Has your spouse ever cursed you? I hope not, but if it should happen, Jesus gave us clear instruction: "Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who mistreat you" (Luke 6:27-28). That approach to verbal abuse is so counter-intuitive that it seems almost incredible. We're so accustomed to "fighting fire with fire" that the thought of putting water on the fire by means of kind words and actions has seldom crossed our minds.
Too many of us have become so intent on holding each other accountable that we have difficulty even hearing the words of Jesus. Many believe that if they take Jesus' words literally, they'll end up being "stepped on" by their spouse.
I believe the opposite is true. Undeserved kindness has the potential of deeply penetrating the heart of your spouse. Isn't that God's modus operandi? The apostle Paul recognized this when he said, "God's kindness leads you toward repentance" (Romans 2:4). God is our model, and with the help of the Holy Spirit, we are able to return kindness in the face of harshness.
One husband told me that his wife had tried to have a conversation with him while he was watching a football game. He responded harshly, "Can't we discuss this later? I want to watch the game." His wife left the room and 20 minutes later returned with a tv tray with a sandwich, chips, a drink, and a cookie. She placed it in front of him, kissed him on the cheek, said, "I love you," and walked out of the room.
The husband said to me, "I was overwhelmed. I didn't deserve her kindness. By the time I finished eating the snack, I knew I had to apologize. I turned off the tv, walked into the room where she was reading a book, and said, 'I'm sorry I snapped at you. I hurt you, and you turned around and made me a sandwich and told me you loved me. Will you forgive me for being so insensitive?' She smiled and said, 'It's okay. I forgive you.'"
He told me that he offered to talk with her immediately and not to watch the rest of the game. Her response was, "No, I can wait. I know you really want to watch the game, and I wasn't thinking about that when I started talking to you. We can talk when it's over."
Not many of us have learned to apply the teachings of Jesus to our marriages. We're happy to leave his words on the pages of Scripture and never translate them into life. However, those who do will soon discover that blessing those who curse you is a powerful way to enhance marital unity.
Many of us have read so much about "tough love" that we've failed to practice "tender love." I'm not suggesting there's no place for tough love in marriage. I'm suggesting tough love should be the last resort, not the first option. When you return good for evil, kindness for harshness, and pray sincerely for the spouse who mistreats you, you're creating a relationship that will make tough love much more effective if and when it is necessary.
If there's been no warmth, no tenderness, no turning of the other cheek, then tough love will often lead to divorce. The attitude of the offending spouse will be, Good riddance. Your spouse will shift his or her own guilt to you and blame you for the breakup of the marriage. If, on the other hand, you've walked the road of kindness, the offender who refuses to change his behavior will realize in the face of tough love that he's about to lose someone who is important to him. The erring spouse is far more likely to be repentant and seek reconciliation.
I am fully aware that without divine help, none of us will be able to follow Jesus' teachings. Our natural inclination is to respond to harsh words with harsh words and to mistreatment with mistreatment. However, this approach leads us spiraling downward in our relationship. The apostle Paul summarized Jesus' teachings when he said, "Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good" (Romans 12:21). Taking the high road of "blessing for cursing" creates a climate where we can more readily process our differences and learn to work together as a supportive team.
Gary D. Chapman, Ph.D., author of Now You're Speaking My Language (B&H Publishing), has been married to Karolyn for 45 years.
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