Building and maintaining a healthy marriage is not for the faint of heart. However, there are some simple steps that we can take toward a better relationship with our spouse. Ron Deal says a good place to start is with an honest check of our own behavior–which will reveal our attitude:

“How do you act? What’s your demeanor on a day-in, day-out basis with your spouse? Sometimes we talk about really heady concepts when it comes to marriage and relationships, but when you get down to it, who are you?  What’s your behavior say about you? Have you earned the nickname “pookie bear”? Or have you earned the nickname “grizzly bear”?”

“Does your spouse feel safe around you? Do they want to be around you, or is there some quality or temperament about you that makes you difficult to be around? That’s a pretty plain concept, but I make choices every single day, moment-to-moment, about the kind of person I am, and either I’m creating an environment where my spouse feels safe to be around, or I’m not.”

When a person develops a habit of reacting in anger, it can make them hard (or even unsafe) for their spouse to communicate with them.

“We can rationalize and justify how we come across, and how we act, but I think scriptures are pretty clear.  The Bible never says ‘don’t be angry.’  It says, ‘in your anger, don’t sin.”

Be angry and do not sin; do not let the sun go down on your anger, and give no opportunity to the devil.”  Ephesians 4:26-27 

“I am called to still be in charge of my anger. When my anger gets the best of me, then I’m going to be a grizzly bear. Then if I justify it, all I’m doing is just making it worse for the for the person I love,  because now they think, ‘Not only is is Ron angry and scary to be around, but he thinks he has a right to be that way and that I  should just get used to it.’  No, I still have to manage my anger.”

Ron reminds us that angry behavior is not born of love–instead, it’s a reaction rooted in fear.

 “What’s on the inside matters the most, and often that’s our fears…Each person has a set of fears that drives them to be the way they’re they’re acting, and that just makes things worse instead of better. Mature lovers in marriage are those who manage their own fear. That is a very difficult concept for people: I manage my own fear.”

“In marriage, we often expect a spouse to manage our own fear. In other words, we get angry or frustrated or defensive, and what we’re really saying to our spouse is, ‘If you would change you, then I wouldn’t have to be fearful of you.’ But it doesn’t work that way (and never will). There’s no chance on this planet my spouse is going to be so perfect that, all of a sudden, my fear goes away. It’s not their job to manage me, it’s my job to manage me.

Our ultimate goal in marriage (and in all our relationships) is to reflect real love–not just the fleeting feelings of our own hearts, but the abiding, selfless love of God.

“There is no fear in love. But perfect love drives out fear, because fear has to do with punishment. The one who fears is not made perfect in love. We love because He first loved us.” 1 John 4:18-19

Ron Deal is the founder of Smart Stepfamilies, Director of Blended Family Ministries for FamilyLife Blended™, and an expert in remarriage and step family relationships and therapy. Ron is a licensed marriage and family therapist and licensed professional counselor who frequently appears in the national media. He is a popular conference speaker and his video series The Smart Stepfamily DVD is used in communities, churches, and homes throughout the world. He is a member of the Stepfamily Expert Council for the National Stepfamily Resource Center.

Check your anger, change your marriage