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Not Going to Extremes

A husband and wife were fighting. They refused to talk. Getting ready for a business trip the next day, and not willing to be the first one to cave in and actually speak, the husband wrote his wife a note, "Please make sure I'm up by 5:30 a.m. I must catch a flight."

At 9:00 a.m. the next morning, the husband awakens and realizes he's missed his flight. Furious, he was about to go and see why his wife hadn't awakened him, when he noticed a note by the bed. It read, "It's 5:30 a.m. Wake up."

Who wins in a situation like this? Have you ever felt like you and your spouse are spinning your wheels in an argument you both know will never go anywhere?

My wife has always been better at keeping her mouth shut than I have. I mean this as a compliment. I tend to open my mouth too early, too often or too much (note to self: never again ask a woman if she's pregnant or just took the gray out of her hair).

The downside of my wife's verbal reticence was that early in our marital conflicts she could leave me talking to a blank stare for days on end. She could shut down the lines of communication with a flip of some mental and/or emotional switch.

It wasn't healthy, because the silent partner in marriage holds all the cards. The silent partner controls the emotional tenor of the marriage. The one who chooses obstinate quiet over talking through conflict stunts the growth of the marriage.

It's the same with our relationship with God. If I choose to hold back in my prayer life, to be stingy in those things I share with God, then I'm stunting my spiritual growth. And who does that hurt? God? I think his omnipotence can handle my freeze tactics. The silent treatment hurts my relationship with God and with my spouse. Obstinate silence changes the balance of power in any relationship for the worse.

Lest you think I have it in for quiet people, consider the other side of the coin. I know those whose verbal tirades have left their spouse literally quivering in fear of what comes next. I know husbands and wives who, in the name of "being real" or being "honest" in their marriage, let loose with biting, stinging words that wound their spouses to the core.

Instead of hurting the marriage by holding back verbally, these folks hurt the marriage by lashing out. These couples sell the same damage in a different wrapper.

To find the balance between these extremes, recognize that marriage, like our relationship with Christ, takes communication. Just as you won't grow spiritually without some form of consistent prayer life, you won't grow in your marriage without some form of consistent communication. If you're the spouse that likes to hold back verbally when you're mad, and you don't take the initiative to come back to truly resolve whatever conflict you're facing, you cheat yourself and your marriage out of God's best. If you're trying to keep the balance of power in your favor by holding back verbally, you're probably succeeding – but at what price?

Maybe you're the spouse using words to tip the balance of power in your favor. You trample on your spouse's feelings, self-esteem and dignity with every hurtful verbal exchange. Maybe you find yourself rationalizing your communication style by saying, "She needed to hear that," or, "I know the truth hurts, but somebody has to tell him." If this is you, I'd caution that there are very rare, limited cases when a married individual should take this stance of being marital judge and jury.

Instead, in humility, we would do better to take whatever "she needed to hear" or the "truth that you had to tell him" before the throne of grace. Earnestly ask God if your heart and attitude are right before ever going back to your spouse for the kind of conversation that could once again trample your spouse's spirit.

Find balance in your style of managing marital conflict. Silence hurts. So does verbally lashing out. Neither is a healthy way to resolve conflict in your marriage. In extremes, both styles of resolving conflict are futile relational power-grabs. If you're the quiet one, learn from your blabber-mouth spouse. If you're the talker that shoots verbal darts non-stop, learn from your tight-lipped spouse. Stop doing things the way you've always done them, and begin looking for different results.

Most importantly, though, don't focus solely on the balance of power in your marriage. Focus on the balance of power between you and your Maker. Balance this scale, and the rest tends to take care of itself. Are you talking with God? Or are you the silent partner?