The back story of the snake in our marriage
The day the snake showed up in our house, Paradise left. I understood that day exactly why I have an aversion to snakes. What the serpent did in the Garden of Eden to Eve is what he tried to do to me – and our marriage – that day. I don’t suppose Adam’s wife Eve liked snakes any more than I do, and I understand why.
Yet, when I get past the hiss and the fangs, I have to admit that all of us are prey to communication failure and it really has nothing to do with a snake. The things thrown at us in our marriages can grow us or diminish us. Truly, life’s darts give us an opportunity to choose how we will respond.
When we purchased our first house, we decided to put in a new heating system. It was when the duct work was removed that easy access into our house brought the snakes in. There were only two of them: Blackie and Brownie. Yet their presence created tension, hurt, and anger in our marriage. Last week I described what happened. You can read about that here. You should probably read that first and then finish here.
This post is about how we navigated through our discord and upheaval. Every one of us was frustrated, on different levels and for different reasons. Dave was frustrated at my frenzy and near-hysteria. I was hurt that he offered no praise and criticized me in front of the kids, and the kids1 were upset they didn’t get to rescue mama and kill the snake singlehandedly. The problem wasn’t the snake in our marriage, but the communication fiasco because of that snake.
We went to bed that night with our failed expectations of each other creating a dissonance with a horrendous clash. I slept as far on my side of the bed as possible, and he seemed to care not one bit. It was a dismal night.
In the morning, I knew I must find the right notes to harmonize. But how to do it? I was hurt, and he should apologize! I was also puzzled because my Adam’s response was not the norm for him.
Out of the corruption in our garden, I unearthed a mainstay in marital harmony. I went to the Word, and I asked God for wisdom. The reason I started there was because I needed to figure out why I was so upset about the snake, and I wanted to understand Dave’s response. James tells us that when we lack wisdom, we should ask of God, and He will give it liberally. So I asked. When I asked God to help me understand why, He did.
Swift to hear
In James, I found communication instructions. “Let everyone be swift to hear, slow to speak, and slow to anger.” I asked God to help me be eager to hear from Dave and to help Dave want to hear from me. Communication begins with listening – and hearing the other person. While Dave did not feel the need to talk about it (it was black and white to him!), I needed to talk, but I purposed to listen first, which assured I would be slow to speak. We are both glad we talked about the snake in our marriage.
That evening, we agreed to talk. After the kids were in bed, we shut the door to our bedroom and talked. I shared my hurt and frustration with Dave, and he listened.
“Please help me understand why you responded to me like you did,” I said.
Dave answered. “I want to know I can trust you to keep our kids safe. If that had been a poisonous snake, I would have expected you to protect our kids. You worked in Intensive Care in crisis situations, took care of patients right out of heart surgery, and saved lives in a variety of emergencies. You should be able to handle a snake!” He was right.
What I didn’t tell him was that God told me a secret that day (and asked me not to tell). Didn’t I ask for wisdom about this snake in our marriage? He answered.
The secret? Dave was embarrassed that removing the duct work provided an avenue for the snakes to enter our garden. I did not tell Dave what God helped me understand until years later. What would have been my point?
Slow to speak
Instead, I told Dave about my experience in tenth-grade Biology. My instructor knew I did not like snakes. In fact, he knew I was afraid of snakes. One day, Mr. D. put snakes onto the table where we sat studying. When a small snake poked his head on top of my page, I backed my chair away and stood up, only to come face to face with a Boa constrictor held by my instructor. The flashback of that experience was instant when Blackie invaded my garden. It did not excuse me, but it explained my response. I had forgotten all about that event, but going back to tenth grade helped me understand my fear now. It was time to deal with that small part of my past.
I also shared my frustration of Dave’s criticism of me in front of the kids. While this was not the norm for Dave, I felt belittled and hurt. Dave had not considered how his words in front of the kids were disrespectful about their mother, his wife. He needed to know, and he asked forgiveness.
There will continue to be a snake – and more snakes in our marriage
In the heat of the moment, we act and react in ways that sometimes shock ourselves. We coil, bare fangs, and strike, refusing to listen and hear. Instead of excusing ourselves, we should be slower to speak.
Finding harmony includes changing tones and admitting failures. It includes asking – and giving – forgiveness. Sometimes it means we travel back in time and figure out why something is so important or insignificant, why it’s painful or brings terror. Other times it means we grow up and move beyond the fear of the past.
I recognized that, had there been a poisonous snake in our house, I needed to put that tenth grade biology experience behind me and do what needed to be done. It is wrong to be paralyzed by fear because we have not reckoned with the cause of the fear.
This I know: when I practice swift to hear, slow to speak, slow to anger, our garden continues to flourish. Twenty-seven years later, I continue to practice what I learned that day. Our marriage? We keep finding the song and singing it together in our restored Eden.
1 Our five kids were ages 6 months to 8 years.