Reaction mode is this highly destructive and very draining place where you and your spouse are walking in your marriage more like adversaries than partners. Every comment is scrutinized under suspicion and communication has completely broken down.
Years ago I was in this place in my marriage and I will tell you that I was the heart of the problem because my heart wasn’t in a good place. Years of resentment toward my husband and unmet expectations had created this barrier between us.
Though not always true, I find this often starts with women. We stop communicating out of unforgiveness and resentment. Or, like me, we never learned to communicate in a healthy manner.
The saddest part of reaction mode is that it leads to contempt toward your husband. And where there is contempt, respect no longer exists. The two cannot coexist. Then our husband reacts back to us because they’re not receiving their deepest desire, which is to be respected. They retreat, leaving us feeling unloved when our deepest desire is to be loved.
Do you see this vicious cycle? That’s the first and most crucial step to breaking reaction mode—seeing this pattern in your marriage. Whether you are male or female, this pattern will not stop until you make the first move. What does this change look like?
1. Control the Mouth.
You know, there were times that I realized my reactions to my husband bordered on the behavior of a sarcastic teenager. Not a pretty sight but very convicting when recognized. We’ve talked before here about how our words have the power to build or break down. If you’re inclined to speak without thinking first, stop right now and ask God to help control your mouth. This is a biblical principle and He will help you. Trust me on that.
A gentle answer turns away wrath, but a harsh word stirs up anger. — Proverbs 15:1
2. Dwell on the Positive.
It’s easy to fall into this place where we think our spouse has an ulterior motive to his or her words. Even simple requests can turn into a battleground because we’ve somehow fallen into the lie that our spouse intends to harm us. This suspicion perpetuates the reaction mode and is its fuel. Suspicion can also be fueled by lies, so the best way to combat this is to counteract with the truth. What does your spouse do well? Make a list. My husband is great about making sure the garbage goes out every week. I appreciate this even more when he’s out of town and I have to do it. Yuck! He’s also great about going grocery shopping with me, and he’s quick to show his love and affection. Start with small things and your list will grow. Then study it whenever you fall into thinking those negative thoughts.
Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure,
whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—
think about such things. — Philippians 4:8
3. Love Her Despite Herself.
Let’s face it, sometimes we women can be downright unlovable. We get worn out from the demands of our work (inside and outside of the home), taking care of our families, and then feeling like we’re expected to be some kind of superwoman in the midst of it all. Add some hormones and you have one volatile mix of emotions. We’re not always at our best. This is when we need our husband’s understanding. You’d be amazed how these words, “Honey, you’ve had a rough day. What can I do to help?” will bring her to tears, appreciation, and a complete attitude reversal.
However, each one of you also must love his wife as he loves himself, ... — Ephesians 5:33a
4. Respect Him Even When You Don’t Want To.
Ladies, I want to get serious here with you. I see this happening so much and I have done it in my marriage too. Stop emasculating your husband. That’s about as bold as this nearly six-foot, soft spoken woman can be about it. Our men need to know we will still stand by them when they mess up. And they will mess up, just as we do. We need to extend that hand of grace and acceptance, just as we want it extended to us. I’ve never seen anything quite as destructive to a marriage as contempt. And it is subtle in its presence. This goes right back to number one in how we use our words. Add to that how you sound. What is your tone? Are you speaking in a way that solicits cooperation or are you condemning and accusing? This was the biggest area that I needed to change, and I know I could not have done it without God’s help. Sometimes we aren’t even aware that our tone and words hurt those we love. Pull out that list you made and go over it again. When it’s hard to show respect to your husband, find the things you can respect and show it to him. Then watch him bloom under your praise.
… and the wife must respect her husband. — Ephesians 5:33b
5. Keep a “We” Mentality.
Isn’t this really the truth we forget? We enter in to marriage as two “I’s” and suddenly have to figure out what it means to be a “we.” This means putting our spouse first, this means loving and respecting even when we don’t feel it, this means seeing our marriage truly as a team effort and pulling our weight even when our spouse isn’t. Don’t quit the team. Be the one who stands strong and keeps Christ in the middle, even if your spouse isn’t a believer. Whatever issues you’re dealing with, remember that you and your spouse are a team. Blame solves nothing. Teamwork always gets the job done.
For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife,and they will become one flesh. —Genesis 2:24
Finally, remember that we can’t make these changes on our own. We need God’s help. Start with prayer and trust that God really can work in you, in your spouse and in your marriage to bring change and healing. It takes time, but when we desire God’s will for our marriage—a partnership built on love and respect—He will give us the desire of our heart (Psalm 37:4).
Praying and believing,