The joy of overlooking offences in marriage

Recently, a friend of mine asked me to help advise some couple friends who were tired of their new marriage. They were even considering calling it quits. Their fights were no longer cute disagreements about toothpaste and socks in the living rooms. They had reached an upscale war of vicious fights and quarrels and nobody was backing out. No infidelity had happened. Nothing drastic had occurred but they just wanted out. In one of my favourite marriage books, From Anger to Intimacy, the late Gary Smalley and Ted Cunninhgam state that when small, daily irritations are experienced over a long time, they lead to resentment and anger. This resentment and anger leads to estrangement. And living with angry people is like living in a minefield. Smalley and Cunningham teach that couples at this point in their marriage must realise that anger is a secondary emotion and not a primary emotion. This means that anger is a reflection of another feeling e.g. feeling devalued, cheated, used, abused, abandoned, disrespected, controlled, judged, invalidated, unloved, belittled etc.

Married people will inevitably offend each other- even if they are born again Christians. In fact, especially if they are born again Christians. A good marriage is not one characterised by a lack of offences. Au contraire mes amis, a good marriage will have offences but its difference with a failing marriage lies in the fact that offences are always resolved. But when offences are not resolved, the love of your life becomes an enemy within.

The Bible says in Proverbs 18:19 “An offended friend is harder to win back than a fortified city. Arguments separate friends like a gate locked with bars.” (NLT).

The situation in Proverbs 18:19 assumes a present continuous tense of being offended. It implies that as long as an offence is unresolved between you and you friend, any venture to continue that relationship is harder than bringing down the walls of the City of Jericho. An offended friend can be redeemed by resolving the offence. Even Jesus taught that redeeming a broken relationship was a necessary prerequisite to worshipping God. Timothy Keller was once asked what was the secret behind the success of his marriage and he answered, “Repentance and forgiveness.” To repent and forgive is to resolve a fight. The first way to resolve the fights is to neither spew nor stuff your anger but to study it. Find out the primary emotion behind your anger. Prayerfully ask the Lord to show you the root of the hurt. Does it stem from a traumatic childhood experience? Or perhaps from a high school bullying? Is it from a college heartbreak? Ted and Gary insist that at this point you must “focus on feelings and not issues.” We often tend to imagine that solely focusing on issues while ignoring feelings is healthy- it’s not. Each day that passes without talking, repenting and forgiving makes it harder to resolve them. The best time to resolve a marital conflict is the day it happened. The next best time is now. This introspective route is healthy and I definitely recommend it.

However there is another way to resolve offences that we rarely talk about. And that is to overlook them. Yes, that’s right- overlook them! Some of you are staring at the screen with wide eyes as if I just wrote the text in Greek! I am talking to followers of Jesus Christ, aren’t I? I know I did not stutter. Born again believers must train themselves to overlook majority of the offences in their marriages. And that is because majority of the offences in a marriage are not always rooted in deep emotions that require counselling or historical injustices that require lengthy periods of healing. Many married people will admit that a huge deal of the offences in marriage would be termed minor offences. They are rooted in pet peeves and petty annoyances. Believers must learn to ignore these when they manifest in their marriages. The Bible says in Proverbs 19:11 that “A person’s wisdom yields patience; it is to one’s glory to overlook an offence.”  (NIV).

Many married couples have lost this glory of overlooking minor offences! Where are the Christian men and women who would prefer to overlook an offence as opposed to prove a point? Does your marriage have this glory, Beloved? When was the last time you were offended and you overlooked it? Is your marriage attractive even when it is in the rocks? Or is it attractive only in the good times? The true glory of a marriage is seen not in the “for better” moments but rather in the “for worse” occasions. But Ernest, some may say, I was right and he was wrong. I was right and she was wrong! We need to square it out!

Well, Beloved, do you realize that the Christian standard set by Jesus requires that the action of overlooking offences to precede the action of reporting offences? Do you realise that one of the key trademarks of the faith is to overlook offences. Do you not perceive that the man hanging on the cross, bleeding and dying is overlooking your very own offences? When the Corinthian church had disagreements between themselves, one of their primary moves was to sue each other in courts of law. Paul wrote to them when he heard about it and challenged them.

1 Corinthians 6:7 “The very fact that you have lawsuits among you means you have been completely defeated already. Why not rather be wronged? Why not rather be cheated?” (NIV)

Paul the Apostle is telling the church members to overlook offences! He is asking them to lose the argument- to NOT have the last word. He is asking them to demonstrate the glory of Jesus on the cross and to do away with the need to prove that you were right. I charge you, Beloved- Why not rather be wronged? Why not overlook it? You see, when you two met for the first time and you were passionately in love, you overlooked many of these offences. Seeing her in that A-line dress just made you forget that she was late. Simply hearing him say that he loves you made you forget his perfectionism. Well, what happened? I’ll tell you what happened. You ran out of fuel! You were depending on feelings of love to make you act in love. But marriage is a whole new ball game, Beloved. In marriage, love matures. In marriage, actions of love lead to feelings of love. In marriage, romance stops feeding on dopamine and starts feeding on commitment. Before, dopamine led to commitment; now commitment leads to dopamine. It stops being the carcinogenic candy love and becomes the healthy five course dinner meal. Paul is telling the church that love is a choice to act despite an opposing feeling. Love is a not a feeling to act in the midst of feel good hormones. If we all chose to resolve conflict based on our feelings we would never resolve anything. The maturity of marriage demands that we act when we do not feel like it. But that is unromantic, some may say. Well, wake up Cinderella! Wake up Charming! That is life. That is how we maintain the things and the ones that we love. Earlier generations thrived in marriage because they were taught that when something is broken, you don’t discard it; you fix it. Actions of love will lead to feelings of love. Too many people are depending on feelings of love to motivate their actions of love. It won’t work. Your commitment to act in love will result in a lasting feeling of love. But if you are committed to feeling in love you will never commit to acting in love. You will be a wonderful spouse only on the good days. And I want to believe you were a mature man or woman when you said “for better or worse.”

This is wisdom that is counter-cultural. Our culture says do not relent until you get your rights! Jesus says, love until you win your spouse over. God doesn’t require husbands and wives  to “man up” in order be successful in marriages. On the contrary, God calls husbands and wives to “man down” and be humble enough to resolve their differences even if it means losing. But more and more we are seeing couples who prefer to “teach each other a lesson” as opposed to win over their spouses by their good conduct. Where does that nasty attitude come from? James tells us where it comes from.

James 4:1 “What causes fights and quarrels among you? Don’t they come from your desires that battle within you?” (NIV).

James is teaching us that a heart that refuses to back down reveals an inner spiritual struggle. Every sinful act comes from a sinful desire in a sinful heart. The born again Christian is regenerate but he or she is still undergoing sanctification. And because he or she is becoming more like Christ but living in a sinful world, he or she will have to choose between being like Christ or being like the world. He or she will have to choose between overlooking an offence in their marriage or settling a score with their spouse. Which spouse are you, Beloved? You need to choose; this is the battle James is talking about. But you ask, “How in the world can I overlook an offence while it is…well… RIGHT THERE!” The answer to that is twofold.

1) You must be born again.

2) You must be walking with God.

A husband or wife who is not born again cannot act like Christ Jesus in this regard. This is because this love is not eros (romantic love). This is agape love- the unconditional love that’s pure in motive and that is only from God. Christ overlooked offences that deserved hell because of his agape love for us. That same Spirit that rose Christ from the grave resides in the one who is born again. That is why 1 Corinthians 13:5 says that love keeps no record of wrongs. In other words, love overlooks offences. The unbeliever may try the agape for a while but they will grow weary of it because the scriptures say that they are dead in their sins and transgressions (Ephesians 2:1-2). The believer who is saved by grace through faith (Ephesians 2:8-9) has all they need to overlook even the worst of offences in their spouse because they are moved by the example of Christ Jesus, who overlooked the worst of offences in them. A Christian spouse should remember that they are a sinner who married a fellow sinner. Conflict should not surprise you. Being born again does not mean you are a Grade A human being. It just means you are forgiven. And remembering the forgiveness of Christ will result in softening your stance against your spouse. I have learnt with my wife, Waturi that I can either try and prove I am a better human being and keep up-scaling our conflicts. Or I can remember that I am saved by the grace of God and extent similar grace.
But if this husband or wife is struggling to do so, it is almost, always testament of a poor walk with God. Are you spending daily time with God? My wife and I notice with considerable concern that many married couples we interact with do not have thriving personal walks with God- especially the newly weds. They forgot all about Quiet Time after the honeymoon. The men are not leading their wives in daily prayers. Spouses are not committed to scripture reading and memorizing. So when the fights break out, they have no spiritual armour to fight the sin in the marriage so they fight each other. Do you realise that sin’s fleshly desires will never let you win in a marriage. How do some of  these fleshly desires look like:

  • The desire to have the last word in an argument
  • The desire to prove you were right even if it embarrasses your spouse
  • Commitment to entertainment more than commitment to God’s word
  • No time to walk with younger couples because it is too much work
  • Focusing on your rights in marriage more than your responsibilities

And what are some of the results of these?

  • Constant anger and  irritability towards your spouse
  • Frustrating sex life or no sex life
  • Emotional affairs

The greatest personal contribution you can make to your marriage is a personal thriving walk with God. Marriage, Beloved, I believe is one of God’s best sanctification tools for a born again believer. Every conflict is an opportunity for you to develop personal character and conform yourself to be like Christ (Romans 8:29). Jesus is not just a means to a good relationship with your spouse. Your spouse is also a means to a better relationship with Jesus. And if forgiving your spouse is totally unacceptable to you, then you have bigger problems, Beloved. If the trademark of the faith does not feature in you life, you should be concerned if you are even in the faith in the first place. Paul warned the very Corinthian church that was colouring the town red with lawsuits. He said to them in 2 Corinthians 13:5 “Examine yourselves to see whether you are in the faith; test yourselves. Do you not realize that Christ Jesus is in you—unless, of course, you fail the test?”(NIV).

If you do pass the test, I beseech you, explore the joy of overlooking offences in your partner for it is the joy that was set before our LORD Jesus Christ when he hang on that cross overlooking our offences.



Ernest is a follower of Jesus Christ, a husband and a father. He has been married to Waturi since September 2012. They have two daughters: Thandiwe and Ivanna. He is also the author of four books. The Wamboyes are passionate to see the Gospel of Jesus Christ clearly taught and understood in our post-modern world. They are champions of biblical discipleship and furthering the Kingdom of God by transforming one person at a time. They are the founders of The Relationship Centre Ltd (TRC), an organisation that aims to promote biblical family values in contemporary urban communities.

Discussion16 Comments

  1. very long but very full of wisdom, God bless you for this tremendous zeal to fuel marriage, guess what, if we can also apply the same with our brothers in church, surely we can't miss heaven. God bless u.

  2. Nice read, I have to learn to deal with that part of me that always wants to come out as the winner in an argument even if it means damaging my relationship, may not be married yet but I might as well start practicing some of this small things, before the time arrives, with my relations with my peers and especially with my immediate family that i live with..Thanks Ernest

  3. Very informative, well elaborated, nicely done with the Christian angle not highly played but aligned seamlessly to the message. Feel like a better hubby already. Be blessed Author.

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