds unreasonable even unfair. But God’s supernatural mercy turns a cold 50-50 legal contract into a heartfelt covenant.

What happens when you come home exhausted from a difficult day at work and find the house in a mess? That can be frustrating! If you weren’t already stressed, you might let it go. But what if a series of events then happen to frustrate you even more? Think: an unexpected bill, whiny children, a burned dinner, etc. What if your spouse then calls and says that they’re going to be late for dinner, because they decided to take a late run? What if they also forgot about an appointment that you had both made for later that evening?
Now, your mind spirals out of control as judgments swirl through your head—thoughts like,
“S/he is such a slob. Why don’t they put things away?”
“S/he is so thoughtless. Why didn’t they take a run earlier?”
“S/he is so irresponsible! Why can’t they remember anything?”
And on, and on, you ruminate until your spouse gets home, and then, BOOM! You let them have it!
You confront them with criticism. > They get defensive and react in anger. > An argument starts. > You double-down on your criticisms. > Fight City!
What just happened?

You were under stress from work. Finding your home in a mess made you feel even more out of control, so you started judging and blaming someone else. Your agitation caused you to make judgments that upset you even more, triggering physiological reactions like “fight or flight”. Your stomach churns; your palms sweat; you hyperventilate.

When your defenses are provoked, it’s difficult to think clearly. You can’t reason, problem-solve, nor communicate. You become “emotionally dysregulated”.

But it doesn’t have to be that way if you make room for mercy. Let’s rewind to this instead:
You come home from a difficult day at work and find the house a mess. No need to judge; instead consider that your spouse may have also had a difficult day and feel empathy for them. Poor dear! Other things seem to go wrong. You take a deep breath and whisper a silent prayer for mercy. Your spouse then calls to say that they will be late because they decided to go for a run. Pause. No judgment: instead you smile and appreciate that your spouse is taking care of their own needs. Bravo! You hang up, but also remember your appointment later. No judgment: you take a deep breath and consider your options: Would it be better to call and cancel, or should you start getting ready? Reconsidering that you also need self-care, you decide to take a long hot shower/soak in a bubble bath. Aww! By the time your spouse gets home, you feel calm and refreshed. You greet them fondly and ask about their day without judgment or criticism. You both hug, appreciate each other, and enjoy your evening together…
By exercising compassion, acceptance, forgiveness, appreciation and self-care, a major fight was avoided. You were able to manage stress in a productive rather than a reactive way by not judging your spouse. In the same way, God demonstrates his mercy through compassion, acceptance, forgiveness, patience and blessings: 
The Lord is compassionate and gracious,
slow to anger, abounding in love.
He will not always accuse,
nor will he harbor his anger forever;
he does not treat us as our sins deserve
or repay us according to our iniquities.
For as high as the heavens are above the earth,
so great is his love for those who fear him;
as far as the east is from the west,
so far has he removed our transgressions from us. 
(Psalm 103:8-12 NIV)

In a fallen world, bad stuff is bound to happen outside of your control. But Jesus offers you peace in the midst of troubles:  
These things I have spoken to you, that in Me you may have peace. 
In the world you shall have distress:
but have confidence, I have overcome the world.
(John 16:33 DRB).

Key Scripture: 

What often helps me get through difficult times is to recall key Scripture points like these: 

  1. Acceptance: Radically accept your spouse instead of trying to change them. Trust what God is doing in their life. God is the one who began this good work in you, and I am certain that he won’t stop before it is complete on the day that Christ Jesus returns (Philippians 1:6).
  2. Compassion: Listen and try to understand your spouse. Be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving each other, just as in Christ God forgave you (Ephesians 4:32).
  3. Forgiveness: Forgive yourself and each other regularly and pray for one another. Confess your offenses to one another, and pray for one another, that you may be healed. The insistent prayer of a righteous person is powerfully effective (James 5:16).
  4. Patience: Let go of pride and negative thoughts. Be completely humble and gentle; be patient, bearing with one another in love. We are taking every thought captive to the obedience of Christ (Ephesians 4:2; 2 Corinthians 10:5).
  5. Communication: Ask for what you need using I-statements like “I need; I feel; I want.” Keep on asking, and you will receive what you ask for. Keep on seeking, and you will find. Keep on knocking, and the door will be opened to you (Matthew 7:7).
  6. Appreciation: Reflect on the positive and appreciate what attracted you to your spouse. Finally, my friends, keep your minds on whatever is true, pure, right, holy, friendly, and proper. Don’t ever stop thinking about what is truly worthwhile and worthy of praise Philippians 4:8).
  7. Blessing: Marriage is a gift! Relax and enjoy one another.  Do not repay evil with evil or insult with insult. On the contrary, repay evil with blessing, because to this you were called so that you may inherit a blessing (I Peter 3:9).
Try making room for God’s mercy in your marriage and see what happens!

1.“This One Thing is the Biggest Predictor of Divorce" by Eva Van Prooyen, August 25, 2017.
2. Loving to Fight or Fighting to Love. Chapter 4: For Better or For Worse; Letting Go of   Judgments. Civitas, 2018.
3. The People's Law Dictionary by Gerald and Kathleen Hill. Publisher Fine Communications.


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