Join me on a journey through Sheila Wray Gregoire’s 9 Thoughts That Can Change Your Marriage (affiliate links throughout this post). If you would like to be part of our book study group, use the form on this post to register.
Of all the thoughts in Sheila Wray Gregoire’s 9 Thoughts That Can Change Your Marriage, the hardest for me by far was the first one:
My husband is my neighbor.
It was also the most fundamental. (I’ve written about this in several posts: The Enemy of Marriage: Sneaky Beginnings, The Enemy of Marriage: Pointing Fingers, The Enemy of Marriage: When I Switched Sides, The Greatest of These, Naked and Broken, Unbearable Lessons, A Moment of Hard Truth.)
Even after I learned the truth of the thought in my head, it was hard for me to integrate into my daily life.
Sheila gives us several action steps to help us learn to live the thought that “my husband is my neighbor.” These steps include asking your husband questions that will help you get to know him, showing him every day that you love him and that he is a priority, and doing random acts of kindness for him.
There is one other thing on her list, though, and it was the reason this thought was such a challenge to me:
“Make confession and apology a part of your prayer life and your marriage.”
This was such a difficult yet crucial thing for me that I want to dig into it a bit with you.
My efforts to grow in my marriage began with an awareness that depriving my husband of sexual connection deeply hurt both him and our marriage.
My journey began, in other words, with an awareness that I had been wrong. I had been in sin.
Confessing this sin to God for the first time was such a deeply painful experience that it took me several days to recover. After that, it got easier for me to confess to God when I messed up in my efforts to heal my marriage.
Apologizing to my husband, though? That was a whole ‘nother story.
Has your husband ever said things like “you always have to be right” or “you never admit when you’re wrong”? Your husband surely has not said those things as much as mine has.
Acknowledging my sins and mistakes is vulnerable for me because it relates to my long-time belief that I am worthy of love only if I do things right. I feel like I am saying that I am unlovable. I feel broken and ashamed. (Although I’ve made progress here, I still struggle from time to time.)
I knew early on in my journey that not only had I been wrong in my marriage, I would need to apologize for it.
Apologizing for something minor is hard enough; apologizing for something big that I’d been insisting on doing my way for years seemed impossible. It was beyond me how I would ever be able to do that.
I wasn’t able to apologize to my husband for saying no or for dismissing his desires, so I decided to practice and work my way up to it.
I learned how to apologize by practicing.
My first step was to apologize for things I hadn’t done wrong but could have done differently or things that I knew he didn’t care about. This helped me get used to saying “I’m sorry” and “I was wrong” without getting dragged down emotionally.
As I looked for things to apologize for so I could practice, I began to see how he perceived things. Stepping away from my me-centered view of my marriage made just as much difference in my attitude as the apologies themselves did. Without realizing it, I was adopting an attitude of being his neighbor.
The second step was to use the words “I’m sorry” and “I was wrong” when I was pretty sure I actually had done something wrong that my husband would care about—as long as it wasn’t about sex. I began to apologize for interrupting him, snapping when he asked me a question, ignoring him for half an hour because I was miffed, and on and on and on.
This showed me all too clearly that I was treating my husband poorly in many ways, not just sexually. I was so discouraged and wanted to quit. However, I was afraid that if I stopped trying, I would never have the courage to start back up—so I kept at it.
I was shocked to discover that saying “I’m sorry” and “I was wrong” did get easier. As the words and attitude of apology became more normal for me, I began to lose my fear of them.
Finally, I was ready to tackle the third and final step—apologizing when I was wrong about sex. Yikes. If my husband made even a hint that he’d like to have sex, without even thinking, my gut reaction was always a big fat NO, rarely expressed with an attempt at kindness. I definitely had my work cut out for me.
Both the first and second steps had helped me become more aware of my actions and words in general and how they affected my husband. My new awareness helped me with this third step. At some point after saying no, it would occur to me that I had said no despite my intention to be better at saying yes. No matter when I realized this, I would force myself to go apologize to my husband for my automatic negative response. Whether it was five minutes later or the next day, I would drag myself to wherever my husband was and apologize to him.
By “force myself to apologize,” I mean that my feet and legs were like lead that refused to move. It took genuine physical effort to go to him and apologize. And lots and lots of deep breaths. My whole body fought against the apology.
I did it anyway, and here is why: I had learned to think about my husband as a beloved child of God, as someone who was hurting just as I was, as someone who needed me on his side.
I had learned to think about my husband as my neighbor.
My body didn’t want me to apologize.
My feelings didn’t want to apologize, either.
But my thoughts—my intention, my decision, my commitment—that I should treat my husband with compassion fueled my ability to apologize despite the fact that I didn’t want to do it.
Every time I apologized, I was seeing my husband as a child of God, as my brother in Christ as well as my husband.
Learning to apologize was a critical part of absorbing the truth that my husband was my neighbor—and this one truth was fundamental to all the other work I’ve done to heal in our marriage.
The action steps that Sheila lays out in her first chapter were the very things that helped me develop a habit of kindness and love toward my husband—and the habit helped transform my attitude and ultimately changed my marriage. I know that Big Guy is my neighbor–and it makes a world of difference.
More than any other thought in her book, this thought made the greatest change in our marriage.
When it comes to the thought that your husband is your neighbor, how are you doing? What action steps have you taken to view your husband in this way?
How have you learned to take on the thought that your husband is your neighbor? I’d love to hear from you in the comments.