The true strength of marital gentlenessWritten by Paul Coughlin
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During my dating years, I heard a husband respond to his wife in such a gentle and humorous way that it didn’t even appear he had corrected her at all.
"Honey," his wife had said, "I need you to pick up our neighbours’ newspaper for the next four days, which I told them I would do."
With a slight smile and a warm tone, the man said to her at the crowded dinner table, "Sweetie, I think that people who make commitments should keep their commitments."
He held eye contact with her, his warm smile lingered and everyone at the table smiled as well, including his sprightly wife. With the added lubricant of humour, this wise and gentle man spoke the truth but said it kindly.
He could have lashed out with his tongue and pronounced the hard truth to her, as so many newlyweds do. He could have talked about her being unreliable, about how she had done this to him before. (She had.) Instead, he spoke the truth with an appealing tone and a dollop of winsome wit.
His response corrects a common misconception about the art and practice of marital gentleness, which many people think means caving in to a spouse’s demands. True gentleness is powerful – the kind of power that is respectful yet free to disagree. It does not return an insult for an insult but speaks the truth even if it’s unpleasant.
Gentle spouses express their will, but they don’t force it upon others. Instead of yelling, "I’m sick and tired of your making commitments that you expect me to keep," a gentle spouse appeals to decency and fair play.
But to some of us, gentleness is a foreign language. We didn’t grow up hearing it, so we don’t speak it in marriage. Nowhere is this deficiency more evident than when discussing important marital matters.
How a conversation begins often determines whether it will succeed or fail. Gentle conversation starters help us resolve our problems without hurting our spouse:
- "What I’m about to say may be difficult for us to talk about, but we need to because it’s important."
- "I know that you see things differently than I do, but I’d like to try finding some common ground."
- "This isn’t going to be easy for me to talk about, so if I don’t get my words right, please give me a chance to do so."
Since gentleness doesn’t always come naturally, my wife and I have set a simple guideline that protects this virtue: When possible, we don’t discuss important matters after 9 p.m. When we didn’t follow this guideline, our weariness at the end of the day made us prone to hurtful words.
Sometimes love means causing discomfort for the health of your marriage. But even during these tense moments, we have a choice: We can be honest without being gentle, which is like performing surgery without anesthesia – it gets the job done, but it causes unnecessary pain and brooding resentment. Or, we can be truthful and tender, which protects our spouse’s dignity and preserves marital intimacy.
Gentleness in marriage is much like a flexible but powerful backbone; it supports the entire skeleton exactly because it is not too rigid. Everyone loves a gentle spouse because he speaks and acts with such strength that he does not feel the need to yell. Or whimper.
Throw in some light humour, and you may leave others with an example of marital gentleness that will last a lifetime.
© 2008 Paul Coughlin. All rights reserved. International copyright secured. Used by permission.
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