When Beethoven died, his cause of death was unknown. Reportedly plagued with a variety of unpleasant symptoms, he was chronically irritable, depressed, and often suffered from abdominal pain. Some 200 years later, a chemical analysis of hair clipped from Beethoven’s head the day after he died revealed the culprit—lead poisoning. The end did not come quickly. The lead killed him slowly and quietly, one little bit of poison at a time.
That’s exactly how bitterness destroys a marriage—one little bit of poison at a time. Resentment in marriage accumulates in the soul and slowly but surely poisons the one who carries it. In order to have sweetness in your marriage, you first have to quench bitterness. Here are 3 questions you need to ask.
What causes bitterness?
In every marriage, husbands and wives hurt each other. It’s usually not intentional, but it is inevitable. Sometimes a spouse will continue to repeat a behavior that hurts the other, even after the behavior is confronted. Bitterness gets a foothold when you feed the hurt instead of granting forgiveness.
What’s wrong with bitterness?
Being around a bitter person is equally unpleasant. A bitter person is easily identified by a sad or sorrowful countenance. Bitter people are typically sarcastic and critical. And bitterness has made them reluctant to trust others. There are three things that are ultimately wrong with bitterness.
First, it discourages forgiveness. As I mentioned in my blog on giving forgiveness, you need to be able to let go of your list of offenses. You can’t do that and be bitter at the same time.
Second, it keeps the offender from changing his or her ways. Bitterness starts off as a small offense that the bitter person doesn’t address with his or her spouse. Each new offense feeds the bitterness and takes up a lot of room in the person’s mind and heart. Cultivating the bitterness keeps you from airing your grievance to your spouse. How can your wife, for example, apologize for something she is not aware she is doing?
Third, it spreads. Once bitterness has taken hold, it tends to contaminate, at least in the eyes of the offended person, everything the other person says or does, even if it’s something good. Bitterness spreads like a crack in a window. It might look insignificant on the surface, but left alone, it races forward, branching and splitting until the glass shatters.
How can you get rid of bitterness?
First, confess your bitterness to your spouse. One of the strongest holds of bitterness is the secrecy of it. Once you voice your concerns, they can be addressed.
Second, forgive your spouse and ask for forgiveness in return. Seek peace with your spouse and have the grace to forgive. You may not realize it, but you need to be forgiven as much as you need to forgive.
Third, identify all your hurts and address them with your spouse. Once you’ve finally decided to come clean about your bitterness, you want to get it all out. Now isn’t the time to hold back but to be purposeful in seeking resolution, not just an opportunity to unleash. Before talking to your spouse, let him or her know that you plan to set aside some uninterrupted time for you to talk about some issues. As you talk, keep the discussion productive. Start with the confession, and then talk about your hurts. Above all, speak the truth with love and you will be able to put conflict to R.E.S.T.
Fourth, remember that you can only change you. You cannot change your spouse. Resolve to let bitterness go and embrace the sweetness that your marriage provides by meaningful, honest communication and love.
What’s something you’ve had to change in yourself since you got married? Share your comments below.