In a blog post from 2007 entiled “Be a Kinder Calvinist”, Abraham Piper describes an argument with his wife in which pastoral intervention was required:
Sitting at our kitchen table, he helped us figure each other out. Soon we were getting to the heart of the matter. Molly turned to me and said, “You never treat me like you appreciate me.”
I looked at her. I looked at our pastor. And then I listed three ways that I’d shown appreciation for her that morning. As far as I was concerned, things were taken care of. She thought I didn’t act appreciatively, but I just showed her (definitively, I might add) that I did.
As you can imagine, things were not taken care of. As a matter of fact, my list, for all its accuracy, was completely irrelevant to Molly. This was when our pastor pointed something out to me that has forever changed the way I interact with my wife, and with everybody, for that matter.
He told me that, sure, it may be wrong to say that I never show appreciation, but clearly she feels that way, and right now that’s what needs to be dealt with. And not just dealt with but acknowledged, understood, respected. Her words may have included a factual error, but what she was saying was completely true.
This is one of the most important things I learned in pre-marital counseling. If my wife says something in the heat of an argument, perhaps a generalization, and it seems inaccurate to me, the cause of my frustration is not that I’m right and she’s wrong. Rather, the cause is my own failure to acknowledge her feelings, which are very true and very legitimate. As Abraham Piper said about his own situation, “Her frustration was true because, whether or not I was grateful to my wife, I was perceived as an ingrate.” The appropriate response from me is not to tell her why she’s wrong or accuse her of slander and demand her repentance, but rather, to try to understand why she feels that way, and to seek to change myself, and to bring healing and reconciliation to the situation.
Something I had suspected was that this sort of grace that we extend to people is not just necessary in marriage when there are misunderstandings, but in all our interpersonal interactions. There are several examples in Scripture, but one that jumps out right away is Romans 12:18 (ESV), which says, “If possible, so far as it depends on you, live peaceably with all.”
In other words, give them the benefit of the doubt.
If I try to share this illustration with someone else who’s having a conflict, describing the importance of listening to my wife’s expression of what she feels, I would hope the listener wouldn’t quip, “Oh, that’s just for marriage counseling; I’m not married to the person I’m angry with, so it doesn’t apply here.” Oh, but it does. Please don’t harden your heart just because the offender isn’t your spouse.
In my marriage, it doesn’t matter whether I’m thankful if I don’t seem like it… Paying attention to those who disagree with us and taking them seriously, even if we’re pretty sure we’ll still disagree, is part of what it means to be in the body of Christ. It’s humbling; it sanctifies. It will make us better husbands and wives. It will make us better Christians, and maybe even better Calvinists. (Abraham Piper)