My wife and I are coming up on ten years of marriage in a few months. People used to warn me that the first year of marriage is the hardest. Looking back, I’d probably agree with that, but it wasn’t because we argued a lot. It’s just that early in marriage, you’re forced to think for someone besides yourself all the time.
And quarter-century-old habits like that can be very hard to break.
I remember the first big post-marriage argument we ever got in. It was over something dumb, as most arguments always are. We were aggressively paying off the nearly $50,000 in debt and student loans that we married with. We had an aggressive plan that involved a lot of skipping “wants” in favor of “needs.”
That day, Julia had gone to the grocery store and come home with a 12-pack of Gatorade. This bothered me for two reasons–both of them stupid:
- As a Georgia Bulldog, I’ve always chosen to avoid the sports drink named for and developed by one of our most hated sports rivals, opting for Powerade instead.
- I’ve never been one to reach for sports drinks anyway. Water is free, and while we were paying off these loans, I saw sports drinks as a luxury, not something to be brought home en masse.
Being the sophomoric groom I was, I chose to say something instead of carefully choosing my battle. It started innocently enough, but there was menace in the question that she immediately detected.
“What’s up with all the Gatorade?” I asked.
“It was on sale, so I bought it,” she answered.
“Do we drink that much Gatorade?” I asked, knowing the answer.
She did not appreciate the obvious question, and the conversation quickly deteriorated. Not wanting to back down, I continued to press until she became very upset. She slammed the refrigerator door and retreated to our bedroom as ice began to form on the walls of our apartment.
I don’t remember how long we let the tension sit, but I remember thinking that was our first real argument. I felt like I was right. I kept justifying my actions to myself. She should be more careful with our money. She should have thought before she bought that. She should just agree with me.
You should just drop your guns.
The words rang out in my head like a megaphone in a library. The thought was so piercing, so resonant, and so foreign to my line of thinking in the moment that it couldn’t have come from my own head. God was telling me to shut up. He was telling me to go win back the bride that I had wounded.
I battled with the idea of walking in our bedroom and just telling her I was sorry. It was so counterintuitive. It’s the worst part of any argument: admitting you were wrong. In the moment, I began to question why it seemed so painful to just tell this beautiful girl that I was sorry for how I’d treated her. Then, I realized the answer.
It was just my own selfish pride.
Pride. What a scaly, fire-breathing beast. It growls and stomps its feet, unapologetically demanding respect while giving it back disproportionately. It wrecks the house with its own special, grandiose kind of bullishness. It poisons the air with its putrid breath until it suffocates life. My pride had just taken a bite out of my wife, and I was letting it make its den for the night in our apartment.
What does it cost me to just walk in there and apologize to her and tell her I’m sorry? I questioned to myself. The answer was clear: I had to sacrifice the beast, my pride. I had to take a sword and stab my pride between its scales, right in the heart. So the question became “is my pride worth it?” Did I value preserving my pride more than I valued my wife’s feelings?
I love my wife. I knew the answer was easy: No.
I walked into the bedroom, over to her side of the bed and knelt down where she lay on top of the covers. She looked tired and wary, unsure if I was there for round two. I looked her in the eyes and, as sincerely as I could, said, “I’m sorry, baby. I shouldn’t have made a big deal about that Gatorade. It was so dumb and not worth making you upset. Will you please forgive me?”
As she always is, she was quick and gracious to forgive me.
Since then, we’ve had a standing pact to never go to bed angry with each other. In ten years, we’ve never done the sleep-on-the-couch thing because it’s not how we operate. We like to take Ephesians 4:26 rather literally:
“In your anger do not sin”: Do not let the sun go down while you are still angry,”
And you know what? It’s made a big difference in how we argue, when we do. But most of all, it has taught me to be willing to sacrifice my pride quickly; to not value it over her.
My pride betrays me. It makes me think I’m more important than I really am. It inflates my sense of ego and distorts how I see the world. It’s like a fisheye lens with me standing front and center. It skews my heart toward entitlement rather than sacrifice, love of self rather than love of others, and toward valuing the temporal over the eternal. My pride lies to me.
So when the storm comes and it’s time to start pitching things over the side of the boat, I want to be spiritually well-conditioned enough to have my pride start to shake nervously, knowing it will be the first thing I’ll point to angrily and demand, “YOU!”
I’m not there yet, but by God’s grace, I’m getting there.