I leave wet towels where they don't belong. I leave a loaf of bread on the counter. I leave the cupboard doors open.
I have an excuse, of course: I am mentally preoccupied. As my wife, Sarah, says, "He is always thinking." Sometimes I stun myself by what I do or don't do.
Now don't get me wrong. I am not a pig. But I am married to Sarah, who is the epitome of neatness and cleanliness, and I flunk by her standards. She is not a perfectionist, but she is logical. Why leave a towel on the bed when a rack is in the bathroom waiting for the towel? Why leave a cupboard door open when the hinge functions both ways? Over the years I have made a conscious effort to curb this tendency.
Fortunately for me, Sarah has not concluded that I am out to irritate her. And though she has reminded me thousands of times to put things away, she has never said, "If you really love me, you would listen to me." She knows I am thinking of other things and am on autopilot as I come and go.
Sarah is able to see me in a positive light because she has decided to trust in my good intentions toward her and our marriage. She has chosen to see me as a good-willed spouse.
It's your choice
My wife's positive perspective is something we need in order to have a healthy, mutually satisfying marriage. This attitude helps avoid the buildup of tension in a relationship and creates an atmosphere of love and respect. Even when a mate messes up, we can choose to believe in the good will of our spouse. After all, no one gets married thinking, I want to make my spouse miserable. Nearly everyone enters marriage with the very best of intentions.
Unfortunately, when we feel unloved or disrespected, we often start judging motives rather than seeing the person's best intent. So whenever our spouse's good intentions fail to produce loving or respectful actions, we have a choice: to believe the best about our spouse or to question his or her heart.
Let's say, for example, you have to leave early in the morning and you haven't had time to fill the car with gas. Your spouse promises to go out and take care of it. The next day, as you are rushing to leave home, you find the gauge on "empty," and you feel a surge of anger. In the next few moments, you can choose to believe your spouse "just doesn't care," or you can choose to believe your spouse made an honest mistake.
Slow to judge
But here's the rub. Though we are good-willed people, sin still holds us in its grip. We all have moments when we are selfish, needy or even mean and spiteful. When your spouse shows his or her sinful side, it is easy to label him or her as "evil-willed." But your spouse's temporary nastiness must be distinguished from evil character.
Your angry spouse might temporarily not wish you well, but these exceptions don't do away with your spouse's overall character and good intentions. You can still choose to see the best in your spouse. And when you sit down to discuss his or her actions in a respectful and loving way, you'll probably discover that the unloving behavior was triggered by an emotional wound or unmet need. Most anger and meanness in a marriage stems from pain or disappointment, not malice.
Once you decide to see each other as good-willed people, it changes your perspective and the filter through which you view your relationship. Whether you're arguing over sex or taking out the trash, you can rehearse what you know to be true: "He's a good-willed man." "She's a good-willed woman." Even in the middle of conflict, you can see each other as partners, allies and friends.
Dr. Eggerichs explains why your spouse may irritate you.
Dr. Emerson Eggerichs is a world-renowned speaker and author of such books as Love and Respect and The Language of Love and Respect.