“How can I be loving and supportive when I think my spouse is wrong?”

Connected Families Q&ARecently we received this question from a mom in response to one of our posts.

Q: When I watched the video about Jim and daughter Bethany’s conflict I realized that Lynne answered the phone but didn’t intervene. My impulse would have been to tell my husband to calm down because I often feel the need to step in and “teach” my husband to be a better parent. So this raises the question for me, how can I be more loving and supportive spouse when I think my spouse is wrong?

This is a great question, one that reveals that this wife and mom is thinking deeply about all this, but feeling stuck.

We start by thinking about it this way: Neither spouse is fully right or fully wrong. Dads (like me in the video) want what’s best for their kids. To simply label his approach as “wrong” is to miss this and put us in a defensive position.

The approach to being more supportive begins by looking for and finding ways to validate what is good. (Phil 4:8)

Lynne and I have a history with this. We’ve both learned that beneath the surface of what appears to be “wrong” is a complicated and mysterious iceberg of motives, feelings, preconceived opinions and judgments, and other buried baggage and treasure of life-learning and experience. We are truly each a glorious mess.

What we’ve found to be repeatedly true is that when we focus on the ugly part of the mess we tend to get more ugliness from each other, and when we focus on the glorious part of it we tend to get more of the glorious.

So – when your co-parent starts acting in ugly ways toward your child (or anyone else for that matter) remember this: He or she is a miraculous wonder, created in God’s image to do God’s work. Though complicated by the presence of sin and therefore selfishness, the image of God in that person NEVER leaves them.

From this perspective, if interactions continue to go poorly, the most helpful line of conversation and questioning isn’t about blaming, it’s about mining for the treasure of what is good.

To be practical, here is the process that we’ve learned to use and trust.

  1. Let it go (when appropriate). In the case of Bethany and the license plate, Lynne could let this go because she believed there was good in my intentions, anchored by the fact that she knows I am created in God’s image and that even in the worst of my behaviors God’s image is seeking expression.
  2. Go on a treasure hunt, not a witch hunt. If the good didn’t eventually manifest, Lynne’s conversation with me about it would not be to point out what I did wrong, but to help me think through my mixed motives and intentions. She would go on a treasure hunt instead of a witch hunt by asking supportive questions like, “What was good about what happened? What are your hopes for Bethany? What were you hoping she’d learn? What do you think she learned?” She would help me find my way into the deep desire of my heart for helping our daughter.

The cool thing about all this is that because we’ve believed and modeled these ideas for many years, Lynne never felt compelled to get involved. She knew that if Bethany felt dishonored, Bethany would say so and that both Bethany and I would get to the stuff under the surface, confess our part to each other, and forgive and affirm each other. That’s how it went so Lynne never got involved.

In your marriage, you will need to figure out this process with your spouse. Perhaps begin by having a conversation in which you each express your best hopes for the kind of parents you want to be. Affirm those desires you each have for wanting what’s best for your kids and each other. Tell each other a couple of things you’d like to do better. Ask forgiveness if needed for the things you wish you’d not said or done. Then get a conversation going about concrete things you do well, and the things you’d like to work on. And through it all, remember to look for the treasure of God’s image, in each other and in your children.

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