It is impossible for any relationship with more than one person to avoid conflict or argument. Whether intentional or unintentional every person will hurt another in a relationship. So what should be a spouse’s response to the accusations of their mate? If applied these powerful truths will relieve tension and allow for reconciliation.
First off, Acknowledge the hurt before killing the lie. If your spouse comes to you and shares their fear or observation that you hurt them do not immediately go into a defense, explanation, or confession mode. All three of the previous responses may in the short term seem like they are addressing the issue, but in reality they are not.
If your spouse were to come to you and say, “I was really hurt by your comment about my cooking when we were with your parents.” And your response is, “I didn’t say anything hurtful.” That defense response is the equivalent to a call to war (Pr 15:1). If your response is, “I didn’t mean it that way, all I meant was…” Even though is sounds humble and right, that explanation does not deal with the hurt. Another pseudo humble response is, “I am sorry, I will not do it again.” Even though that last response sounds like a homerun swing like the other responses, it is laden with problems. Neither of the responses acknowledge the hurt, they do not allow for understanding, they allow the person to possibly hold onto an illegitimate hurt, and cause the problem to spring up in many other areas. Instead of a defense, explanation, or confession response, a much better response would be to acknowledge the hurt before proceeding. “I understand that it must have been painful for you to feel criticized…” Once the pain or fear has been addressed, the spouse then knows you understand and are on their side and will be more willing to hear a possible explanation.
Second, Work on base ‘needs.’ If a spouse feels (or was truly) hurt, it is not wrong for them to want respect, fairness, or acknowledgement of a wrong. All of those are actually God instilled desires. This does not mean how they are approaching you or the tone of voice they use to address the issues is right, it simply is an acknowledgment that certain desires are not wrong. In fact, the book of Proverbs lists many biblical desires that are not of themselves sinful (respect, reputation, riches, joy…) The problem lies in whether or not someone is willing to violate Scripture in order to get those needs or wants. If your spouse is sharing a need or a way that they have felt violated, make sure to address that need before defending or explaining.
Third, Seek understanding. Many couples ruin communication by substituting their own meanings for others. The simple question, “What do you mean by?” Will honor the person and allow for communication followed up by its sister question. “What I am hearing is…?” Many countries and couples have gone to war leaving a bloody trail because they misunderstood a few key terms.
Fourth, Do not listen to loaded terms. It is so easy to get stuck on the intent behind loaded, all-inclusive terms. “You always… I never… Every time…” Instead of pointing to the times that you didn’t do or say, swallow the urge to defend and stay on the task of understanding what it is that hurts/bothers your spouse. (Prov 17:17)
Fifth, Do not impose motives. Phrases like, “Then you did this because… I know what you wanted…” All have stepped out of the realm of humanity and are claiming the ability of heart knowing reserved for God (1Sam 16:7, Jer 17:9) Those types of phrases are actually accusations.
Sixth, Beware of checkmates. These types of phrases are subtly scripted ‘winner takes all’ signs of false humility. “What you did was wrong, but I forgive you.” “One of us has to be the bigger person, so I won’t push the issue.” Literal interpretation, “You were wrong, and we are done talking, because I am soooo gracious.” These types of phrases are most often used by the person who is still clinging tenaciously to their point of view while asking you to put down your saber and surrender. The phrases are actually one last jab before humiliating the spouse to either agree or be viewed as unloving and vengeful.
Seven, Make sure you do not substitute agreement for listening. Listening and agreeing are not interchangeable. If one views agreement and ensuing action as listening, they will feel justified in accusing the other of pride and an unwillingness to listen.
Eighth, Realize you are on the same team. If your spouse loses, you lose as well. As one flesh, if your spouse’s pain or hurt is not addressed, it is impossible that you both will not suffer. Nobody benefits in a civil war.
“If it be possible, as much as lieth in you, live peaceably with all men.” Romans 12:18