Heather Marshall on August 5th, 2008

A few weeks ago, my husband was filming a movie. Actually, he was acting in it, and I had the privilege of being an extra. The setting was a cafe, so I thought it would be appropriate for me to be reading a book during the scene, but unfortunately I had forgotten my book. Luckily, a friend happened to have one with him that he wasn’t using, and so I ended up reading a bit of “How to Act Right When Your Spouse Acts Wrong” by Leslie Vernick. I thought it was an odd choice (my husband is great!), but I ended up getting really into it, and am now almost finished reading it!

There’s a lot I’ll be talking about from this book, but one of the first things that grabbed my attention was the chapter entitled “Stop Reacting, Start Responding.” Here’s a little excerpt…

“Most of us are so caught up by what our spouse is doing wrong that we don’t stop to think how to respond to it; we just react. We often live in the moment without contemplating the long-term consequences of our behaviors. We do not intentionally set out to ruin our marriage or hurt our mate, but our reactions can be like a lit match tossed into gasoline. Proverbs tells us that ‘reckless words pierce like a sword’ (Proverbs 12:18). Our sinful and destructive reactions to our spouse’s wrongs can cause additional damage and hurt not only to our marriage but to our children, whose little eyes and ears are tuned in to the emotional climate in our home.”

How often do our reactions make a situation worse? Your husband says something in frustration, and you react out of hurt or anger…. and an argument escalates. Or you “sense” something in your husband’s tone, and you respond with your own attitude, again setting off an argument.

James Chapter 3 talks about the dangers of our tongue, as he says “See how great a forest is set aflame by such a small fire!” We possess a small but powerful weapon, which we can choose to use for good (edification) or for evil (negative and hurtful comments).

Leslie Vernick’s book goes on to talk about studies that have been done on what makes or breaks marriages. Research on marital unhappiness suggests that there are 4 negative reactions that will lead a couple toward divorce:

  1. Escalating a fight - In other words, making things worse!!
  2. Negative comments - Including sarcasm.
  3. Invalidating comments - Degrading to your husband; the opposite of respect!
  4. Withdrawal and avoidance - The “silent treatment” that women love so much.

That’s scary! If we get into the habit of reacting negatively to our husbands (whether just in our own private thoughts or outwardly in our emotions and behaviors), it puts our marriage into danger!

I’ll be honest… if I hear a “tone” in my husband’s voice…. I’ll often react negatively. It’s a defense mechanism. I don’t like to be hurt, so (subconsciously) if I sense an “attack,” I automatically retaliate to protect myself. It’s certainly not right, but for some reason that was my gut reaction. The result was never pretty.

Then I thought, “Okay, I won’t say anything. I’ll wait for him to notice I’m upset.” Bad idea. Jason, clueless that anything was amiss, would go about his day as normal. I, on the other hand, would be stewing all day. My thoughts would be in turmoil, and my attitude was certainly sour. Thankfully, Jason and I “never let the sun go down on our anger” - we always deal with our issues before bed. Usually a day like this would end in me crying hysterically, not quite sure what went wrong, but oh I knew something did!

Reactions. Negative thoughts, negative comments, withdrawal. It all makes for a miserable marriage.

Did Jason cause me to feel the way I did? Did he cause me to be bitter and miserable all day? Did he ruin my day? You want the honest answer? No - he didn’t cause any of that. I did it all myself. Sure, how I acted was influenced by him, but my reaction was MY choice.

What should have been my response? What does the Bible say about these things?

  1. Escalating a fight - A gentle answer turns away wrath, but a harsh word stirs up anger. (Proverbs 15:1) Count to 10 if needed, pray before you speak, or even walk away for a minute - but give a GENTLE answer instead of a harsh word in order to maintain peace. You can still disagree, but say what you have to say in love instead of anger.
  2. Negative comments - A fool gives full vent to his anger, but a wise man keeps himself under control. (Proverbs 29:11) Have a great comeback for a comment that stung? Know just what to say to push your husband’s buttons? Be a wise woman, and practice self-control. Pray, because the flesh will want to say all sorts of terrible things, but the Spirit can help you. Remember that your words will do damage - they can tear a man down faster than “sticks and stones.”
  3. Invalidating comments - Do not let any unwholesome talk come out of your mouths, but only what is helpful for building others up according to their needs, that it may benefit those who listen. (Ephesians 4:29) Enough said?
  4. Withdrawal and avoidance - In your anger do not sin: Do not let the sun go down while you are still angry, and do not give the devil a foothold. (Ephesian 4:26-27) While you are stewing and brewing, Satan is having a field day in your mind. Your thoughts are turning bitter, and sin is entering. Don’t let that happen to you and your marriage!

A wonderful marriage can turn bitter if we react out of anger, hurt, disappointment, or misunderstanding. I’ll talk about this in the near future, too, but I’ll mention this now as well: Regardless of your husband’s actions, you are responsible for responding correctly. Regardless of whether he is walking with the Lord or not, treating you with love or not, or whether or not you “feel” like making the effort today, you are called to show love. You are called to act right. As a Christian and as a wife, this is our duty.

Here are a few key pointers to remember when a response is needed:

  • Be Spirit-led! Pray without ceasing for God to direct you!
  • Be humble! Don’t let pride rear its ugly head; it’s okay to admit you’re wrong!
  • Be forgiving! Don’t hold grudges; it gives Satan a foothold!
  • Be honest! Tell your husband how you feel about certain comments he made or behaviors toward you.
  • Be gentle! Let your approach be soft, not argumentative.

I will leave you with one last word of advice from James 1:19….

My dear [sisters], take note of this: Everyone should be quick to listen, slow to speak and slow to become angry.

I’d love to hear your thoughts, stories, or experiences on this topic…. leave a comment!

Keep on striving!


63971: How to Act Right When Your Spouse Acts Wrong How to Act Right When Your Spouse Acts WrongBy Leslie Vernick

Related posts:

  1. The Effect of Pride on Marriage
  2. The Gracious Wife versus The Sarcastic Wife
  3. The Gracious Wife versus The Angry Wife
  4. Choose Your Words Wisely (Part 2)
  5. The Opposite of Love is….

13 Responses to “Stop Reacting, Start Responding!”

  1. This is a great post–thanks for sharing! I will have to add this book to my list of “to read”. :)

    I think it’s often a struggle for women to not react negatively when we feel “attacked”, and I know that all too often, I myself am guilty of that very behavior.

    God has blessed me, though, with a husband who seemingly has never-ending patience and I’ve learned that when something happens or he says something that I could take issue with, I step back from the situation and ask him to give me a few minutes before I respond to him. Not always easy to do, but always worth the effort.

    Thanks again for sharing–you’ve given me something to think about today!


    (I started following you on twitter last night after finding the group on Facebook. Just wanted to introduce myself!)

  2. You have said so much, so well. I’m sure I’ll have more comments when I have more time. Thanks for this reminder to bring all things to our Father before we ever say a word.

  3. its always good to get a reminder of the right way.
    working on 3 years and i cant even tell you the times i cried and andy had no clue why .
    we do do it to ourselves. but if hubby doesnt know a pet peve is bothering you you need to tell him or the next 8 times your liable to explode.
    they dont get the hints.
    we neeed to be honest.
    thanks for that

  4. I’m in tears and this blog posting was so needed! THANK YOU FOR THE VERSES!!

    The other day I got so mad that my mouth seem to have a mind of it’s own - as soon as I was done, I knew I should not have said what was said as loud as it was said.

    I just found out my neighbors heard me yelling and I am mortified.

    I love Brian - he is the patient one - he calls me the “firey redhead”. Well, didn’t that term come to life the other day.

    Your blog post nailed it all on the head and I can’t stop crying. God ALWAYS knows what we need when we need it. I haven’t been to your blog the past few days as I just couldn’t after what I did/said. After this, I am down on my knees (again).

    Thank you again Heather - karen

  5. Ladies, you have no idea how much your comments encourage and bless me! Thank you so much for being faithful readers and commenters - without your interaction, I wouldn’t be as motivated to post new content!

    Erin - check out my Striving Resources page (at the top) - you can find a link to this book there.

    Karen - Praise God! I’m so glad that I was able to share this at just the right moment. I was undecided as to what I had wanted to post this day, but I guess God knew what was needed! Keep praying, and keep striving - I know it’s hard (believe me, I still don’t have it all right), but God will give you the strength to hold that pesky tongue. You can do ALL things through Christ!

    Keep on Striving,
    Heather :)

  6. Hey, I know I’m way behind with your blog but I just decided to read them all at once (and backwards… to make it interesting!).

    This particular message got me as I have a problem with “angry outbursts!” I get so frustrated that I have to repeat myself constantly to my husband and that he has no iniciative, that all the little things build up and I explode! Probably more hurtful, though are the digs I get in all the time. I make snide remarks (especially around friends when he can’t react) and put him down all the time.

    I know my reactions are wrong but I feel I’m the only one trying to keep our home and marriage running smoothly and the strain of pulling my husbands weight as well as my own is a heavy burden. I often feel disappointed by his lack of care and attention to things I feel are important and I get frustrated that when I lovingly tell him what I need him to do he says he’ll do it and then doesn’t.

    It’s upsetting to have to admit this but right now I couldn’t write a “Top 10 Reasons Why My Husbad is the Greatest” list. I’m just having a hard time finding anything that isn’t disappointing in his behaviour and I don’t feel appreciated by him either. He’s taking me for granted and I’m feeling frustrated. :(

    However, all of my husband’s problems aside, I have an issue with anger and taking my frustrations out on others, especailly those closest to me. I don’t say respectful things to my husband and build him up as much as I should. I am guilty of hurting his ego more than edifying him and I have no excuse for that.

    This blog totally spoke to my issues and I’m frustrated because I don’t know how to stop my marriage-destructive behaviour. My heart tells me to pray and I know I need to do more of that!!! Anyway, thanks for the thought-provoking message! Sorry to go on!!


  7. Rachel,

    I will be praying for you! My mom mentioned this on another post, but I thought it was interesting (and it sounds like she was once in the same place you are now) - she said that once she started treating her husband right (in love, kindness, and respect), he actually started treating HER better in return! Now, that shouldn’t be our reason for changing, but God does bless obedience, and you just might find your marriage improving just by a simple change like that!

    Have you read “The Power of a Praying Wife” by Stormie OMartian? It would be a book that I would highly recommend for you! It gives you prayers to pray so that you don’t have to come up with them on your own accord - but they are so Spirit-filled that you end up praying them fervently and from the heart. Amazing book. It helps you to realize that you can’t change your husband… but you CAN change yourself, and the Holy Spirit can work in your husband.

    Keep on Striving, Rachel!!


  8. I guess I do need to realise that I need to change my behaviour and stop blaming everything on Justin. If I can allow God to start to change me then maybe God will use it to change some of Justin’s behaviour. I hope so! After another disappointment today all I want to do is cry and I don’t know where else to go but to God. I’ll find the book; thanks for the reply. (Stormie OMartian… what an unfortunate name!!!)

  9. God is definitely the place to turn!!

    I forgot to mention - you can get to “The Power of a Praying Wife” (and any other book I mention) by clicking on the “Striving Resources” link up at the top of this page. It has links to purchase all of those books at a really good price.

    Keep on Striving, and relying totally on God!

  10. Hi Heather,first of all, i would ike to thank you for this website. i have just found about about its existence, and I have to truly say that, God led me to it. All day long, i was thinking about my anger,and all the bad things my boyfriend does,which make me even more mad.I spark,and say the first thing that comes into my head,anything…
    I realised that,no matter how much i try to convince myself that he is the wrong one,i have so much to blame myself for.i have done nusty things,said nusty stuff,and have to say that,he must be a very patient man.
    Thanks for this blogg. U dont know how much it has helped me,and i can tell you that,God was speking to me through you. May God continue to bless you,and bless you again and again,and keep working for him becasue am sure many people benefit from this forum.
    I feel encouraged,to know that,a young person like you can be a good example to all (old and young),and i can sure say that you are a living example. God bless and keep serving God

  11. Esther, thanks so much for stopping by! I hope you are encouraged to know and to read that you are not alone… but that you can strive to be more like Christ every day! Keep on striving!

    Heather :)

  12. Hi Heather,

    THANK YOU and God bless you for this blog. I blew up at my husband this morning (like just about every other morning). I, like Rachel, feel so overwhelmed and disappointed by my husband. However, also like Rachel, I realize that the real disappointment is in myself. I often google when I am having challenges. And today God sent me this blog when I searched how to stop reacting in anger. OF course their were some worldly suggestions, but nothing spoke to me like reading the Word that you gave me today. When I grow up (spiritually) I want to be like you. Seriously, it is my goal that my life’s challenges not be in vain. I really want victory in Jesus over my weaknesses so that I can be used to lead someone else in theirs. Hope that makes sense. Thanks again!

  13. Mrs. Raines,

    Thanks for stopping by the blog… so glad that God directed you here! Please don’t think that I have things all together… trust me, I and my husband would beg to differ! It is only by the grace of God that I can strive to be anything more than a nagging, angry witch. However, you nailed it - victory comes through JESUS!! He will change you, & your life will be a testimony to others of how great and mighty our God truly is!!

    I hope you’ll continue to strive with us here at TheStrivingWife.com!!

    Heather :)


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