It is an undeniable fact of life: you can’t put two people in the same room without one of them getting in the way of the other. In marriage, multiply this by ten.
In C.S. Lewis’ classic book The Screwtape Letters, Screwtape, the mentor demon, writes to his protégé Wormwood, “When two humans have lived together for many years, it usually happens that each has tones of voice and expressions of face which are almost unendurably irritating to the other.”
Our enemy’s goal is to take a natural occurrence and use it to create marital dysfunction.
At the moment, I can’t honestly pinpoint a single tone or facial expression of Lisa’s that is “unendurably irritating” to me, though I do remember a time when I asked her to stop hitting the passenger side car window with her fingernails as she pointed something out.
Lisa’s an extrovert, which means she hasn’t seen something fully until everyone in the car has seen it too, even the driver who, ostensibly, should be keeping his eyes on the road. So I’d hear that familiar, “click, click, click,” and then Lisa saying, “Honey, you have to see this!”
Why should fingernails clicking on the window bug me? Couldn’t tell you, but, honestly, for a time, they did.
“Really?” Lisa said when I told her about it, “That annoys you? Okay, I won’t do it anymore.”
Turns out that was like asking a snowman not to melt. Lisa reverted back to the practice that same day. We talked about this months later, with the kids in the car. “Dad,” Kelsey asked me, “Didn’t you say that it bugs you when Mom does that all the time?”
“Yes, I did.”
“But she still does it.”
“Yes, she does.”
“So, doesn’t it still bug you?”
“No, it doesn’t.”
“I realized it was never going to stop, and I decided not to let it bug me.”
Kelsey paused, then said, “I think you’re a very tolerant person.”
I like to live in the real world, and the fact is, in that world, some things in marriage and family life that annoy us aren’t ever going to change. They just aren’t. The problem is that these morally neutral issues can become a spiritual battlefield, and that’s what I determined wouldn’t happen in my marriage.
In Lewis’ book, Screwtape makes it clear to Wormwood that he needed to sow the seeds of dissension by making sure that one family member (in this case, a son) assume that the other family member (the mom) is fully aware of how annoying a certain habit is. Even better, he should make sure the son thinks that the mother is doing it to be annoying.
“If you know your job,” Screwtape insists, “he will not notice the immense improbability of the assumption.”
Well, in our case Lisa knew it was annoying, but I also knew she wasn’t doing it to be annoying. She just really couldn’t (and still can’t) help herself.
Some spouses may indeed create a facial expression or a tone of voice in a deliberate attempt to annoy you. But never assume that’s the case.
Instead, be on the lookout for how much spiritual warfare is launched in a home over innocuous, unintentional, even silly habits.
There are plenty of things worth fighting about in marriage, so let’s save the battles for things that really matter.
As I state in Sacred Marriage, sometimes, the problem isn’t what annoys me; the problem is that I let myself become annoyed.