It was the desperate cry of a married woman for help. Though living under the same roof, her husband had not spoken to her for months. I was amazed at the varied counsels she got from members of the internet forum where she was asking for help. They ranged from the not-too-reasonable to the outright ridiculous. I could not but wonder why a man, who in his wedding vows promised to love and cherish his wife till death do them part, would refuse to speak with her for that long. It was bad enough not talking to her for a few days, but for a whole month or two? To me, that was beyond comprehension.
Now, at the core of every successful relationship is fellowship, and communication is an integral part of that fellowship. Ironically, nothing exposes a relationship to friction as constant fellowship. The more involved or intense the fellowship, the more the frequency of offences. It is easier to offend or annoy someone you relate with on a daily basis than someone you relate with only once in a while. For most married couples, therefore, it is no wonder that there are higher chances of getting on each other’s nerves.
The successful couple then is one that has learned to handle offences or disagreements, without resorting to strife and emotional manipulation or injury. Those who learn to forgive and are in the habit of constantly forgiving their spouse will of necessity have better relationships or homes than others.
Unfortunately, some, by their very nature or experiences in life, find it difficult to forgive or overlook an offence, even in a marital relationship. Such often close up and withdraw into their shells, when they are or think they have been offended, and give their spouses the silent treatment. And this can go on forever. This often puts the home under ceaseless strain.
As much as some are wont to believe that women use the silent treatment more than men, there is ample evidence that some men are quite good at the game. A number of husbands simply outdo their wives when it comes to keeping malice. It is therefore not surprising this question comes up often:
How does one handle the issue of malice, especially in the home?
The first question is: What is malice? Malice, simply put, is silent aggression. And I have heard some say that it has three levels:
This is where the man, for example, continues to meet his responsibilities, like giving money for housekeeping, dropping his wife at work etc, but normal conversation is restricted to innuendoes and communication only occurs when it is absolutely necessary;
where the couple resort to communication in writing, or using the children as go-between; and
This refers to a total breakdown in communication. Here the couple do not relate at all and everyone goes his/her way, doing his/her own thing.
It was George Savile who said, “Malice, like lust, when it is at the height, doth not know shame.”
When you keep malice, you often pass across the wrong message, and your spouse will likely respond wrongly because he or she has no way of knowing the depth of the wrong or presumed wrong you are reacting to. This further aggravates the situation as you will feel taken for granted. So why not just open up, discuss and clarify the issues in order to avoid your partner misunderstanding or getting irritated by your silence?
Any way you look at it, malice is an assault on the peaceful ambience of the home. It often:
- leads to emotional distress and all kinds of psychopathic illnesses,
- lays the foundation for psychologically disadvantaged children, and
- silently chokes the life out of marriages.
No wonder the Bible says, “For where envying and strife is, there is confusion and every evil work” (James 3:16). Most times, when malice is allowed to gain ground in the home, it is because people seek revenge, when offended, instead of threading the path of forgiveness and peace. No wonder Bob Deffinbaugh said, “…the cure for bitterness and malice and all of its fruits is forgiveness.”
Without a doubt, malice will provoke suffering and attract evil to both parties. I have heard the confessions of a number of married people, who, while keeping malice with their spouses, lost a child, were involved in serious accidents or experienced all kinds of calamities that would not have happened if they were not in strife with their spouses. In some cases, one of the parties died.
So the question is: Does malice really solve any problem? I honestly do not think so, but open communication does. There are no issues or disagreements so big that an honest or hearty discussion with your spouse cannot resolve.
If you are the man of the home, you need to understand that a woman is designed to follow the lead of her husband and would only go as far as he allows her. If she wants to keep malice and you, as her husband, disallow it, she would eventually respond to you and your relationship will be restored.
And if you see an offence or anything that could lead to strife rearing its head in your home, try as much as you can to slow down and truncate it before it escalates. Unfortunately, many men find it difficult to apologise or accept an obvious error. Pride or the male ego prevents such men from conceding to their wives. But in God’s order, the man is the head of the home and the leadership role rests on him. For this reason, God holds him responsible for anything and everything that goes wrong in his relationship with his wife and family.
Now, it takes two to tango. Although the larger responsibility of ensuring the peace of the home is on the man by virtue of being the head, a lot is equally expected of the woman. It therefore behoves you, if you are the woman of the home, to be careful not to allow strife or malice at any time. Even where you feel offended, look for an appropriate time to talk things over with your husband, instead of shutting off completely. God will bless you for it.
Whether you are the man or the woman, therefore, it will do you and your home a lot of good if you heed these wise instructions.
Much as it is true that everyone is entitled to his or her opinions, and that spouses can disagree with each other, it is important to avoid arguments as much as possible because they often lead to malice and strife. God will give you and your spouse the grace to obey Him in all things and make your home heaven on earth.
Taiwo Odukoya is the senior pastor of The Fountain of Life Church. He is an avid believer in the role of the Church in the social and economic life of the nation. He is the host of The Discovery for Men, The Discovery for Women, The Woman Leader, and Ruth and Boaz, quarterly meetings that reach out to thousands of men and women from all works of life and denominations. He lives in Lagos with his wife, Nomthi, and children. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org