The best advice I have ever been given, on the topic of marriage, came from a book. Not a self-help guide of any sort, but a novel. It was the first novel I ever owned, Little Women. Technically, it was the sequel, Good Wives, but I read them both as one book and was an adult before I knew they were separate. There is a chapter about Meg and her husband having their first serious quarrel. When she goes to her mother for advice, Marmie shares a good deal about Meg’s husband’s disposition and how Meg should react to his temper. All of it is good advice, but this bit is what stuck with me:
“Watch yourself, be the first to ask pardon if you both err, and guard against the little piques, misunderstandings, and hasty words that often pave the way for bitter sorrow and regret.”
I often hear Marmie in my head, as though my own mother were speaking, “Apologize first.” Do I always heed this advice? No. But, when I do, I am glad for it. It is hard advice to follow, as it requires humility, and that is not a trait common to humanity. I confess, it is not a trait that comes naturally to me, in most cases. I like to be right. I like other people to know I am right. Sometimes, I open my mouth to insist on my rightness and I can almost see Jesus slap His own forehead in frustration, “There she goes again. Will that girl never learn?”
What the “apologize first” advice does for me is this: it reminds me that my relationship with this man I married is more important than my rightness. One of us has to let go, or we’ll be playing tug-of-war until we land in divorce court. Is the argument at hand worth the strife it is causing? I have yet to come across a time when it was.
Still, I often persist in my pressing of the point until we are both red-faced and unhappy. What do I gain from this? Being right won’t hold my hand as we walk. Being right won’t comfort me when I cry. Being right won’t assure me that I am his one true love. Being right won’t support me as I struggle to get this parenting thing down. Being right does very little at all for me.
Being loved, though? Being loved changes everything.
I was thinking, over the last week, about what advice I can offer my little sister as she embarks on this journey called marriage. I am ten years into my own, so there must be some words of wisdom I can share with her.
This is what I have, little sister. As Marmie said, apologize first. Or, to paraphrase Anne Lamott, You can either be right, or you can be kind. Choose Kind.
P.S. Hey, sis, if you figure out how to do this consistently and well, could you teach me?