February 17, 2014

When Your Spouse Annoys You…

Gary Thomas — 
photo: Tim Swinson | http://timswinson.com, Creative Commons

photo: Tim Swinson | http://timswinson.com, Creative Commons

Demons may not live the truth, but many times, they can understand it.

In C.S. Lewis’ classic book The Screwtape Letters, Screwtape, the mentor demon, writes to his protégé Wormwood, “When two humans have lived together for many years, it usually happens that each has tones of voice and expressions of face which are almost unendurably irritating to the other,”

I’m not sure this is true in all seasons of marriage, but it is certainly true at times.

At the moment, I can’t honestly pinpoint a single tone or facial expression of Lisa’s that is “unendurably irritating” to me, though I do remember a time when I asked her to stop hitting the passenger side car window with her fingernails as she pointed something out. Lisa’s an extrovert, which means she hasn’t seen something fully until everyone in the car has seen it too, even the driver who, ostensibly, should be keeping his eyes on the road. I’d hear that familiar, “click, click, click,” and then Lisa saying, “Honey, you have to see this!”

Why should fingernails clicking on the window bug me?

Couldn’t tell you, but, honestly, for a time, they did. Lisa’s pretty open about pointing out things that annoy her, so I thought I’d try it.

“Really?” she said. “That annoys you? Okay, I won’t do it anymore.”

Turns out that was like asking our Golden Retriever not to scratch herself behind the ear. Lisa reverted back to the practice that same day. We talked about this months later, with the kids in the car. “Dad,” Kelsey asked me, “Didn’t you say that it bugs you when Mom does that all the time?”

“Yes, I did.”

“But she still does it.”

“Yes, she does.”

“So, doesn’t it still bug you?”

“No, it doesn’t.”

“How come?”

“I realized it was never going to stop, and I decided not to let it bug me.”

Kelsey paused, then said, “I think you’re a very tolerant person.”

Some things in marriage and family life that annoy us aren’t ever going to change.

They just aren’t. The problem is that these morally neutral issues can become a spiritual battlefield, and that’s what I determined wouldn’t happen in our marriage.

In Lewis’ book, Screwtape makes it clear to Wormwood that he needed to sow the seeds of dissension by making sure that one family member (in this case, a son) assume that the other family member (the mom) is fully aware of how annoying a certain habit is. Even better, he should make sure the son thinks that the mother is doing it to be annoying.

“If you know your job,” Screwtape insists, “he will not notice the immense improbability of the assumption.”
Well, in our case Lisa knew it was annoying, but I also knew she wasn’t doing it to be annoying. She just really can’t help herself.

Some spouses may indeed create a facial expression or a tone of voice in a deliberate attempt to annoy you. But never assume that’s the case. Instead, be on the lookout for how much spiritual warfare is launched in a home over innocuous, unintentional, even silly habits. There are plenty of things worth fighting about in marriage, so let’s save the battles for things that really matter.

As I state in Sacred Marriage, sometimes, the problem isn’t what annoys me; the problem is that I let myself become annoyed.​

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9 responses to When Your Spouse Annoys You…

  1. Thanks so much Gary.
    I love the way your deliver God’s truths.
    I’ve used a couple of your video clips when speaking to wives on honoring their husbands a few years back. THANK YOU!
    I occasionally send out encouraging emails to wives to be the spouses God wants them to be, this was a great one to pass along and I NEED to take this challenge as well. THANK YOU!
    For the Sacred Marriage DVD study, does each spouse need participant’s guide?

  2. Excellent post, Gary. Thanks for sharing.

  3. Hello Gary. I really value your thoughts. I really like your style of writing and the way you teach in your sermons. My wife sent me this link in a text. I think she’s trying to justify her behavior. I have been “annoyed” with the way she “likes” to live in chaos for over a decade now. We still argue about it to this day. She reminds me of the television show “Hoarders.” Am I supposed to just “deal with it?”

    • Notice that I mention “morally neutral” issues. I don’t think you apply this to heavy drinking that could be alcoholism, temper tantrums that constitute verbal abuse, or spending binges that put the family’s budget at risk. I’m not sure what you mean by “chaos,” so it’s tough to offer an opinion.

      • “Chaos” meaning old fast food (not just trash-actual food rotting) in the minivan, hanging on to every piece of paper/receipt/flyer etc…until you have piles of it on the floor. Having everything in bags (she’s referred to by her family as the bag lady). The worst part of it is our 9 year old son seems to do the same thing (I cleaned his room about a month ago because I got tired of seeing it the way it was. He had 12 small to medium boxes worth of stuff that I packed!!) I feel exhausted between the both of them.

        • Jesse, sounds like you need an objective counselor to look at this.

        • My mother was a hoarder. I think it has to do partly with fear, and partly with being overwhelmed at the prospect of getting organized. Your wife needs compassion and counseling. After the counseling, then hire a professional organizer. It’s a lot cheaper than a divorce! She will resist change due to her fear. Pray with and for her. Best wishes!

  4. Thank you so much for this post. Such practical wisdom here!