After reading Genesis 30 this morning, my mind stopped in its tracks on the above phrase in verse 27: “I have learned by experience.” I am not sure about you, but I certainly have learned by experience “how not to” respond to my spouse when I am upset, and after nearly a decade, my spouse has learned “how not to” respond to me. Some things in life cement themselves in our minds forever simply because we have learned them by experience. For example, I have learned that my husband does not appreciate it when I don’t take the time to listen to what he has to say because I am formulating my own response that I hope will be better than what he just said. He prefers that I listen before spewing my myriad of thoughts and options at him.
On the other hand, he has learned that I do not like when he interrupts me when I am in the middle of expressing my myriad of thoughts and opinions. We both do not like being accused of things when we walk into a discussion with one another, and we both also do not like feeling attacked. We both shut down when responses from the other person make us feel hurt, unloved, or disrespected.
So here are three ways (we have learned by experience) to respond to our spouse with respect, even when upset.
1. Start by Saying “I Love You”
We went through a long haul in our marriage where when one of us was upset, we would withhold saying “I love you.” I can remember being so angry at my husband for something he said that when we went to bed that night, he said, “I love you,” and I refused to say it back. So he said it again. Again, I did not. I learned from that experience that he needed to know that, of course, I still loved him even though I was upset with him. Our children are no different; when they do something wrong, we always tell them we love them, we never want them to worry that a mistake could ever make us stop loving them. Adults need this affirmation too.
So next time your spouse says or does something that upsets you, respond with, “I love you, I just need some time to process my feelings.” This way, they know that your love for them has not changed based on their behavior. It also gives you the freedom to feel your feelings and step back into the conversation when you feel calmer.
2. Start by Saying “I Respect Your Opinion”
I can’t tell you how many times my spouse and I have discovered just how different we really are and praise God for our uniqueness. Did you know that it is possible to be married and have different opinions? I didn’t know when I was newly married; I naively thought that if we didn’t have the same opinion about a topic, perhaps something was wrong with our relationship.
Vocabulary.com defines an opinion as “…a belief or attitude about something that isn’t necessarily based on facts. It’s your opinion that dogs make better pets than cats, but your sister thinks that cats are superior. Too bad your parents’ opinion is that pets are too expensive.”
We can see in the above example that the individuals in this family truly have different opinions about cats (so do my husband and I!). Our children think a couple of cats would be a wonderful addition to our home. I like the idea of adopting some cats because my kids like them, but my husband jokingly says that the day we get cats is the day he moves into the garage! We have varying opinions about cats, and we all love each other very much.
So next time you are arguing with your spouse over the best way to discipline your child because you both have different opinions on the matter at hand, respond with, “I respect your opinion. I just need some time to pray about this.” This way, they know that their opinion matters to you. They also know that you are concerned more with God’s opinion than you are with your own, and you can step back into the conversation with a fresh heart (and perhaps a new perspective) after taking it to your Heavenly Father in prayer. Even though your opinions vary, you both want what’s best for your children, and that is something that you can keep at the forefront of your mind when you don’t necessarily see eye to eye.
3. Start by Saying, “I Understand”
I can think of so many times in our marriage where a tiny disagreement fanned into a forest fire, simply because one or both of us were feeling misunderstood. Leading with “I understand what you are saying” and even repeating back to your spouse what they just said to you is a great way to keep the argument from spiraling into places it doesn’t need to go. When I was newly married, I felt that if my spouse didn’t understand why I was upset, perhaps they didn’t love me. Just as much as we all desire to be loved, we also desire to be understood. When our spouse understands us we feel accepted by them, which in the end makes us feel loved and respected by them:
How many times have you been upset about something, and you only wished your spouse would have responded to you with the words “I understand.” I bet it would have kept you from going to bed angry. These two words are powerful for our marriage relationship and our relationships with our children as they grow up. Remember Jesus came to earth, and in doing so, He understands our sorrows and is acquainted with our grief (Isaiah 53:3). We can take comfort in knowing that even when our spouse doesn’t know how we are feeling, He does.
As two imperfect human beings, we will not always respond to our spouses with respect when we are upset. It truly is something we learn by experience. We learn through disagreements how our responses affect our spouse in the first place: there are things my husband can say to me that would have me knotted up in a ball of frustration while the same response to him would not bother him in the least. We need to work on our responses and pay attention to how they affect our spouses. One final tip: my husband and I refused to have stressful conversations when we are tired, hungry, or the kids are screaming. We have learned our responses to one another are not great when our basic needs of sleep, food, and a peaceful environment are not currently being met.
If there is one verse we can meditate on when it comes to how we should respond to our spouse when we are upset, I believe we need to look no further than Ephesians 4:31-32: “Let all bitterness and wrath and anger and clamor and slander be put away from you, along with all malice. Be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ forgave you.”
Photo credit: ©GettyImages/Prostock-Studio
Kali Dawson graduated from St. Thomas University with a B.A. in English and a Minor in Journalism and Communications. She is a School Teacher, Pilates Instructor, and Mama of two young children and a beautiful 2020 baby. She is married to her real-life Superhero. When she’s not holding small hands or looking for raised hands you will find her writing fervently about faith and family. To read more, you can find her on Facebook at Faith, Family, Freelance.