How to Build a Grace Filled Marriage
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Have you ever felt like you can’t get away from negativity? It seems to be all around us. I find that I focus so much on the negative that I struggle to see the positive aspects of life. Sometimes it gets hard to see hope in the future. It can be hard to see the forest through the trees as the old saying goes. When negativity is all you can see in a marriage, you need a change. Sometimes that change must come from within us.
Changes in relationships that seem to be so toxic can come from within you. If you want a healthier, more positive relationship, get away from the negative focus. But how?
To grow a positive outlook in marriage you can focus on grace. I have outlined the following ways to build grace into your marriage:
- Remember who you are
- Humble yourself
- Stop thinking it is about you and don’t make it about yourself
- Attempt to be understanding and listen attentively
- Be Merciful
- Work on forgiveness
- Know your spouse well and be open to being known
- Be realistic
- Find humor in different situations
- Serve your partner
- Remember that it is okay to be different
- Stop talking and pray
First, Let’s talk about how focusing on details and negative things can lead to LESS GRACE…
How can focusing on the details of conflict lead to less grace?
Sometimes in marriage, spouses tend to focus on the details. This drives emotions skyward. The focus tends to be on fixing a detail or a problem. How many times have you experienced your partner saying that something should not make you blow your lid, but it does? You fly off the handle. Something you don’t mean to say comes out of your mouth. You yell, although you know yelling just makes things worse. Then you rack your brain about ways to “fix the problem.”
I believe many relationships experience this kind of overblown reaction. Men, especially, tend to react this way because they are “doers” and “fixers.” They comb through the details with a fine toothcomb to analyze the problems so they can create the perfect plan to solve the problem.
Unfortunately, without knowing it, focusing on the details tends to lead to a lack of grace towards others. Focusing on the details tends to cause people to have tunnel vision spotlighting only the problems. We tend to get hurt or upset easily when too much focus is on the details. This can be pushed to the point of finding fault in another person and blaming them for not solving the problem themselves. (Please don’t think I don’t care about the details!!)
Think about how much you hear negative comments about other people. Have you ever heard a coworker gossip? Gossip is a form of blame or finding fault in another person. If we find fault in another person are we showing them grace? If we find fault, are we focusing more on the details of the conflict or negative aspect of something than the possible positive things that could be present?
What is grace, and why is it important to marriages?
Grace in its simplest form is “undeserved kindness.” Another way of saying this is kindness towards someone who does not deserve it or who has not earned it. I like the phrase, “Loving the unlovable.” We can easily say, “I don’t deserve to be treated this way,” “I deserve better than this,” or “who do they think they are?”
However, when have you ever thought of those phrases and reacted with grace and kindness? Did it result in a positive outcome? Most likely not.
Marriages thrive on gracious reactivity. Grace is NOT saying the other person is right. Grace is NOT letting the other person off the hook. It IS loving someone unconditionally and giving them the benefit of the doubt. Grace is “choosing” to be loving even though you know the other person wronged you.
Relax though. Everyone struggles with grace. The only person who fully perfected grace was Jesus.
What can one do to fill their marriage with grace?
- Remember who you are – You are a human being. This reality means you make mistakes. You aren’t always right. You probably have made similar if not the same mistakes as others. In Biblical terms, you are a sinner, as we all are. Jesus said to “take the plank out of your own eye” because we all have faults and need to take responsibility for ourselves first. Remembering who you are allows you to give grace to others more readily when they mess up.
- Humble yourself – Humbleness is remembering that you are no better than anyone else. It’s the ability to not be prideful or arrogant. It’s the ability to look at everything around you and see how truly insignificant you are as compared to the vastness of the universe. By humbling ourselves, we react less intensively because we realize, it’s not about us. When you humble yourself, you give grace because you know that you are not worthy of judging others as you still have work to do.
- It’s not about you, so don’t make it about you! – As mentioned above, it’s not about you because a person is not so important that “everything” is about them. In the past and even now, I have thought at times that everything someone around me says must be about me. When I take a step back, I realize how irrational and silly that sounds. That is bordering on what some psychologists call paranoia, yet all of us wonder what others think about us. Could it be that when your spouse says something negative, it’s not about you? It’s could be more about her needs or desires for relationship and connection. Choose to see each situation in a broader vision. There is more to this life than little me. You will react with more grace instead of negativity by seeing outside your world.
- Attempt to be understanding and listen – Understanding and listening are the two cornerstones of great communication. If you understand and listen to your spouse, you will be able to determine the meaning of his/her words and actions more accurately, resulting in less emotion and increased grace when your partner messes up. You will be able to empathize with them and understand how they feel.
- Be merciful – Mercy is simply not punishing someone even though they deserve it. As opposed to grace (giving kindness or favor to someone who does not deserve it), mercy tends to allow someone to be gracious. Mercy is withholding and grace is giving. By withholding attacking or withholding yelling at someone because of their faults, a path is cleared for kindness and love to be imparted.
- Work on forgiveness – Forgiveness in marriage is the ability to choose to not be angry and not harbor resentment towards your husband or wife when they hurt you. You are choosing to release your spouse from owing you something in return for the hurt. This does not mean you don’t set healthy, firm boundaries to make sure the hurt does not reoccur. It just means you are not willing to keep being angry and hold onto hurt for bitterness to build up. Don’t let your partner steal your peace. Forgiveness is one way to take back control and keep your peace. Forgiveness is helpful to clear the way for grace. Read more about forgiveness in marriage HERE.
- Know and be known – Knowing your spouse deeply is very important for growing a marriage. It is also important in providing grace. If you know your spouse, you will understand them and know the reasons they do what they do. You will be less likely to blame and become negative around them. You will be more positive and connected with them. This creates a gracious atmosphere. See Step 4 (Attempt to be understanding and listen). Also, check out John Gottman’s exercises in his book The 7 Principles for How to Make Marriage Work on Amazon and learn about his first principle of building a healthy marriage (building love maps).
- Be realistic – Things don’t have to be perfect. Assess your thoughts and your motives. Assess the environment and the situation. If you have intense emotions, stop! Don’t act or react until you have thoroughly assessed each element of that situation. When you are realistic, you are better able to make the right decision, which could lead to a gracious reaction. Also, study your irrational thoughts to help improve your thought process.
- Find humor – How many times does laughter lighten the mood? Find humor to disperse any negativity. Negativity clouds judgment and thinking. Grace is easier to extend when negativity is not ruling the moment. I love the moments when my wife and I are having an intense argument or discussion and something makes us laugh and smile at each other. Also, check out Dr. John Gottman’s book above and read where he talks about “bids for connection.”
- Serve your partner – Having a mindset of serving opens a person up to thinking about others and not oneself. Jesus served the disciples by washing their feet. As we stated before, putting others first and humbling oneself allows for an increased ability to react in grace.
- Remember, it’s okay to be different – Being different is okay, right? Our partners are different from us. Did you know that? Do you see the differences between you when tension and negative moments arise? It would be good to find out how you can remember the differences between you at the moment. Try reminding yourself that your spouse is different. They have different thoughts, feelings, desires, histories, and goals. You fell in love with them because of some of those differences. Understanding and remembering that people are different open a person to less reactivity when their spouse opposes them. Grace is easier when you can allow your spouse to be different. Let them be who they choose to be, and love them with grace so they have the option to explore and test their perspectives. Shutting them down could cause them to reject you or dismiss your views altogether.
- Stop talking and pray – This point is about listening and humbling oneself. If I intend to listen, then my intent is not to react or act. If I am not intending to act, then I am less likely to punish, blame or condemn. When I intend to listen and pray to God, then I am seeking to be a better person and to love others. My mind will be more ready to extend grace. Grace is easier when listening and praying, especially when we are seeking to do the will of God.
What does not demonstrating grace do to a marriage?
Not demonstrating grace can create a root of bitterness. When a husband or wife messes up and their spouse does not extend grace to them, they may begin to feel bitter and resentful. Have you experienced this? If they let that bitterness and resentment linger, they will feel like they cannot make up for their wrongs, leading to a belief that nothing they do will be good enough. This thought of wanting to be good enough is a core issue I have found in many conflicts in relationships. The relationship at that point could spiral out of control into further disconnection until one or the other chooses to make a change.
Grace in marriage is not:
- Niceness – When you extend grace, you are not necessarily being nice. You are choosing to extend kindness because it is a better method of loving than being nice or angry. Sometimes simply being nice tells the other person that what they did was okay. Niceness can be permissive. Grace is not saying what the other person did was okay. Niceness may get you run over and taken advantage of.
- Apologizing – Extending grace is not apologizing. The person extending grace should not apologize, at least not for the other person’s wrongs. The person extending grace is the one who had a wrong done to them. If you find yourself apologizing after someone legitimately wronged you, then it is important to reevaluate your motives. Take responsibility for your mistakes, but don’t apologize for someone else’s choices. Grace is a choice to love someone, but not a choice to take responsibility for someone else’s wrongdoing.
- Intense negative emotions – Extending grace does not involve intense negative emotions. It is very hard to be gracious when angry. A time-out or some distance may be helpful before attempting to give grace.
- Grace is not aloof – Grace should be intentional. It needs to be thought out. To give grace is not a random choice. Extending grace blindly can backfire. It can feel like a way to just make the problem go away, but that is not the point of grace. Grace is deeper than just trying to dampen the intensity of the problem.
- Grace is not settling for less or lowering the bar on standards – When a person extends grace, they are not saying that what happened was okay. They are not saying that the person has the right to violate standards or rules that are set. Grace is not allowing others to trample on your rights. Grace is done while still upholding truth and keeping healthy standards.
- Grace is not permission to sin – Again, the extension of grace is not saying what the other person did was okay. If something hurt you, it probably was not okay, unless you have unrealistic expectations. However, if you have assessed your boundaries, rights, expectations, and emotions, and everything checks out as rational, then you have every right to hold someone accountable for sin. Grace is a loving way to give them space to grow and change without a harsh reaction.
- Dallas Willard once said, “Grace is not opposed to effort, it is opposed to earning.” Change is hard, but grace is not allowing someone to not grow and change. In other words, expect the person who hurt you to make an effort, but don’t make them earn your love. God is not asking us to do more to earn salvation. He is only asking us to be the best we can be through effort, knowing that we can never be perfect. Extending grace is a gift that cannot be earned, but it is not an excuse for the receiver to put off trying to be the best he can be.
- Pride gets in the way of grace. Arrogance gets in the way of grace. Entitlement gets in the way of grace. Humbleness allows grace. Remember, you aren’t perfect either. God says, “All have sinned and have fallen short…” We are all in the same boat. We all are in need of a Savior. We all are attempting to become better than our current selves.
Extending grace can change your marriage for the better. Grace is not easy, but if you desire to IMPROVE and GROW your marriage or yourself email me so I can help TODAY!
5 Step Activity to try, as adapted from Emerson Eggerich’s book Love and Respect:
- Be friendly to your spouse.
- Be Friendly to your spouse.
- One more time: Be FRIENDLY to your spouse.
- Did I not say, BE FRIENDLY TO YOUR SPOUSE?
- Finally, BE FRIENDLY TO YOUR SPOUSE!
You can find Dr. Eggerichs’ book HERE on Amazon.
I hope that this has been helpful. I hope I have given you information that you can go back to when you need it. If you have any further questions or need help, please email me.
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