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Have You Learned to Smile at God’s Design for Your Adam or Eve?

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I recently heard about a sermon series a pastor was preparing to preach on entitled “Why Do Marriages Go South?” As a former pastor of twenty years, my initial response is... I’ll be praying for that pastor! Indeed, that is quite an endeavor to tackle from behind the pulpit. But certainly an extremely important one that must be addressed, and I applaud this pastor for having the necessary boldness to face head-on the plague of separation and divorce that is destroying families everywhere, even in the church.

To address such a question appropriately would require multiple weeks and a variety of more specific topics, looked at with some depth, starting of course with the sinful nature that has been passed down to every man and woman since the garden. But if I may, I’d like to suggest one strategy that, if addressed intentionally and gracefully, would decrease dramatically the amount of marriages that “go south.”

If every couple, at a time before the next conflict arises, would join together to establish their own personal “rules of engagement” for when the next conflict comes—and it will!—and then have the strength and determination to both abide to these pre-determined, agreed-upon rules, then their chances of staying off the Crazy Cycle and resolving quickly and lovingly the matter at hand will increase exponentially!

For instance, one “rule of engagement” I highly recommend is: Smile at God’s design for your Adam / your Eve. What I mean by this is, too often, when we react to one another, we personalize the conflict as though the other does this intentionally and lacks goodwill and good sense. 

We have all been guilty of this, haven’t we? I remember a time early in my marriage with Sarah when we were visiting my parents for an overnight trip. The first night there, as I prepared for bed, I realized I had forgotten my contact lens case. In order to improvise, I went to the kitchen, got two juice glasses, filled them both with a little water, and dropped a contact lens in each one.

When I got up the next morning, I discovered that one of the glasses was empty and the contact was gone. Wouldn’t you know it, Sarah had woken up in the middle of the night needing to take a pill, and she ended up drinking my contact! Well, I became enraged! “You did WHAT? How COULD you? You DRANK my contact!”

Clearly, I overreacted. I was wrong and of course needed to apologize to Sarah—which I did. No one in their right mind would ever intentionally try to swallow a person’s contact lens. But in that moment, my first reaction was to personalize the mistake—which really was mine to begin with—and respond to Sarah as though she lacked goodwill toward me and had intentionally drunk my contact.

At other times, a man or woman’s response toward their spouse when in conflict is not as blatantly sinful as was my reaction toward Sarah drinking my contact lens but is instead a very male or female reaction that is rooted in God’s design for them—even though the response may have unintentionally communicated a message of disrespect or hostility. 

For example, when in conflict with their wives, men oftentimes withdraw and stonewall, which most women interpret as unloving. But if the wife were to apply the rule of engagment of “smile at God’s design for her Adam,” she may see her husband is actually seeking to do the honorable thing by leaving the conflict before he erupts in a way he would never even dream of doing toward the woman he loves dearly.

Turned around, when in conflict with their husbands, women oftentimes tend to criticize and complain, which to her husband feels disrespectful as she continues to confront him. But if he were to “smile at God’s design for his Eve,” he would recognize that she is not seeking to be contemptuous, but rather is trying to do the caring thing—addressing the problem at hand so they can move past the conflict as quickly as possible. 

Given these two descriptions accurately reflect God’s design—he withdraws so as to remain honorable; she confronts as to be caring—should we not smile over this dynamic? He’s honorable! She’s caring! Okay, maybe we do not smile at the moment of withdrawal or criticism, but from the thirty-thousand-foot view, we see the male response as honorable, not hostile, and the female response as caring, not contemptuous. Recognizing this truth can cause us to grin, not gripe. 

In understanding such rules of engagement, as part of having a little knowledge and practicing a few skills when conflict arises, fewer marriages, in my opinion, would “go south.”

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

Questions to Consider

  1. Have you and your spouse ever created a list of “rules of engagement”? If so, how has it helped? If not, do you think they could help?
  2. Emerson said that, in general, husbands withdraw out of honor and wives confront out of care. Do you agree or disagree? Why?
  3. Keeping in mind God’s design and a spouse’s good intentions, what would be a respectful way for a wife to respond to her stonewalling and withdrawing husband? What would be a loving way for a husband to respond to his confronting wife?
  4. What might be another example of someone needing to learn how to “smile at God’s design” of their spouse, so as to abstain from taking further spins on the Crazy Cycle?