Spouses irritate one another. It’s an inescapable aspect of life. Chances are, you irritate yourself at times so certainly you are going to irritate someone living with you. While everyone should expect a certain amount of irritation in any relationship, we should watch our “irritation level” closely. Beyond a base level of frustration, how much our spouse irritates us reveals something much more important. In many cases, irritation reveals our hearts.
When we are connected with someone, we give them a wide strike zone. We are forgiving and understanding. We assume the best. We are quick to write the most positive story that might explain their actions.
When we are disconnected from someone, our perspective narrows. We are skeptical and judgmental. We assume the worst. We are quick to write the most negative story that might explain their actions.
A higher level of irritation toward our spouse is a sign that something else is going on. It can reveal that we don’t feel seen, appreciated, or valued. It can show that we are disappointed in ourselves–internal shame often expresses itself as frustration toward others. It can be evidenced that we are not healthy–lack of sleep, chronic pain, and other health conditions can lower our patience toward others.
In many cases, it shows a feeling of distance between us and our spouse. As we emotionally disconnect from one another, we stop trusting each other’s hearts. Where distrust is present, so is irritation.
If a friend is driving down the road and cuts you off, you likely laugh. You might call and text them telling them what they have done, but you don’t get mad. Yet if someone you don’t know cuts you off, it might infuriate you.
A trusted friend can say nearly anything to you. They can make jokes, bring up personal topics, and speak to very private issues without you getting angry. But a stranger cannot. If they come anywhere close to crossing a line, you will let them know.
In both scenarios, the difference between being offended and not being offended has nothing to do with the actions, but everything to do with how well we know the people. The less we know and trust others, the more likely we are to get offended, angry, or irritated by their actions.
When our hearts aren’t in-tune, our actions become more frustrating to one another. Because we don’t know or trust why our spouse is doing something, we become frustrated by what they are doing.
When levels of irritation rise, it’s a sign we need to reconnect. We need to find ways to spend time with one another, reveal our hearts, remember our love, and reestablish trust. As our hearts draw near, our frustrations draw down.
In most situations, reconnecting can be as simple as a single conversation. It’s easy, especially for couples who are raising children, to go days without meaningful conversation. Every now and then, a husband and wife needs to find a way to talk. Turn the television off, put the cell phones down, and have a real conversation. Jenny and I have been known not to tell the kids it’s dinner time and to start without them. They eventually hear us and come eat, but it gives us a moment or two to be with each other. When the kids were younger, we might play parents versus kids hide-and-seek. The longer we needed to talk, the better our hiding spot would be. Now that they are older, a walk around the block can give us some meaningful time to connect with one another.
Sometimes a couple needs more than just a few minutes to reconnect. They might need a date night or a night away. Few things re-calibrate a whole relationship like a vacation just between spouses. Whatever it takes, a couple should keep continual watch on their irritation level and regularly evaluate what is causing their frustration.