Have you ever had and argument with your spouse and found yourself going tit-for-tat? Well I have found myself doing just that on many occasions especially doing the earlier stages of my marriage. Have you ever wondered where this phrase tit-for-tat came from? Well I researched it and here’s a definition that I came across: The infliction of an injury or insult in return for one that one has suffered. Matter of fact I’ll share this sentence which was given as an example of what takes place … “The conflict staggered on with tit-for-tat assassinations.” Can you imagine spouses intentionally committing verbal assassinations? No! Most often I don’t even think the husband or the wife are consciously aware of what they are doing to each other. When I look at synonyms for tit-for-tat like retaliation, reprisal, counterattack, and comeback it got me thinking how detrimental going tit-for-tat can be.
THE PITFALLS OF TIT-FOR-TAT
When we go tit-for-tat, both sides come to think of themselves as innocent and acting in self-defense. We treat each other as opponents unwilling to learn or cooperate or see each other’s perspective. I have seen so often during marriage counseling sessions couples choosing to employ score keeping strategies against each other. Of course it is much easier to see as an observer than when you are engaging in it yourself!
THE PATIO WAR
Last summer my wife, Amy, invited two couples from next door over for dessert and coffee one evening after dinner. With our busy summer schedule it can be hard to find the time and energy to do much entertaining so this was to be a simple and casual time to catch up with friends. Before the guests arrived, Amy asked me to set something out on the patio and I can’t for the life of me remember what it was. But while I was out on the patio I got the bright idea to weed whack the weeds growing through the bricks. My thought process was it would give a better presentation for our guests. To do a thorough job I had to move the patio furniture onto the lawn. While I was hard at work, Amy was inside preparing the deserts. Unbeknownst to me she was beginning to fume. She had table settings and food she wanted to be setting up and couldn’t because I had grass and dirt flying all around the patio with my weed whacking. I had just about finished putting the furniture back on the patio when Amy came outside. She looked around and with a look on her face that could kill, she stormed back in the house. I followed Amy asking, “What’s wrong?” “I can’t believe you!” she fired back. Little did I know Amy had re-arranged the patio furniture specifically for this evening to make for a more cozy environment for our guests. I told Amy that I could put the furniture back the way she had it. “Just tell me how you want it arranged,” I said. “You moved the fire pit and lit it!” she yelled, “How are you going to move it back to where I want it now?”
And so began the tit-for-tat! I start hurling accusations that my wife is an unreasonable control-freak. She starts retaliating by accusing me of being an idiot and totally clueless. “Why would you start weed whacking a patio 10 minutes before your guests are to arrive?” She said smugly. “So you don’t care that the patio looked horrible. I try and help you make things look nice and you never appreciate what I do for you!” I countered. “You’re missing the point,” she shouted, “For once I’d like to enjoy setting things up for my party and still have enough time to freshen up before guests arrive. Now, because of your bad timing I’ll have to run around and fix everything. I’ll be hot and sweating, as usual, when the guests arrive!” I felt like my good intentions were being attacked so I had no recourse but to hit below the belt, “You always sweat!” I told her, “It doesn’t matter what I do or don’t do.. you always sweat!”
We laugh about this now, and it’s kind of a running joke between us. I thank God that my wife and I can learn from these low points and even laugh about them. After the smoke settled, literally, I apologize to Amy for assuming that I knew what she needed. The help that I gave was actually no help at all. What my wife needed was for me not to interfere or to ask if she needed my help. What my wife learned was that my heart was in the right place and that she needs to communicate her plans with me so I know what’s happening. It’s only when we look at each other as being on the same team that we both can win.
WHICH TEAM ARE YOU ON, HOME OR VISITING?
Puzzled by the frequency that I was seeing this tit-for-tat in counseling and having experienced it myself, I asked The Lord for understanding that I might be better able to to help marriages. I received this revelation “Home Team Vs Visitors.” Shouldn’t husbands and wives be on the same team? Why are we trying to score points against each other rather than for each other? Then I was reminded of the book of James and what the Spirit of God has to say about these war games played out among people. No one seems to be immune! James 4:1 What causes fights and quarrels among you? Don’t they come from your desires that battle within you?
In my counseling sessions I began asking couples who were having unresolved issues to take a moment to examine their relationships from the perspective of being on a team. I asked couples if they were a team and they could arrange their scoreboard how would it read? Home Team vs Visitors…. or what? What ultimately came out of this question was their scoreboard should read HOME TEAM only. Couples were starting to identify that they should never be playing against each other, but with each other and for each other. It should be a win-win situation. When one scores the other scores. Couples were starting to see, many for the first time, that they were on the same team but playing against each other – playing for the other side! It was HOME TEAM VS VISITORS.
WHO DO YOU WANT TO WIN?
The answer to the question, “Who do you want to win?” should emphatically be “US!” When it comes to conflict between husbands and wives, they should not be scoring points against each other. Philippians 2:3-4 Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit. Rather, in humility value others above yourselves, not looking to your own interests but each of you to the interests of the others. What a beautiful Bible verse written for all Christians to follow, and especially in marriage. You and I would never cheer for our favorite team if a member of our team was scoring points for the opposition. How disappointing … that person would not be showing he or she valued the team nor working in the team’s best interest. But when we allow our pride get in the way, we’ll find ourselves playing against each other.
The word of God is my constant reminder that I am to be as one with Amy but, pride, selfishness, frustration and sometimes plain old fatigue can interrupt our oneness. We are never to wage war against each other. However, there is an unseen enemy whom we must battle, but more on that next week.