This new marriage post comes from my friend Sarah Fultz. Read more about Sarah and her family at the end of this post.
There’s an anecdote that’s been shared around Watermark Community Church in various settings for several years now that has always stuck with me. For the sake of time I’ll spare you the narrative, but the punch line comes when the wife in the story says, “I wish my husband would treat me as kindly as he does the Denny’s waitress.” Pretty heartbreaking statement, right?
At first, maybe not one with which you identify. But if you slow down and truly take stock of the words and attitudes exchanged with your spouse (or in many marriages around you), I think you’ll come to the same conclusion I have: We overlook the virtue of kindness in marriage.
To be clear, I am not referring to simple politeness (although manners have their place and are a way of showing respect), but rather taking the time and energy to choose actions, attitudes, and especially words which show that our spouse’s well-being is of the utmost importance. It’s a subtle art, and one that has been all but lost in today’s culture.
Why We Aren’t Kind
So how does it start? Kindness and care with our words make up a big part of dating. So how and why does it seem to fade in marriage?
I can think of two main reasons that kindness gets overlooked.
1. The first is simple: bad habits. Couples don’t take caution and care in the first years of marriage, so as they become more comfortable in their new roles as husband and wife (and as life gets busier, jobs become more stressful, children start being added to the equation), intentional kindness is the first thing to go.
Answers become shorter—if not monosyllabic—for expediency’s sake. We ignore our spouse in group settings because their well-being and self-sufficiency is simply assumed. We bring up grievances without care, compassion, or tenderness. The effects of this carelessness are easily overlooked at first but set a dangerous precedent for the future. These small offenses pile up and compound, ultimately resulting in feelings of distance, bitterness, and discontentment.
Click here to read more about the healthy habits of married couples.
2. The other reason couples fail to extend kindness to each other is more spiritual in nature, and steeped in fear, specifically the fear of being vulnerable. As conflict escalates, withholding kindness is a strategy that many people employ, either knowingly or not.
Speaking softly and choosing tenderness toward a person who is acting hostilely toward us is just about the most counterintuitive thing we could do. In the moment, laying down our weapons—our hurtful speech, our undercuts, our aggressive silence—feels like surrender, leaving us completely exposed to all oncoming attacks. At the core of this strategy is a misguided sense of power, and ultimately a lack of understanding about God’s character.
God’s power is indisputable and unmatched. Yet one of the hallmarks of His character is kindness (Psalm 145:17). Clearly kindness cannot be incompatible with power, nor can it be equated with weakness. Our sinful hearts and minds value power for self-protection and self-promotion, whereas God’s power is always used for His glory and our good.
It is God’s kindness that leads us to repentance (Romans 2:4), and if repentance—a sinner’s recognition of his depravity and the active turning from it—isn’t powerful, then I don’t know what is. In light of that, let’s reject the lie that being kind to our spouse in a moment of conflict or hostility would be a sign of weakness. Rather, it would show godliness, gain you intimacy with your spouse, and speed resolution and reconciliation. That is powerful, people.
Kindness is Required
It is easy to consider kindness and regard it as perhaps an optional disposition one might assume in marriage. That would be a mistake. Kindness is the furthest thing from optional, and God’s word makes this abundantly clear. All throughout scripture we receive commands to put on kindness (Col 3:12), to be tenderhearted (Eph 4:32), to love kindness (Micah 6:8).
Alternatively, we receive multiple warnings to not withhold kindness from others, as it shows disdain for God and a presumption upon His goodness and mercy (Job 6:14, Romans 2:4). Kindness is not a virtue that some couples choose to adopt and others do not—it is required of all believers in Christ, and that should make us tremble.
Give Your Spouse Your Best
So choose a full sentence when a single word might suffice. Compliment your spouse. Ask for forgiveness quickly for any offense, no matter the size. If your spouse is belittled or humor is had at their expense, come to their defense swiftly. Many people are tempted to let the concept of being “naked and unashamed” give them an excuse to be the basest, easiest version of themselves. They let the comfort and commitment of marriage become the place where their natural (sinful) tendencies grow.
But our spouses deserve better than this. The loyalty and safety of marriage means that we are free to fail, but more importantly free to ask forgiveness and extend it infinitely. Our spouse deserves our very best; let’s give it to them.
Here are two resources to check out on the topic of kindness:
- My friend Ted Lowe interviewed Shaunti Feldhahn (author of For Women Only as well as many other books) on the MarriedPeople Podcast. Take a listen to their interview.
- Check out Shaunti’s book The Kindness Challenge: Thirty Days to Improve Any Relationship.
Sarah Fultz has been at Watermark for over 10 years, and was formerly on staff with the Marriage Ministry at Watermark (where she tried to keep Scott in line!). She and David have been married for nine years, and have been blessed with three sons – Truman, Coen, and Deacon. If you need the Fultz family, you can find them hanging with friends, leading their Foundation Group, reading a book, or eating a burger (or taco…or donut).