When my husband and I first got married, we created and instituted our own little set of rules for communication. These were like training wheels for us, and we were pretty faithful at observing them. I am convinced that God used our little “rules” to keep us on track those first few years of marriage. We became so used to these that it soon became second nature.
First, we agreed on two banned words during any kind of communication in conflict: never and always. Why? Well, consider the rhetorical effect: “You never remember my birthday. You always forget.” This is a universal and sweeping statement. Not even once did you remember? This kind of language cuts no slack and guarantees a defensive response.
We agreed that all past offenses were off limits. If they were forgiven, they were indeed forgotten. If it was dealt with, it could not be brought up again.
We kept an eleven o’clock rule, which probably got moved up to ten thirty. After that hour we agreed to sleep on it and finish the discussion in the morning. Everything looks better in the light of day! And the longer you work on a problem late at night, the worse it gets.
If we had what we call a “bump” or collision of any kind, we were committed to getting it fixed right away. This meant we had a separate list of rules for handling bumps. Here they are.
We would not split up until we had fixed the bump. This meant that Doug wouldn’t leave for work, I wouldn’t go off on a walk, etc. It’s amazing how quickly you can put something right. After all, it doesn’t take long to have a bump. It can be the work of an instant. And it doesn’t take long to say, “I was wrong. Please forgive me,” and, “You are forgiven.” We could work out the details later if we needed to, but the fellowship could be restored immediately. And, I can say that Doug was never late to work because of a bump. But, at the same time, I knew that he was committed to our relationship as top priority, and I knew that he would be late to work if he had to. This made me all the more eager to put things right quickly.
We also agreed that we would not go out into public together if things were not right between us. If we had a bump in the car, we stayed in the car until it was fixed. If we were going into a party and had a bump on the walk to the door, we fixed it before we went in. And if we had a bump at the party itself, we fixed it there as well. If someone was coming up the walk to our door, and we had a bump, we fixed it before they came in.
This may sound pretty legalistic to some of you, but it was far from it. It provided a strong wall of defense around our relationship. We were committed to staying in fellowship, and we got better and better at avoiding bumps all together. It has been years since I can remember having to apply these rules. It is second nature to want to put things right, right away. Those bumps are far less frequent now than they were that first year of marriage, but those training wheels at the beginning gave us the practice and confidence we needed to navigate.
One of the major benefits of staying in fellowship (besides making life together a delight) is it keeps you from the big tangles that result from years of unresolved bumps. Not only that, but it gives children a great deal of security to grow up in a home where they’ve never seen their parents out of fellowship with one another. (Or, if they’ve seen them have a bump, they have seen them put it right quickly.) And of course, we had the same standards for our own children. They were not allowed to have a bump with one another and then just press on as though nothing had happened. You get used to being on good terms with everyone in the family, and the smallest break in fellowship is miserable for everyone. This provides an excellent motivation to fix things right away and keep them that way. “If we walk in the light as He is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus Christ His Son cleanses us from all sin” (1 John 1:7).