Have you ever been around someone who holds onto all kinds of bitterness? You can’t read their mind, but you can certainly read their face. They appear sad or upset. Maybe they walk around all the time with an angry or pouty face. And when they talk, they are often cynical or downright nasty. It’s sad to see, but are you on the road to facing bitterness in your marriage?
What is bitterness?
According to dictionary.com, the word means “a feeling of antagonism, hostility, or resentfulness.” All of those words describe an unhealthy way of living, especially as a Christian.
Honestly, I know someone who should be the picture in the dictionary to help describe this word. This person is always upset about something. Everybody has done her wrong, and all her relationships suffer. She’s divorced and has alienated all but one friend because of her attitude.
It’s all because she just can’t let go of the past. She may have had a right to be angry with her husband, her mother, and countless other people, but she carries every single thing they ever did wrong on her back each day, refusing to forgive.
Bitterness can be compared to lead poisoning. Lead poisoning occurs when lead builds up in the body, often over months or years. When one of our nephews was young, he had a cross necklace that he wore all the time. And, as young children often do, he was prone to putting it in his mouth. When he eventually got sick, they discovered lead poisoning was the cause. The necklace had lead in it, and that little bit of contact with the lead each day built up its levels in his system.
Does anger equal bitterness?
You undoubtedly get angry with your spouse at times. We all do. It’s natural.
And, it’s okay to be angry, but when does anger turn into bitterness and negatively impact your marriage? When it combines with unforgiveness and the two ingredients are left to fester.
Follow peace with all men, and holiness, without which no man shall see the Lord. Looking diligently lest any man fail of the grace of God; lest any root of bitterness springing up trouble you, and thereby many be defiled. (Hebrews 12:14-15).
Here are ten mistakes you may be making that will cause bitterness to ruin your marriage slowly, over time.
The things I mention in this article do not apply in situations where there is domestic violence, addiction, or adultery. My hope for those of you facing these unfortunate situations is that you reach out for help from a qualified professional.
Thinking of yourself first
Marriage is a union between two fundamentally selfish human beings. As Christians, we should fight every day against selfishness, and that desire to serve others has to start with your spouse.
This doesn’t mean being a slave to the needs of your partner. It doesn’t mean never expressing your needs or trying to have them met as well. It just means that you understand Jesus’ command to put others’ needs ahead of yours as a general principle. Your first thoughts should be about what your spouse needs instead of what you want.
Keeping a record of wrongs
Do you have a laundry list of things that your spouse has done in the past that made you angry or caused you to feel unappreciated? It’s time to tear up that list and move on.
If you are living in the forgiveness of Christ, what right do you have to hold onto the past sins of your spouse and bring them up whenever you are arguing or you feel stressed out? Does Jesus sit around with a list of all our past sins just waiting to throw them in our faces? Of course not. Act in a Christ-like manner and let the past go.
Condemning and criticizing
When you allow bitterness and anger to overtake your thought life, you may find it easier to express your displeasure with your spouse than you used to. Looking for faults and mistakes just to take the opportunity to punish your spouse demonstrates the bitterness in your heart.
It takes five positive, loving interactions with your spouse to overcome the damage done by one hurtful one. Take note of your words. If you are speaking out of anger, check yourself and think of a better way to approach the situation.
More about criticizing your spouse: What Happens When You Criticize Your Spouse in Public
When something your spouse said or did has made you angry, and you decide not to say anything because you want to keep the peace or be “submissive” (totally wrong definition of submissive anyway), bitterness in your marriage builds up.
It’s like a balloon. Each time you breathe into the balloon, it gets bigger and bigger. The outer skin stretches, but it can only stretch up to a point. Eventually, it will break. If you keep your feelings and needs bottled up, eventually, you will explode like a balloon.
Taking on more than your share
Women often find themselves trying to take care of everything in the home. They don’t ask for help and then find themselves becoming resentful of the spouse that doesn’t seem to be pulling his weight.
If you feel this way, it’s time to discuss what you can do to fix it. I saw an episode of SuperNanny where she had each spouse write down all the things they did around the house on small boxes, and then they built towers. If one tower is of a significantly different height, it can make both spouses aware that one needs help. If they are about the same, the one who felt overwhelmed could come to realize that the other person is doing more than they thought.
If your spouse accuses you of complaining all the time, instead of flying off the handle and saying things you’ll regret, take the time to think about it? Do you really gripe and grumble a lot? Why?
Stop and be grateful. As a Christian, you have so many things to be thankful for, and this world can’t take them away. As one of my college friends and I used to say when we were feeling down, “It’s all gonna burn anyway.” Someday, these minor annoyances will not even be a blip on our radar. Heaven is such a great thing to look forward to.
Another mistake we need to be aware of that can cause that root of bitterness to grow in our marriage is refusing to forgive your spouse for the ways they hurt you. Forgiveness is a choice you make to let go of the resentment you feel and the thoughts of how you can get revenge for the hurt.
Forgiveness reduces the stranglehold anger has over you. It frees your mind and thoughts from being controlled by the person who hurt you. It doesn’t mean you excuse the harm they did. There may be genuine issues to work out, but forgiveness brings peace that helps you move on with your life and fix your marriage.
Read more about forgiveness: Get Ready to Forgive Your Spouse Before You Need to.
Insisting you are right
This mistake is about causing bitterness in your spouse, not fueling your own anger. Being a know-it-all is not something we set out to do. Even reasonable people can slide into this trap. You believe so strongly that you are right that you stop trying to compromise, and you become so relentless in trying to change minds that you end up hurting your spouse.
There are certainly times when you need to stand up for what you believe in, but there are more times in marriage where you will need to swallow your pride and find the middle ground.
Trying to change your spouse
Living together day in and day out for years will surely bring out aspects of your spouse’s personality that you did not see while dating. And sometimes, it’s a real eye-opener!
However, don’t spend precious time and energy trying to fix your spouse or attempting to turn him or her into the person you think they should be. It won’t work, and the more you try, the angrier you will become. That anger turns to bitterness when you decide that your spouse just isn’t trying. Just pray and leave the transformation to God. He’s in the business of changing hearts. We’re just responsible for loving them.
Taking everything personally
One final mistake people make that causes bitterness in their marriages to spring up is taking everything that your spouse says or does as a reflection on their feelings for you.
Most of the time, your spouse’s foul mood or frustration will have nothing to do with you. Did they have a rough day at work? Are they not sleeping well (or much at all, as the case is in our house right now)? You are not the only person who affects your spouse’s life. If you feel like their actions are about you, ask them if that’s the case. If it is, you can work on it. If not, then you can offer them a place to share what’s causing the problem.
In Acts chapter 8, Simon asked the disciples if he could pay the apostles to give him the power to lay hands on people so they would receive the Holy Spirit. In Peter’s response to this request, he tells Simon that he is “poisoned by bitterness.”
As noted at the beginning of this article, bitterness is a poison that slowly kills relationships. Not only, that but unforgiveness is like drinking poison and expecting the other person to die.
Don’t let the enemy keep planting bitterness and unforgiveness in your heart toward your spouse. Learn to communicate in a way that will continually deal with the issues and build a healthy marriage.