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Your Spouse’s Flaws – How and When to Give Grace

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What should you do if your spouse’s flaws drive you crazy? Give grace? Or should you confront it because it's missing God's mark?

Your Spouse’s Flaws: Confront or Accept

Your spouse has flaws. Surprised? I didn’t think so. You can probably name half a dozen without even trying. Do you have flaws? Your spouse can probably name one or two. Hey, we’re human. We each have our own quirks and ways of doing things. And when two people marry and start a life together quirks and flaws become irritations. If unchecked, those irritations cause significant harm to a marriage.

So, what should you do if your spouse’s flaws drive you crazy? Do you give grace? Or is their behavior something more serious that needs to be confronted?

Flaws, Friction, and a Toothpick

His flaw was a toothpick. A single, soggy, chewed-up toothpick hanging from the corner of his mouth. He’d chewed toothpicks for years. She hadn’t much minded. Now, the sight of the toothpick was more than she could handle. She couldn’t look at him without feeling frustration at his toothpick chewing. The frustration morphed into resentment. And it affected her view of the marriage. She called Focus on the Family for help. Yolanda Brown answered the phone.

Yolanda, a Focus on the Family counselor, listened to the woman’s struggles to help her find a solution. “Her husband always chewed a toothpick,” Yolanda doesn’t disclose details. She carefully protects her client’s identity. But, she says, such calls about day-to-day marriage issues are common. “As we talked, the woman realized what was happening: The problem wasn’t the toothpick. Things at work had been hectic, and she was tired. What had been a minor irritation suddenly became a big deal.”

Sound familiar? Maybe not the part about the toothpick, but the part about minor irritations turning into major issues. Issues that — if not dealt with — can lead to lasting damage in an otherwise good marriage.

Flaws (and Friction) Are Inevitable

No matter how much you and your spouse love each other, there’s bound to be something you each do — a habit or a personality quirk — that drives the other nuts. And occasionally, that word, action, or preference becomes too much for you to handle.

Should you confront it or give grace and let it go? Is it OK to point it out? Will doing so hurt your marriage? Before we dive into some answers, let’s explain what we’re talking about … and what we’re not talking about.

Your Spouse’s Flaws: Bad Habits or Abuse?

Think about some of the day-to-day issues each of us face in our marriages:

  • She’s still getting dressed, but you’re already fifteen minutes late. Again.
  • He forgot to unload the dishwasher. Again.
  • She left all the lights on.
  • He left the toilet seat up.
  • She keeps checking her phone while you’re talking about your day.
  • He left a pile of mail on the kitchen table.
  • She turned up the thermostat because she thought it was cold. You felt fine.

And let’s not even talk about which way the toilet paper should hang!

What do you do about these behaviors? They’re all legitimate issues. You’re not crazy for asking him to put the toilet seat down. Or reminding her to put gas in the car if she borrowed it and ran it dry. But your spouse is human. And you’re only human. Their flaws get on your nerves. So, it’s normal to wonder, Do I need to confront this? Or should I accept it and give grace? Is this abuse?

What Is Abuse?

God’s design for marriage never included abuse, violence, or coercive control. Even emotional abuse can bruise or severely harm a person’s heart, mind, and soul. We define abuse in marriage as patterns of behavior designed to gain or keep control over another person.

Abuse can be physical, sexual, emotional, financial, or spiritual. It’s always sinful. In some circumstances, it is criminal. Depending on your situation, you may want to get to safety before taking the first step to seeking help. You may also want to call the National Domestic Abuse Hotline at 1-800-799-7233 or visit The Hotline.org. In addition, the Focus on the Family counseling team can point you to helpful resources. There is no shame in seeking help.

What If My Spouse’s Flaws Still Irritate Me?

It’s like we said: You’re not crazy. Sometimes your spouse’s behavior is as irritating as nails on a chalkboard. What then?

Proverbs 19:11 offers this: “Good sense makes one slow to anger, and it is his glory to overlook an offense.” (ESV) Other translations use phrases like, “A man’s insight gives him patience.” The point is clear: Wisdom, discretion, good sense, and insight produce patience.

God models patience in His relationship with us. Joel 2:13 describes God as “gracious and merciful, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love.”

What Is Long-suffering?

The phrase, “slow to anger,” is used 14 times in Scripture. It’s associated with “long-suffering.” You might remember that “long-suffering” is mentioned as one of the Fruits of the Spirit and it means “to have patience with difficult people.”

So, if patience — “long-suffering” — is godly behavior, do you incorporate it into your marriage? Should you suffer through everything?

We like what Christian author and podcaster Ashleigh Slater says: “Have you ever thought, ‘My marriage would be a lot easier if my spouse had a personality more like mine?’ We’ve all had moments where something about our spouse’s unique wiring annoys us. So, we ask ourselves: Is this behavior missing God’s mark? Or is it simply missing mine? Is it a quirk I find grating, or is it offensive to God and hurtful to our relationship? If it’s a matter of annoyance, not destructiveness, then we choose to let it go. Sometimes the bothersome things simply aren’t worth the battle. Often when we choose to move a bothersome thing to the conversational front burner, it doesn’t improve our marriage, it simply feeds one of our needs to have things a certain way.”

This is what King Solomon was driving at in Proverbs 19:11. Wisdom knows when to pick a battle and when to let something go. If our spouse’s behavior is in direct violation of God’s Word or it is harmful or abusive to us personally or to our marriage, then it’s worth confronting. Otherwise, give your spouse the freedom to be human.

Think about the issue you’re dealing with now. Is your spouse missing God’s mark? Is their behavior destructive to you or your relationship? Or do you need to give them the freedom to be human?

Your Spouse’s Flaws and Your Heart

Dr. Greg Smalley is vice president of Marriage at Focus on the Family. “There’s a continuum of behaviors in marriage, from annoying to extreme,” he says. “Wisdom means knowing which behaviors to confront and which to let go. If the behavior violates God’s mark, then it should be confronted. If it’s missing my mark, then show grace, but at the same time, don’t marginalize irritations if they affect your relationship.”

How might you know the behavior is affecting your relationship? Your heart is closed to your spouse. “The secret to a great marriage is an open heart,” Greg Smalley says. “Hearts open when they feel safe. Intimacy — knowing and being known — can occur when hearts are open. But all that changes when hearts close. And sometimes, closed hearts harden.”

Is Your Heart Open or Closed?

Look at your heart. Is it open to your spouse? Or closed? Is it closed because of their flaws? If so, then what should you do?

If your spouse’s behavior isn’t violating God’s mark, abusive, or harming your marriage, then Dr. Smalley suggests showing grace. He points to Proverbs 19:11. “This is part of using wisdom to know when to confront something. And sometimes, you can let things go.”

Greg shares an incident from his own marriage. “Sometimes my wife Erin leaves piles [of mail, work papers, or books] because she’s busy. I don’t like finding those, but if it’s one or two, I can live with that.” Then, he pivots to answer a question every spouse has about their husband’s or wife’s flaws. “Now, if it’s ten or twelve piles and it’s becoming a habit, we may need to have a conversation. The point is that I’m not trying to make Erin into my image or require her to do things my way. There has to be room for both of us in our marriage. We both matter! Thus, it’s important to blend our uniqueness and differences in our marriage so that both spouses feel like they can be who they are without judgment or manipulation to be more like how I’d prefer things to be.”

Dealing With Your Spouse’s Flaws

Before Greg Smalley explains how spouses can confront each other’s flaws, he admits he does something Erin doesn’t always appreciate. “I enjoy video games. Sometimes, after a hard day’s work, I’ll sit down and play a game for 30 minutes.”

The secret to dealing with your spouse’s flaws (and vice-versa) is to give your spouse space to be human. In the Smalley’s case, one pile of papers or one 30-minute game isn’t hurting anything.

But what if Greg kept playing his games? What if that 30-minute sprint turned into an entire evening? And then it became a nightly habit, and he ignores his wife and family? A flaw has turned into a behavior that starts to whittle away at the marriage. Erin now feels Greg is ignoring her. She’s lonely. If unchecked, loneliness turns to resentment. Resentment leads to a closed heart. She wants to avoid the relationship damage. To do so, she needs to confront Greg’s behavior. What’s the right way to go about it?

How to Confront Your Spouse’s Flaws

If Greg is giving his full attention to video games — and shutting Erin out of his heart — Erin is right to confront his behavior. Greg is missing God’s mark by ignoring Erin and his marriage.

There’s a biblical principle that addresses this situation (well, not the video game itself). Song of Solomon 2:15 talks about the little things that nibble away at our relationship: “Catch the foxes for us, the little foxes that spoil the vineyards, for our vineyards are in blossom.” (ESV)

It’s fitting that Song of Solomon describes relationship problems as “little foxes.” Little problems eat away our relationship one bite at a time. And it’s best to catch them before they grow up and spoil the vineyard.

Confront Your Spouse’s Flaws From a Sense of Value

In Matthew 2, Jesus gave the Greatest Commandment, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.” The second greatest commandment, Jesus said, is this: “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” The phrase, “as yourself,” is significant because the expectation is that you love yourself. This is not permission to be selfish. It reminds us to see ourselves as God sees us — worthy of love, a priceless treasure. Our response to His love is that we practice godly self-care. We remind ourselves that our needs matter. Our voice matters. Our preferences — even the little things that irritate us — matter.

In Yolanda Brown’s toothpick story, the wife explained her husband’s behavior was not abusive. Just annoying. She was tired. And a minor annoyance got blown out of proportion. The solution? Make time to rest. Create space between the irritation and the emotions. And then come back and work on the problem.

In this case, the husband was a good person … he just chewed a toothpick. The wife found it unpleasant, but the husband was not missing God’s mark, nor was he using the behavior to control his marriage.

But what if, after the wife was rested, she was still bothered by the toothpick? Her feelings are valid. What’s her next step?

Request a Heart Talk

There are two types of “talk” or communication within a healthy marriage: Heart Talk and Work Talk. Heart Talk revolves around intimacy — knowing and being known. In a Heart Talk, spouses share their feelings, dreams, and emotions. The things that make you “you.” Heart Talk is a space where a couple can safely start conversations with the words, “I feel…” Within this safe space, you may be able to share your preferences and seek out areas where the “little foxes” are nibbling at your marriage.

Schedule a Work Talk

Maybe during your Heart Talk, you and your spouse identify a “little fox” — a behavior, a concern, a need. What then? Plan a Work Talk — a conversation to find win-win solutions in your marriage. A win-win solution is one in which both husband and wife feel good about the outcome. Neither feels they’ve had to compromise their desires or goals.

Use “Bridge Statements” During Work Talks

Focus on the Family counselor Glenn Lutjens works with married couples and often encourages them to use “bridge statements” when addressing flaws and frustrations. “A bridge connects two bodies of land,” Glenn explains, “So, a ‘bridge statement’ connects an action to an emotion. It might sound like this: ‘I’m glad you’re unwinding after a hard day at work, but when you spend too much time playing video games, I feel lonely.’ The word ‘but” works as a bridge between the action and the emotion.”

The Importance of Dealing With Your Spouse’s Flaws

There’s no clear-cut biblical command about toothpicks, piles of mail, or video games. But Proverbs 4:23 is clear on this: “Above all else, guard your heart, for everything you do flows from it.” (ESV) Is your heart open to your spouse, or is it closing? If it’s closing, ask yourself, Is this missing God’s mark or mine? If the flaw is missing God’s mark, confront it. If it’s missing yours, show grace, but don’t marginalize the irritations if they affect your relationship. Going back to the “win-win” idea, Dr. Greg Smalley says, “If the behavior is a loss for one of you, it’s a loss for the team. Look at the context of the behavior and, if needed, Work Talk the issue. If not, give grace.”

Some issues in your marriage are “little foxes” needing to be caught. Other things are just, well, human. Sometimes, a toothpick is just a toothpick. We all have quirks and flaws. We all need grace. And as Greg Smalley points out, “there’s room for both of you in your marriage relationship.”

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