What is bickering? How does it get started? Bickering is an open competition between two parties. The goal is to have the last word. Whoever has the last word wins—this is what fuels the interchange and makes it tiresome. It also explains why when an episode concludes it often resumes the next day exactly where it left off. So each player competes to respond with accusations, quips and insults that seek to undo the opponent. I learned how to do this expertly while
playing sandlot baseball at 8 years old.
“It was fair!”
“No, it was foul!”
"You're a blockhead!"
"Your mother wears army boots..."
Sad to say I’ve carried my bickering instincts and strategies right into adulthood. I can’t think of any better way to keep God out of your marriage than this. I know from personal experience.
Dave and Ann Wilson have written a book called Vertical Marriage. A crucial moment in the life of their marriage occurred on their 10th anniversary. They had a romantic dinner together and then drove to the elementary school parking lot where they would be launching their new church—that eventually became the Kensington mega-church--the next Sunday.
Dave went to kiss her and she turned away. He then asked the question all husbands dread to utter: “Is something wrong?” Indeed it was. She had no feelings left for him. As a mother of two toddlers with a husband who was constantly unavailable or out-of-town, she was depleted and depressed. She was afraid to share this because she presumed he’d get angry and defensive and she’d get angry in return and off they would go to resume the bickering cycle.
Dave reached for his calendar to begin his defense of himself when the Holy Spirit stopped him. He heard one word in his mind: “Shut-up.” So he contained himself and said simply, “Tell me more.” She did. Then the Spirit gave Dave another word, “Repent”. He didn’t need a Bible Dictionary to figure out what this word from the Spirit meant. He pushed back the front seat of their Honda Accord as far as it would go, turned around and got on his knees. He said to Ann, “You don’t need to do this but I do and I need to do it now.” He began to pray out loud confessing his failure and seeking God’s help in being a God honoring father and husband.
Finishing, he opened his eyes to look at Ann and was astonished to see her also on her knees. She confessed to God her idolatry in seeking meaning and purpose from her marriage and husband that they could not provide—that only God can provide. This time of raw, honest and mutual prayer was one of the turning points in their 39 years together.
The problem with bickering is that even if you get really good at it and best your spouse, you lose. Your prize is a resentful, sullen spouse who really doesn’t want to spend time with you. You will be alone with feelings of alienation and anger. God will seem to you a million miles away. Some victory.
One habit practiced daily overtime can bring God into your marriage and revolutionize your family life. Praying together—not separately in isolated devotion but together. God always shows up when he is invited! “Draw near to God, and he will draw near to you.” (James 4:8)