I got married young–19, to be exact. Though my husband is nearly seven years older than me (a long and dear story for another time), he is a youngest child and I am an oldest. We took years to find some footing in our new roles and to be honest, still trip over each other sometimes.
Interwoven into my birth-order personality were my people-pleaser tendencies. I had a strong sense of right and wrong and wanted to follow the rules to a letter. I was praised by teachers and adults my whole life for good behavior and a sweet disposition. Therefore, I needed to keep that up. Any blemish on my perfect record of good works was crippling to me. To that end, it was very hard for me to admit fault or to honestly own my shortcomings around the people whose opinions I valued the most.
And that’s how I went into marriage.
You’re chuckling now, aren’t you?
A naïve young 19-year-old, an expert at hiding her flaws behind crowd-pleasing behavior, floated across the USA in starry-eyed wonder and landed with a thud in a new home, with a new marriage and a new job and people she barely knew. And suddenly she was no longer always the main character in the script. There was now an “us”.
That first year was rough.
Being away from all that was familiar was difficult but so good for that “us” in marriage. I grew up a bit and settled into our new life together, but I still hung on to a very bad habit. My husband is the longsuffering type so he waited a while before he called me on it, but I distinctly remember a long car drive to visit my family; we were arguing mildly about something and he outright cut to the chase: “You don’t ever admit that you’re wrong, Sara. You find a way to make it someone else’s fault.”
I sputtered and scoffed and muttered something really mature like, “I do NOT!”
He wasn’t deterred. “You’re doing it right now.”
I stared out the window and hot tears slid down my cheeks as that sledgehammer of truth found its mark at the foundation of my façade.
See, I thought that’s who I WAS. If I wasn’t perfectly perfect then who would like me? What kind of a marriage could we have if I messed up?
On this side of it, I see the ridiculousness of such thinking, but I had grown so accustomed to perfecting myself that I really thought I was the one who was making our marriage work!
Over the next several months after that conversation, the Lord kindly and intensely pursued me in this issue and my eyes were open to the pride that was keeping me from being truly known and experiencing genuine relationship. One particular scripture nearly leapt off the page at me one day. I want to quote it here, but then please keep reading because I’d like to clarify something:
“Let a righteous man strike me–that is a kindness; let him rebuke me . . . ” (Psalm 141:5)
Please understand: under NO CIRCUMSTANCE is it ok for someone to (physically or otherwise) abuse you. Please, please never allow scripture to be used to manipulate or trap you in evil situations where you are not safe.
That said, when my husband gently corrected me, his words felt like a slap, because he touched on one of those soul issues that was so tender. But his heart is kind and he bravely risked the temporary tension in hope of a deeper relationship.
And I’m so grateful.
I have in no way mastered this, as my knee-jerk reaction to conflict is either a pointing finger or self-pity. Humility is my constant prayer, because pride muffles God’s voice in my ears and makes relationships harder than necessary. But slowly, I’m learning the deep joy of choosing genuine relationship over always being right.
We all know what “those three little words” are, and how they’ve been perpetuated through the years to epitomize a loving relationship, but may I offer a few different “three little word” phrases that will actually change your life?
“I was wrong.”
“You were right.”
“Please forgive me.”
If you bristle at any of these phrases, may I gently admonish you from my own failings in this regard? Consider the consequences and ultimate loneliness of sacrificing a deeply genuine relationship for the shallow façade of perfection. I promise the demolition process is worth it.