The Gift of Good Will
Before getting upset with your spouse, have you stopped to think about his or her intentions?
Returning to the Los Angeles airport in a rental vehicle, we couldn't remember the location of Budget Rent A Car. Sarah, my wife, retrieved the directions to help me navigate. As she read, she told me to take a certain street, but I was convinced Budget was on another. I listened to her, but the directions were incorrect. When we realized the error, I got upset with her.
Obviously, she was hurt by my reaction. Her intent was to help me navigate to the airport, but I overlooked her good will and subconsciously blamed her for the predicament. I quickly realized what I had done and apologized.
"I'm irritated, but I shouldn't be mad at you. I'm sorry. Will you forgive me?" It wasn't her fault the directions were unclear. If I had refused to acknowledge her good intentions and resisted apologizing, the friction would have remained and possibly escalated.
In your marriage, a scenario like this may play out in your holiday plans. Trouble could surface in two specific areas: when traveling to see family or when giving and receiving gifts. You can work through these differences by choosing to see the good will of your spouse.
When a family travels together, conflict often arises. Confined quarters within a car can foster stress and irritation. If you're traveling for Christmas, try to avoid the negative comments that might impulsively come to the surface.
For example, when Dad says in front of the children, "Your mother is late, just to irritate me," he discredits his wife and plants seeds of doubt in the children's minds about Mom's good will. The children also wonder about Daddy's heart for Mommy.
When Mom says, "Your father is too proud to look at a map," she sends a message to the children to be disrespectful toward Dad, and they may see Mom as bitter or snippy. No one wins.
The giving and receiving of gifts can also be a source of tension. If a husband says to his wife, "I can't believe you spent this much money on your family!" she may hear condemnation. When he verbally blasts his wife who is a good-hearted gift-giver, she closes off from him. Until he makes a heartfelt apology, Christmas probably won't be very merry.
After Sarah and I were engaged, Sarah made a jean jacket for me for Christmas. I opened the box, held up the jacket and thanked her.
"You don't like it," she said.
"I do like it," I insisted.
"No, you don't. You aren't excited. If you liked it, you would be excited. In my family, Christmas is important, and we show it."
She assumed I was being polite but didn't like the jacket; I felt misunderstood and judged. We had different expectations of giving and receiving, but instead of learning to understand each other, we made cutting remarks that discredited both of our intended good will.
If you face a similar situation, learn to explain your family's view on gifts. If the wife directs her husband how to respond, "When my mother gives you a gift, act excited," the husband may feel scolded and inadequate. He may think she doesn't trust him to appropriately appreciate gifts. However, she is trying to be helpful. If both understand that the other spouse isn't plotting ways to provoke the other, then the cycle of criticism and hurt feelings can be avoided.
Look for the Best
The key here is to see what Jesus sees. Jesus said, "The spirit is willing, but the body is weak" (Matthew 26:41b, NIV). Though He was disappointed with His three disciples who failed Him, He did not show hatred or contempt toward them. Jesus saw their hearts as willing.
Realize that your spouse has good will, even though at times he or she will fail to be the person you want. If you verbally jump all over him or her, confess your critical attitude. And remember, whether you are traveling or facing challenges with a loving gift-giver, see the best in your partner. That may be the best gift you can give (and receive) this holiday season.
This article first appeared in the December, 2005 issue of Focus on the Family magazine. Copyright © 2005 Emerson Eggerichs. All rights reserved.