Marriage has a way of highlighting annoying habits. After the honeymoon most newlyweds unpack their clothes and find a six foot magnifying glass hiding in the closet.
My husband, Ron, and I were no different. From my dorm window I could watch Ron walk the path to pick me up for a date. I was proud of his tall strong farmer look. His cowboy boots didn't bother me at all. So we were both shocked when our two month wedding anniversary was interrupted with a debate on the fashion police and wearing cowboy boots to church on Sunday.
While we were dating Ron asked that I be on time but never once scolded me for non-compliance. After six months of marriage he threatened to leave for church without me. When I put an extra bag of cosmetics in the car so I could dress on the way, he muttered something about needing black windows.
To keep from continually arguing or stewing over each other's habits, we practiced keeping tight reigns on our zeal for spotlighting each other's annoying habits. I tried smiling and looking away. Ron calmed his anger with a puzzled look and a reporter style question, "You did what?" He got so good at it that it sounds like an acceptance of whatever crazy thing I've done. Like the time he came home and found me using a steak knife on the shrubbery or the time he found me covered in mud or the time he found me super glued to a plate or … well, you get the idea.
But just smiling and looking away didn't dissipate my feelings about the annoyances. It's a subtle process but I've found that God can use those habits to change the focus of our marriage. In his book Sacred Marriage, Gary Thomas poses the question, "What if God designed marriage to make us holy more than to make us happy?" Gary teaches that beauty is often born in struggle. "These points of impact may not be fun but the process can make us stronger, build our character, and deepen our faith," he writes.
Now after living with each other for 36 years we've figured out how to live with the annoying habits, without silently fuming or withdrawing from each other. We can more easily let them slip by when we focus on four daily goals.
1. We pray for each other. This is separate from our devotions or inclusive prayers. These are private intimate times with God where we learn to accept and love our spouses for the good they do rather than pray for the problems we have.
Most of the time I pray for Ron while doing dishes, making beds, or taking care of some task that he should have done.
I begin my prayer by reminding God (and really myself!) of Ron's good qualities and why I feel he should be blessed. I try to imagine how God sees Ron and I pay special attention to the little things that God would notice but I've overlooked. I end by being thankful for a good man who is doing his best to provide a loving home.