Stay in Fellowship

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).

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12 thoughts on “Stay in Fellowship

  1. Approaching our third anniversary, we never placed any exact rules, but this is about how things have been done. It’s so nice to keep resentment clutter swept away, all clean, all the time.

  2. I read these rules in something your husband wrote and my husband and I have been applying them for the last three years. I can vouch for their effectiveness. The only one we don’t observe is the eleven o’ clock rule. This has led to some late nights but we haven’t gone to sleep with anything unresolved. I’ve wondered if that is best but I’m usually too sad to sleep if we are not resolved. Anyway thank you for sharing these and for setting such an example.

  3. We’ve listened to or read most of what your family has published on marriage, and agreed to adopt these rules, too. When you get used to living this way and then meet up with another couple who doesn’t live this way, it gets pretty uncomfortable! We have some friends and it seems that whenever we get together with them, all seems hunky dory and then somewhere during the evening, we discover that they’ve been fighting all day and have been just putting on a happy show for us! I really don’t know how to handle those situations!

  4. Extrapolating this to a non-marriage relationship, what should one do if a bump wasn’t dealt with at the time? It’s one of those things I’ve tried to cover with love, and keep thinking I’ve been successful until the next time I trip over the lump under the carpet and I feel the hurt all over again and have to beat down the bitterness all over again. I’m obviously missing something here…just can’t figure out what.

  5. Nancy this was an awesome blog. Valerie I know just what you mean. I’m glad to have found this site and read Nancy’s wisdom. If I had my way, I would implement all those rule in EVERY RELATIONSHIP. I understand about those bumps ๐Ÿ™

  6. Wonderful rules to live by. For the most part, I’d say we follow them as well, but I am curious: what does it look like to fix a bump AT a party?

  7. Well, I was hoping you would ask. Believe it or not, we worked out a private hand signal that said, “I blew it. So sorry!” and another one that said, “You’re forgiven.” We suggest something discreet, not something the catcher would be doing as he signals the pitcher…..and I’m afraid I can’t tell you what our hand signal is, because you never know, we may need to use it at your house some day! But our policy has always been that the repentance should be as public as the sin. So, if everyone in the room saw you sneer at your husband, then you should apologize publicly. But if it was something only your husband caught on to, then your apology can just be to him alone.

  8. Our first year of marriage we followed an extra set of rules. We based this on Old Testament laws with certain protections and provisions for that first year, giving a firm foundation, lots of time together, and plenty of opportunity for baby-making. We had at least one meal together everyday, and never spent more than one night apart in a row. That’s harder than it sounds, because I was often working 30 hour shifts. That meant we had to have breakfast together before I left, and my husband would usually come have dinner with me at the hospital. He accepted no business trips that required more than one night away. Many of our friends have not spent a single night apart the first year.

    These established good habits for us. They’re relaxed now, but it’s still rare for us to miss dinner together, and we’re both sad when we do. He is very selective in his travel.

    I also endorse the rule for public apology. My poor husband recently had to send an email out to most of our congregation after a poorly worded anecdote in his sermon unintentionally cast me in a negative light. What a comfort that was to me!

    We have occasionally gone to bed angry as well. It feels like a bad idea at the time, if I’m furious, and it takes me awhile to get to sleep. But the conflict is usually resolved in about 2 minutes the next day, when the emotions are smoother.

    Thanks again for the wisdom, Nancy.

  9. I love how you said that it is not a legalistic thing to have these rules to live by in your marriage, even though it may seem that way to some people. We have a lot of similar rules to live by in our marriage and you are right, they really do become second nature.
    I also liked your response where you said that the repentance should be as public as the offense. Great point! Thanks!

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