“Honey, you are right and I was wrong.”
How often do we hear those words come out of the mouth of our spouse?
It hardly comes out of my own. But its one of the things I am personally trying to incorporate into my marital vocabulary.
Boy is it hard! “I was wrong.”
Seems like a simple enough sentence, but the ability to utter that sentence in an emotionally weighted conversation makes it more akin to pulling a tooth. “A shot of novocaine please! Anything to kill the pain of this process!”
Why is it so difficult to say this to our spouse? You may have different reasons than me, but what I hope to do is offer a little encouragement in building this into your marital vocabulary by showing how it helps you grow as a person and in relationship in three different areas (and remember Dr. Corey Allen always says that marriage is where we learn to grow up!).
First, it helps us to be honest with ourselves about our fallibility. Second, it allows us to accept not only our shortcomings, but also our spouses. Third, it creates a space of openness to explore the relevant situation with our spouse.
Dear sir, in response to your question, “what is wrong with the world?” I am. Respectfully,
~ G.K. Chesterton
Never in my life have I come across a more honest assessment of the world’s problems than this terse response from one of the great authors of the early 20th century. Nor, a more honest assessment of what is wrong with families, marriages, or ourselves.
Chesterton was able to get to the heart of the cause of human wrongdoings by starting with an honest self-examination. He was able to admit in all honesty that he contributes to the problems of the world and of the relationships involved therein.
Do you see how this honesty could help you grow up? It takes a certain ability to look at yourself and see that you have contributed to the problem (maybe even caused it).
This ability is a “rigorous honesty,” to borrow the coined term from AA.
When we are rigorously honest we do not leave out a detail of how we might have contributed to the quarrel between us and our spouse. “Maybe I was impatient in demanding a response from her before she was ready?” is a common possibility I find in my self examination, “I certainly know I struggle with patience.” The place to start is to begin that internal dialogue, find a quiet place and explore my actions and thoughts as to where I contributed to the problem.
Suffice to say, this type of honest evaluation can be destructive and depressing if it doesn’t flow into our second area: humility.
Once I am able to see where I am at fault I need to practice acceptance of it.
Humility is not beating oneself up in this regard, but rather an acceptance of who I am: strengths and faults.
If we are willing to be honest, the temptation can be to beat ourselves up over the identified fault.
Say we use patience as an example. It is something I would like to have, but know I am far from patient, whether it is with drivers in a traffic jam or my wife in keeping the house clean. My first reaction is to get down on myself for not having this virtue.
Sometimes it takes prayer to redirect this thought. “God, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change; the courage to change the things I can; and the wisdom to know the difference. Amen.”
The key is acceptance of what can and what cannot be changed. So the drama continues. I acknowledge my fault, I accept myself as I am, and I am willing to look at what I can change.
Now that I am willing to change what I can, I have moved from a self-examination to an “us-examination.”
“Okay honey, I was wrong. How do you see me improving on this area in our relationship?”
It is not about being critical. It is about us being curious together.
Acceptance at this point is HUGE.
It is the middle axis which ties honesty and openness together.
I will be too sensitive to my spouse’s input if I have not first accepted that this is a fault I have. The beauty of this is a subconscious message also conveyed through these conversations. The brain quietly speaks to the spouse’s brain: “I accept my faults and I also accept yours. All you will find is love here in this space between us.”
Beautiful right? The mystery of relationship played out.
Whereas the conflict, argument, etc. started out as a source of tension, it has now become an opportunity of togetherness—an expression of love and acceptance of each other.
This is “growing up” in marriage at its best.
The power of these three words: “I was wrong,” is the beginning of an opportunity to grow into deeper relationship.
The next time you have a disagreement with your spouse, no matter how many reasons you can find for you being in the right, use this sentence. Watch it bring you two together.
The magic of it can blow you away!
And what you will find in place of frustration and disconnection is a new level of relationship where you are honest, humble, and open to one another.
To borrow the analogy of J.R.R. Tolkien, you will see each other as “companions in shipwreck” with errors on your journey, and not “guiding stars” needing to be perfect and right in every way.
Michael d’Esterre is dad of two girls who are the joy of his life. He also works part-time as a faith-based therapist for St. Raphael Counseling in Denver, CO. He blogs regularly for Patchwork Papist and his own blog Monastic Man.