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Could Most of Your Disagreements Be Honest Misunderstandings?

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An adult child wrote me, saying about his parents, “Most remarkable has been the transformation in my parents' marriage. During your [Love and Respect] conference, a light bulb went off for both of them, and by the end of the conference, they were both crying together and asking each other’s forgiveness for years of misunderstanding. They both said, at different times, ‘Why didn't anybody tell us this stuff twenty years ago? We would have had a different marriage.’ Since then, my parents' marriage has become so much richer and more fulfilling. They are the happiest that I can ever remember seeing them. I truly think that going through your conference or DVDs should be a prerequisite to getting married. If people understood this stuff, I believe there would be a dramatic drop in the divorce rate.”

The number one reason why some people struggle with forgiveness is that they are too easily offended over what is nothing more than an honest misunderstanding. But like the emailer’s parents, when the honest misunderstanding is realized, forgiveness comes much easier. That is why I suggest most of us start here with this as the cause for most of our disagreements. 

A wife might complain, "I struggle with forgiving him because he never talks to me when I need to talk to him. He tells me to leave him alone for half an hour and then he will talk. But I need to talk right now. Why should he be in charge of when we talk? I really struggle with resentment toward him."

Really? Resentment? 

Before we reach the resentment level, why don’t we first consider whether there might be an honest misunderstanding? For example...

Research reveals that when feeling provoked, a husband’s heartbeats per minute can rise to ninety-nine. That’s warrior mode for him. He must calm down physiologically. Among men, they must disconnect and distance themselves. They resume the conversation later when they are thinking straight. Not all men are conscious of the 99 BPM reality, but instinctively they know they need to prevent things from escalating. They must withdraw. 

To the man, withdrawing is the honorable response, whereas in a woman’s world, it feels like an act of hostility. Some wives have an unforgiving spirit toward their husbands because over the years they have resented the man saying, “Let’s drop it for now. I don’t want to talk about it right now. Let’s talk about it later.” But how can she resent and be unforgiving toward an honorable man who is not acting out of hostility? She honestly misunderstands because she sees her husband through her pink lens, not his blue glasses.

Or consider another common complaint. A husband says, "I find it difficult to forgive her because I've asked countless times for her to stop nagging me. She tells me she's not trying to nag but wants to talk about things that upset her. But it’s nothing more than ongoing criticisms and complaints about where I need to change. I am sick and tired of the disrespect. I can never be good enough. Frankly, I resent her."

Really? Resentment? 

Before we go there, why don’t we first consider whether there might be an honest misunderstanding? For example…

There's also research that reveals that while women do criticize and complain, it's rooted in their care not their contempt. How sad when this nurturing wife, who seeks to be a helper suitable to her husband, provides information to serve him but is met with an accusation, "You are a constant nag, and I am growing bitter toward you." This leaves her in utter disbelief.

I'm not saying that a husband is always justified when he withdraws, or the wife is always justified when she criticizes. But we need to get in tune with the motivation behind the withdrawal or the criticism. If he's an honorable man not seeking to be hostile and she's a caring woman not seeking to be contemptuous, yet we take up offense and are bitter, this is our issue due to an honest misunderstanding. 

I'm also not arguing that it's easy for a wife to give her husband a break until they resume the conversation or that it's easy for a husband to hear a negative critique. However, this is no justification for having an unforgiving spirit. If one is remembering all of these past conflicts and labeling a caring wife as contemptuous and an honorable husband as hostile, one needs to chill out.

And as the adult child who wrote me communicated, it’s best to learn this now, as early in the relationship as possible. Don’t be the older couple who spent the first thirty years of their marriage fighting and harboring unforgiveness toward each other when the majority of the “problems” were simply honest misunderstandings.

Emerson Eggerichs, Ph.D.
Author, Speaker, Pastor

Questions to Consider

  1. Can you recall an argument you and your spouse had that turned out to be more an honest misunderstanding? How far did the argument go before realizing what was really going on?
  2. Consider the example of the withdrawing husband. Why should forgiveness come easier when the wife realizes he is withdrawing out of honor, not out of spite or anger toward her?
  3. Consider the example of the “nagging” wife. Why should forgiveness come easier when the husband realizes she does so out of care not contempt?
  4. Does another argument or disagreement come to mind that, looking back now, might also be because of an honest disagreement? How so? Will you be the mature one, and move first?