My husband and I have a relatively good marriage. I believe, however, that we spend way too much time bickering about simple little things that become a big deal, to the point of frustration and pain. After more than 20 years of marriage, I think it’s ridiculous. Please help me to find out what’s going on and to do something to change the gloomy place our home has become.
What you’ve described is very common among married couples. Most good marriages enjoy a decent level of happiness, and married partners tend to get along until someone says something or does something—even if it’s insignificant—that makes the other person feel angry or hurt.
We usually remind couples that there are no perfect marriages because there are no perfect people. This means that regardless of how great your marriage is, sooner or later—when one of you is tired, insecure about something, irritable, or simply in a bad mood—one of you will say something insensitive, patronizing, overconfident, or come across as judgmental that takes the other person over the edge.
To be sure, marriage tends to be an equal-opportunity annoyer, meaning that on a regular day either you or your husband could be the offender. We noticed that you didn’t necessarily blame your husband for what’s happening. Rather, you said, “We spend way too much time bickering,” which tells us you probably take turns bringing the displeasure to your marriage.
We would encourage you to find a time when you and your husband are in a good mood and having a good time to talk about what you described above. Since you’re the one concerned about what’s happening in your marriage, share with your husband that you would like for the two of you to be more intentional about not making a big deal about little irritants that regularly come up in your conversations.
You and your husband need to admit to each other that you’re both human and are likely to make mistakes in the future. You may also need to agree to make allowances for when each of you says or does something that annoys the other. Accepting that you’ll likely make blunders in the future and developing the mindset to give your partner the benefit of the doubt—that he or she is not really trying to hurt you—will create a more accepting and less intense environment in your marriage.
We also encourage you and your husband to practice making deposits—on a regular basis—in each other’s emotional bank account, while intentionally avoiding making emotional withdrawals. An emotional deposit is anything that affirms your partner or brings joy to him or her. An emotional withdrawal is anything you might say or do that hurts or upsets your partner.
If you concentrate on making daily emotional deposits in each other’s emotional bank account, you’ll find your marriage filled with good feelings rather than with negative thoughts and constant annoyances.
We encourage you to practice the message of Colossians 3:12: “Put on then, as God’s chosen ones, holy and beloved, compassionate hearts, kindness, humility, meekness, and patience.”* If you practice these virtues each day, your marriage will go from good to great and become a place of joy and peace for you and your husband.
Willie Oliver, PhD, CFLE, an ordained minister, pastoral counselor, and family sociologist, is director for the Department of Family Ministries at the world headquarters of the Seventh-day Adventist Church.
Elaine Oliver, PhDc, LCPC, CFLE, a licensed clinical professional counselor, educational psychologist, and certified family life educator, is associate director for the Department of Family Ministries at the world headquarters of the Seventh-day Adventist Church.