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by Shandel Slaten
A One-Man Gun Fight
Before a couple gets married, a church has them go through pre-marriage counseling. The purpose of this counseling is to help the couple understand that certain expectations for marriage may be unrealistic.
Science and experience show that rose-colored glasses always clear up, usually within first 24 to 30 months of the relationship. This means that every “happily ever after” demands the cultivation of reasonable tolerance and a willingness to forgive, as disappointment in one form or another is inevitable.
The Inevitability of Sin in Marriage
Just as inevitable as the unmet expectation is the certainty of the first transgression, as every husband and wife will eventually hurt their spouse by their words or actions. Either way (unmet expectation or sin) the intuitive response of the wounded spouse is resentment, which is a destructive force both in and out of the bedroom.
Using the metaphor of the marriage bed as a private vineyard, the Bible likens this resentment to “little foxes,” pests that enter the vineyard and interfere with intimacy (Song of Solomon 2:15). They often arrive unnoticed, planting themselves in the heart and mind of the offended spouse.
The biblical mandate to forgive each other is not optional in covenant marriage.
Small and harmless at first, they become a dangerous threat if they remain and are allowed to dwell. As anger and resentment grow, they eventually obscure even the memory of the minor first offense. This phenomenon is easily observed as couples tell their stories in coffee shops and counseling rooms— “I don’t remember what we were fighting about, but I do remember that I was absolutely furious.”
Sin and Resentment Grow in the Dark
Sometimes the offended spouse will hide their resentment, and allow it to grow. In their own minds, they unilaterally escalate the conflict, privately plotting their retaliation, even while their spouse may be oblivious to it, “Not taking her on a date!” or “No sex for him!” They privately conspire to exploit whatever power they have in the relationship, thereby quenching their desire for revenge. Whether or not it’s acted out, their bitterness simmers until the heat is turned up again, and the pot boils over with the next fight.
Bullet with Bitterfly Wings
A friend of mine was not only familiar with this phenomenon, but he had coined a name for it: He called it the “one-man gunfight,” a term so perfectly descriptive it should be a permanent part of marriage vernacular. Observing that the bitter husband or wife is always the first to get hurt in such a fight, my friend understood the wisdom of addressing conflict early, and resolving differences before the sun goes down.
We all understand this type of bitterness, but we equally understand the difficulty of letting it go. How does one catch the little foxes, and take them captive?
You’ve Covenanted to Forgive
The answer is not too complicated. Spouses must resolve to recognize resentment in its earliest form, and turn it away as quickly as it appears. The biblical mandate to forgive each other, as we have been forgiven, is not optional in covenant marriage. As we fight to see ourselves as Christ sees us, we are enabled to see our spouse as Christ sees them. Embracing God’s mercy on us, we are empowered to extend mercy—volitionally and obediently—to our spouse. That is the antidote to bitterness, and the cure for the one-man gunfight.