Walk into any football stadium or sports bar on game day and you will find a sea of fans decked out in matching gear excited to cheer on their team that they have loved since birth. As long as their team is getting the first downs and touchdowns, these fans are ecstatic in their show of support.
But when things don’t go so well with their team . . . well, from the sound of their groans and the choice words coming from their mouths describing their so-called favorite teams, you may have a hard time believing that they love their team like they do. But in fact, no matter how bad it may get this week, they’ll be right back next week cheering them on again.
Similarly, if you spend enough time with a person, you are likely to hear some contradictory statements toward you and the relationship and be tempted to believe you have been guilty of misinterpreting a previous sentiment. Perhaps more than with anyone else, this will happen with our spouses.
A wife wrote me, “For Christmas, my husband gave me your book with a card that read ‘his love for me was constant.’ I felt as though I had been given the gift of hope. He bought a copy for himself too, and he wanted to discuss the book as we both read, which again was a truly a hopeful sign. As time has gone on, he has told me he no longer desires to be married. That is what I desire—marriage. I guess I misread the signs.”
I don’t know if she misread the signs since I never talked with her husband. However, from my experience with many couples, I often state that just because a spouse makes negative statements does not mean they are all in on that position. People mouth off when hurt, frustrated, and angry. They even use the “D” word for Divorce but they don’t mean it. Many of us get childish when fighting and we make hollow threats. This wife concluded that she misread the positive signs about her husband’s love for her. Maybe, maybe not. Certainly his admission to her that he no longer desires to be married would be a low point for any marriage, an understandable blow to his wife. But what about his previous gift to her and his desire to work through the book together? How many husbands would do that? Which extreme will she cling to as she looks toward what is next for their marriage?
Too often we latch on to the negative and disbelieve the positive. In marriage, there will be more ups and downs than what we see on Wall Street. Don’t let the down times cause you to feel as though you are a fool and misinterpreted things too positively.
As a husband, will you interpret her comments about desiring to honor and respect you as representing her deepest heart, or on the heels of a lippy, angry moment will you conclude she doesn’t respect you?
As a wife, will you interpret his statements about intending to love you as a reflection of his deepest purpose, or will you get hung up on his recent insolent and flippant utterance about no one being able to love you?
I am not undiscerning nor unrealistic. The latter negative declarations can be the truer representation of a spouse’s heart. However, for over 40 years I have counseled husbands and wives. When someone tells me the positive things that were said by a spouse and then the negative, I make sure those negative comments are accurate and correctly represent the condition of this person’s heart. I make sure to inquire, “Were these negative sentiments expressed in the heat of the moment in response to some negative comment you made that triggered your spouse to say these things in a tit for tat exchange?” Many times I have been stunned when the “innocent” party tells me of their own unloving and disrespectful comments they made that ignited the negativity from their spouse. I ask, “Why didn’t you tell me that in the first place?” The answer is, “Well, I said those things but I didn’t mean them and my spouse should know that I didn’t mean them whereas their comments were sincere and devastating. They meant what they said.”
The innocent person gives themselves a pass as insincere but profiles their spouse as calling it quits. Again, maybe this innocent person is accurate. But I have been around this block enough to know that people make a whole lot of positive comments and later during an argument make negative declarations and threats that knock us off our feet.
So, which do we believe?
I say, “If there is basic good will in your spouse, bank on the positive expressions and take lightly the negative ones. Move forward giving your spouse the benefit of the doubt even though their words pain you deeply. They may be just like some silly football fan shouting he is never coming again to this stadium to watch another lousy game like this. He’s never buying a season ticket again. But next year, there he is again, same row, same seat. He was just mouthing off.”
Is your spouse?