Spaghetti taught Mark and I one of our first lessons on marital communication.
Well, maybe not the cuisine itself, but definitely the criticism surrounding it.
We’d been invited to dinner at the home of one of Mark’s former college friends and had expected an fun evening of shared experiences between two newly-wed couples.
Yet, the fault-finding began as we were met at the door. “Sorry for the smell,” the husband exclaimed. “But my wife’s not much of a cook. I told her to fix pasta, since it’s the hardest for her to mess up, but it seemed that she has managed to ruin that, too. Guess you’ll be visiting Burger King after you leave, huh?”
Taken aback, I looked at the face of this man I had never met. His eyes seemed matter-of-fact and try as I might, I couldn’t find a note of jest in his demeanor. I’d ruined plenty of meals in our twelve months of marriage, and immediately thought of how such pronouncements would have made me feel.
As I grappled with our greeting, a petite woman emerged from the kitchen, wiping her brow and forcing a weak smile. “Hi,” she said simply. “I’m glad you could come.”
I tried to encourage her with a remark about her home, but her husband interrupted, taking credit for “what little decoration the room did have.” Her shoulders slumped a bit more and I watched her heave a sad sigh. If she had been a puppy, I’m pretty sure she would have tucked her tail between her legs.
The evening never got any better.
Mark did his best to divert the conversation to college memories, but it seemed that good ‘ole “Sticky” was bent on belittling his wife. As the night drug on, Sticky waxed eloquent about her shyness, homeliness, and poor performance in school. When he stated that he’d married her to enhance his ministry, Mark suddenly realized he had a paper to finish and we excused ourselves from the toxic environment.
I cried on the way home.
We never saw Sticky and his wife again. But, our one evening with them influenced our marriage dramatically. Over the next several weeks, Mark and I discussed the dynamics of their relationship and decided upon an unwritten code which would govern the rest of our married life: we would not criticize one another in public.
I can’t say that we have never crossed the line. Sometimes, what you say in jest about your mate can hurt deeply without intent. Yet, as we have grown in our communication, we’ve learned that belittling your spouse is the quickest way to expose your own insecurities. I’ve noticed that the character flaws that aggravate me most in others are those readily found within my own soul. When I uncover a weakness in Mark, I’m revealing my own weakness as well.
As believers, we’ve been instructed to “be hospitable to one another without complaint” (1 Peter 4:9). But somehow, it’s really easy to apply that to everyone but our spouse. I wonder if this isn’t one reason why we Christians have such a dim light in today’s dark world.
Photos courtesy of Sara Jeng Grewar. Follow her on Instagram.