Last weekend, my Facebook feed was full of Valentine’s Day stories. Flowers, candlelight dinners, surprise gifts, you name it. I didn’t post mine: sitting in bed with a second glass of wine, chocolate and my iPad playing My First Home episodes on Netflix. Alone. Somehow, a few months ago, I had agreed to Travis playing in a pond hockey tournament up in the mountains that weekend. Happy Valentine’s Day!
I was very tempted to be bitter. Bitter that Travis was doing something fun while I stayed home to care for our dogs and baby. Bitter that I had to take care of getting our house ready for showing by myself. Bitter that I had to spend Valentine’s Day alone.
Turns out, I’m a ‘glass half empty’ kind of gal. Poor Travis has to deal with me getting hung up on everything that’s wrong, needs fixing, isn’t what I wanted in our marriage. I do it in my relationship with God, in my marriage, in my self. Bitterness starts off as jealousy or hurt feelings or unfulfilled desires. The seed gets planted there. Then it grows and morphs and starts taking over. My female brain is able to keep a running tally of every way that Travis fails and disappoints, and use it against him. Everything he does is added to a mental tally sheet with 2 columns: ‘He Did It Right’ and ‘He Did It Wrong.’
Bitterness threatened to destroy our marriage for the first several years. The tough thing about bitterness is that it’s sneaky. It’s no coincidence that the Bible talks about the root of bitterness ‘springing up’ – it isn’t there, and then it is. And once you get going down that trail, it’s hard to get off. Because you feel so justified in being angry. Just like God asks Jonah, “Do you do well to be angry…?” and Jonah retorts, “Yes, I do well to be angry, angry enough to die.” Oh, how that is my heart so often!
Obviously, my struggle with bitterness is ongoing. Having a baby has added a whole new dimension to it. In marriage, and now in parenthood, it is so easy to keep a running tally of Who’s Done What, and Who’s Done More. But as I’ve discovered over and over again, that kind of tally helps no one. In fact, it is the breeding ground of bitterness, and it will destroy a marriage if not guarded against.
So here’s what I have to remind myself of in the midst of the struggle against bitterness, specifically in marriage. Hopefully it’s helpful:
1) Find your fulfillment in God. As Christians, we have a beautiful hope in the gospel. We know that there is One who understands us perfectly. There is One who is able to satisfy every need and desire – Jesus. We also know that our Savior is committed to changing us, and to bringing about His glory and our good in our lives. He will not leave us alone, or things as they are. He is working His redemptive story out. He wants your marriage to be whole and healthy. So even when it feels like things have been the same forever, and you can’t see how they will ever get better, hold on. Continue pursuing God and a heart of obedience.
2) Be thankful. Bitterness comes out of a heart that feels like it has been slighted, overlooked or neglected. But God has given abundant blessings to everyone, including me and you. Search diligently for them. Speak thanksgiving out loud for them. They may be small. They may seem insignificant and trivial compared to what is ‘wrong’. But thanksgiving replaces bitterness. Similarly…
3) Focus on the positives. Bitterness seeks out situations and problems to justify itself, and add fuel to the fire. Everything is seen through that lens, and drowns out any positives of the situation. With Travis, I had to let go of all the things I was holding in my “He Did It Wrong” hand, and start intentionally focusing on the things that I love about him and the things he does ‘right’. At first, I could only come up with a couple. But as time went on, I was able to see more and more. I have to keep bringing myself back to those things whenever I’m tempted to be bitter at him for something.
4) Be honest. Bitterness points a finger. It does not acknowledge its own blame. It took me over 5 years in my marriage to realize that I was bitter at Travis about something that I was the main culprit in. I’m certain that I would still not be aware of that had God not shown it to me, but it took that honest revelation of my own guilt for me to get over the bitterness that I felt in that area. What’s more, after I got over the bitterness and admitted how I was helping to cause the situation, I felt freed to work on bettering the situation with what I could control.
5) Communicate. So often, my bitterness has come from assuming that Travis did or didn’t do something intentionally, with certain motives or for a certain reason. If you’re going to assume, give the other person the benefit of the doubt. If you can’t do that, don’t assume! If you want them to do something for you, ask them to. If they didn’t do something you expected them to, calmly ask why not. If you were upset by something, explain why. Even if you think that a situation shouldn’t need an explanation, or that they should ‘just know’, communicate. Travis and I are finding out as parents that it’s better to over-communicate, than under-communicate. But with the caveat that it’s best to communicate when you can do so without yelling or cursing. 😉
6) Focus on serving. Bitterness ultimately comes from being focused on myself. My needs, my desires, what I’m getting or not getting. But when I focus on making Travis happy instead of waiting for or expecting him to make me happy, it’s a win-win. I actually make myself happy by making him happy. It’s not always easy to lay down my own agenda, and I’m not the best at thinking about Travis’ needs over mine, but when I do, I’m always glad I did.
So at the end of the day, I’m glad that Travis got to play hockey. He loves it and I want him to be able to do the things he loves. I’m also glad that he bought me a massage for Valentine’s Day because I am so using that this weekend!
“Behold, I am making all things new.” (Revelation 21:5)