THE SCENE: We invited friends over for dinner. My bride had prepared a delicious chicken fajita meal, minus the tortillas, with a side of roasted broccoli topped with grated parmesan. Mary Beth brings the platter of food to the table, and she explains the sides to go with the tortilla-less chicken fajitas. I interject a comment that I later regretted . . . The moment unfolded like this:

HUSBAND-FRIEND: How do you eat this?

MARY BETH: Well, I spoon a serving on my plate, then you can add toppings, like sour cream or cilantro.

BILL: And we have some salsa in the fridge if you wish to put add that.

MARY BETH: (to me) We never put salsa on our fajitas.

BILL: Well, I do!

SCENE CHANGE: After our friends left and Mary Beth and I cleaned up the kitchen . . .

MARY BETH: (with an unhappy look on her face as she rinses dishes) You said something that hurt my feelings. (Pause-I hate pauses after words like that. It’s like a deafening silence after a shotgun blast!)

MARY BETH continued: You were unkind in your response to me at dinner.

BILL: (confused; I was clueless!) What did I say?

MARY BETH: When I said that we don’t put salsa on our meal, you responded with a sharp tone and raised voice. I felt disrespected!

BILL: (after a regrouping silence) I’m sorry, but I don’t remember speaking in that fashion. I’m not saying that my words didn’t come across that way, but I don’t remember being angry in my response. PAUSE SCENE.

Well, you’d think the marriage coach would do a better job. Several years ago, one of my husband-clients and I decided one single act would help his relationship- hit the pause button. I needed to heed my own advice at the dinner table with friends.

In retrospect, I can identify three reasons for hitting that pause button:

  1. I know better. After coaching many husbands to practice using the pause button on their response remote, I should know better!
  2. God has warned me better. I cannot count the times I’ve read James 1:19-20: “Everyone should be quick to hear, slow to speak, and slow to become angry, for man’s anger does not bring about the righteous life that God desires.” Reading is not as helpful as recalling.
  3. The Spirit abides to enable better. God’s Spirit abides with me to prompt and enable me to act according to biblical teaching, like James 1:19-20. Help remains available if I access it.

There, I named three good reasons I should have done better! In hindsight, I clearly see my error. At that moment, I regurgitated a thoughtlessly unweighed, emotionally unchecked, rapidly delivered response. The results were . . . well, unkind.

SCENE CONTINUES: Thirty minutes later, I had prayerfully reconsidered the dinner exchange. While not angry, I had spoken too quickly and abruptly. My bride received the feeling level of my retort as angry. I needed to offer a relational repair before bed.

In our bedroom before donning PJs and brushing teeth . . .

BILL: I’ve been thinking about my response. I clearly remember my feelings at the moment. I was not angry, but my response thoughtlessly rolled off my tongue and with more intensity than I realized. I can see how my words seemed angry.

I apologize for speaking too quickly. I didn’t wait long enough between your comment and my response to measure my words and emotions. Both were too harsh.

I need to follow James’ warning, to be quick to hear and slow to speak. I didn’t, and you received the words as unkindly spoken. That’s on me. Please forgive me.

I will try to do better. I cannot promise that I will not respond too quickly in the future, but I will try to do better and will ask for God’s help. END SCENE.

After PJs were on and teeth brushed, Mary Beth offered a hug and an “I appreciate it—I love you” affirmation. Grace prevailed. We slept well.

Take it from me, the professional marriage coach, learn to hit that pause button. It will save you from eating crow.

You know, that big black bird meal never tastes as good as grilled chicken fajita!!

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