September 21, 2017

He Ate My Chocolate

Gary Thomas — 

In premarital counseling, I tell couples, “Your ability to continue cherishing each other, treasuring each other and feeling close to each other will be directly tied to your ability to handle conflict in a way that brings you together instead of tearing you apart.”

It doesn’t matter how strong your infatuation is, if you can’t come out of conflict with greater understanding and intimacy, then your marriage is going to become stone cold or even antagonistic. Conflict is inevitable; the ability to use conflict to build the relationship instead of strain it is thus essential to a growing and intimate marriage.

I’m pre-reading a great book (it’s not out until May, but you can pre-order it on Amazon right now) by Debra Fileta entitled Choosing Marriage: The hardest and greatest thing you’ll ever do. In this book, Deb recounts a classic marital spat:

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My husband sinned against me.

Seriously, he did.

I was having a rough day, and I opened my top-secret drawer where I hide my “desperate-times-call-for-desperate-measures” chocolate stash, and noticed it was missing! MY CHOCOLATE STASH WAS MISSING!  The stash I cling to in case of emergencies. The stash that I spend a little extra money just to have, knowing that I’ll use it wisely and savor it piece by piece. The no-kids-allowed, husband-stay-away, one-and-only-stinking-thing-in-life-I-call-my-very-own stash. IT WAS MISSING. And immediately (considering the location of this particular stash and the fact that it was only known by the two of us) I knew it had to be him who broke into it.

He knows this is my secret stash. He promised not to touch it. He didn’t even tell me about it! I’ll bet he didn’t even savor it! He probably finished it all in all of 30 seconds. Could he be trusted? Did he even love me?

Okay, call me a bit dramatic, but I was seriously fuming. Maybe it sounds like such a small thing to you, but anyone who is married knows that it’s usually not the big things that tend to cause a marital rift – most often, it’s the small things. And you know what? This wasn’t even about the chocolate, anymore. It was about the principle! It was about the trust. It was about him keeping his word and respecting my boundaries. I was annoyed. I was mad. But more than that, or should I say, underneath all that, I was hurt.

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This is where marital fights can become volcanic. Deb had her husband “dead to rights.” John isn’t a fool, and only a fool for a husband could be clueless about digging into his wife’s secret chocolate stash. Knowing Lisa’s affinity (there actually isn’t a strong enough word in the English language to describe Lisa’s affection for dark chocolate) for chocolate, I can only imagine what would happen in our own house if I did that.

Here’s the reality, however: the chocolate was already gone. Let’s say the store where it is sold was closed or inaccessible. Deb was not going to get her chocolate. What’s going to happen next?

This stops being about chocolate and starts being about marriage. In this case, Deb’s heart was challenged first. Notice, Deb’s heart was challenged first, even though she was the one who was wronged. That shows an extraordinary maturity that served her marriage well:

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A few minutes later my daughter, who was 4-years old at the time, walked into our room while we were discussing “the situation”. We make it a priority to be wise about what we discuss around our children, but needless to say, she overheard the part about the chocolate. “It’s okay Mommy, you can share your chocolate with all of us!” she said with a beaming smile. Let me put it out there, it’s a humbling moment when your 4-year-old models more grace and forgiveness than you do. Talk about getting served a nice, big, slice of “chocolate” humble pie. But the bottom line here is that this wasn’t just about sharing, it was about choosing to respond with love when I had every “right” to be annoyed, frustrated, and hurt. It was about seeking an attitude of reconciliation rather than sitting on the throne of condescendence.

It was about letting go of my pride (“You’re the problem”, “I’m hurt”, “This is all about me”, “I have done no wrong here”), and instead, learning to move forward with humility, grace, and forgiveness (“Do I have a responsibility or role in this?”, “I’m not perfect either“, “How can we resolve this and come together?”, “Could I be misinterpreting this?”, “How can this be used as an opportunity for grace?”).”

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Deb’s spiritual maturity carried the day here. She mentions how, on another occasion, her husband got her so angry that she had to leave the room. Instead of steaming, however, she prayed, and listened, and this is what she heard God say:

“Think of me…think of all that I’ve done for you. And then, respond…not to your husband, but to my love for you.” And so, I spent the next few moments meditating on who God was in my life, and how much He had forgiven me from. I thought about my many flaws in comparison to God’s ocean of grace and love and mercy.

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Having dealt with her own heart, Deb was able to have a productive conflict-resolution conversation with her husband about the chocolate.

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After I did the above and settled down, and after he stopped feeling defensive, we sat and talked. Not about chocolate, but about what was really going on underneath the surface. About expectations, selflessness, boundaries, and trust. About what I needed from him, and what he needed from me. We confessed, we apologized, we took responsibility, we forgave, and we met each other right there in the middle. We showed each other love. It was a really beautiful moment for us, a moment I’ll cherish for a long time. And the grace and forgiveness we learned to bestow on one another in the small things, is the very same grace and forgiveness that has carried us through the harder things. For anyone else out there who’s ever struggled to “like” their spouse, for big reasons or small, may we always remember that a good marriage isn’t about bypassing arguments, hurts, and struggles, but rather, it’s about learning to lean into those things with love. And inevitability, when we choose to love we’ll find that we get “like” thrown in shortly thereafter, no matter which side of the apology we’re on.”

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The important thing is how Deb and John came out of this episode: closer, with more understanding. John hasn’t ever stolen Deb’s chocolate stash again (I checked!), so any wives reading this should know that the issue was effectively resolved. Do you think yelling and screaming and accusations would have worked better? John’s behavior wasn’t changed as the result of a knock-down, drag out, call-your-husband-slime kind of threat. It came from grace and understanding, with Deb even looking at her own heart first.

Deb’s response doesn’t seem natural, but it’s the kind of response that builds marriages. It’s the kind of response Jesus in you can produce. If you don’t get to this place, your marriage will become miserable because while your spouse may not steal your chocolate, she may erase your recorded football game, he may leave your gas tank empty just when you’re late, or she may forget to pay a bill. Since we’re all sinners, if we don’t learn how to handle our sin in a redemptive manner, sin will destroy us. As I’ve said many times, you can choose to let sin destroy your marriage or you can choose to use your marriage to destroy your sin. It’s going to be one or the other.

This blog is not written for women in abusive marriages. The advice offered in these posts will challenge both husbands and wives, but the advice could be counter-productive if it is applied in an abusive relationship.

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12 responses to He Ate My Chocolate

  1. Once you put your spouse ahead of you, and study about her likes dislikes while focusing on things matters between of you,.. the huddles of the day and night will just be fine! Jut be slow to speak and be fast to listen. Free your mind and spirit. In doing so, you’ll will be just fine. Learn to talk about anything he/she is comfortable sharing or listening to. Remember, this is part of our own grown , and our sake for eternal life. I know nobody where marriage is a perfect institution. We strive to build it it up on daily bases. difficulties and hardships makes us stronger. Once you have set your mind to your spouse as ” I have no choice or no where else to go” and have to stand up and deal with it. Depend on God . It’s your journey and your responsibility to bear fruits in eight stages of growth.!

  2. I would not have handled that situation well but it is good to see how it is a bigger picture issue and that some of that issue might be with yourself not your spouse.
    I looked at your schedule for the next few months Gary and don’t see Florida listed. Do you ever come that far south? If so, a small thing to consider is to come Dec- March as the temps here are not very comfortable any other time of the year. 😉

  3. Hi, Gary. This piece, like all the ones I’ve read by you, connects scripture to life in a practical and powerful way. I am a 40-year-old single in a dating relationship that’s recently been subjected to several bouts of conflict. For a pre-married couple, when does conflict signify that your relationship isn’t a great match and should be concluded? And when is it like the marital conflict you describe above – normal and an opportunity to grow together in Christlikeness? (Or both?)

  4. I love how Deb boils the importance of the choices we make to an everyday moment like missing chocolate. This is where life happens and this is where drift starts. If we learn to lean in during these everyday type conflicts we’ll be prepared for the big storms when they come.
    Excellent post, and I can’t wait to read the whole book.
    Blessings,
    Debi

  5. So very true that is about how we handle the small things! Great article. Thanks!

  6. Hi Gary!

    A dear friend gave me ‘sacred marriage’ as a Christmas gift last year… and her husband told mine “brace yourself.” Haha! We’ve been so blessed by several of your books now (especially your audio formats which we listen to separately then discuss together) and just want to encourage you to keep going!!

    Your striving to keep the the truth of the gospel simple and clear in light of our relationships as parents, how we take care of our bodies, how we interact with the church has impacted our lives in a massive way – not just in the present – but as we plan our lives moving forward.

    We’re watching your schedule for Saskatchewan (Canada) visits – would love to meet and thank you in person! 😊
    Praying for you & your family today!

    • Kendall,

      Thanks for the kind words. I feel like I’ve been to Saskatchewan so many times the last couple years! At least three, that I can think of. But who knows about the future…

  7. I read this to my wife after our morning devotion. We laughed so much and, even more so, related to this real life situation. How it was resolved is a Jesus lesson. We will share it with our marriage class. We pre-ordered the book by Debra Fileta, “Choosing Marriage: The hardest and greatest thing you’ll ever do”. We can’t wait until it arrives. Love you Gary!!

    • Thanks guys! I’m confident you’ll enjoy the book

    • Thanks for the kind words, Bob & Pat!! I’m glad you guys connected with our chocolate ordeal and finding Christ through it all 🙂 May God continue to bless your marriage and I’m excited to hear your thoughts on the entire book when it comes out in May. Thanks for your support! – Debra

      • Awesome Debra, this story made me and my fiance LOL :). I am newly engaged and I must say our relationship started out a bit rocky, and now I can say we have grown and in a healthy relationship. I know normally relationships starts out sweet and then gets bitter but ours is the other way around!

        Good post Gary!