It goes without saying that this is a terrible idea. There is little in marriage that is really so simple that a meme or a tweet can address all the nuances and situation-specific modifiers.

I recently saw one that illustrated a plethora of ways this can go wrong.

Stupid Meme

So we get two memes for the price of one. Let’s start with the “correction”.

Absolutely, when a partner in a marriage has done something wrong, that person should give a sincere apology – and apologizing properly is an art unto itself and worth a post. I’d also agree that the original meme contained a degree of assumption regarding gender roles and communication styles.  It was has more to do with a network sitcom view of marriage than a healthy view of marriage.

However, I think the second meme starts from a confrontational and adversarial view of gender relations. This is about who gets to control the narrative and frankly, if you have to view communication in those terms you need to get out of the relationship because it is already emotionally abusive. If the writer needs to worry about who is in control of the argument, it’s already destructive to the relationship. After all, what is the goal of a disagreement in a relationship? Is it to “win?” Or is it address a point of friction between partners in order to solidify the relationship and achieve a more harmonious partnership?

The second portion of the meme also contains some poisonous assumptions about gender roles as well. The man is sexist, silencing, and treating the woman poorly, with the goal of silence and compliance. The woman is mere “objecting” to this poor treatment. That’s a pretty poisonous view of relationship dynamics, and is purely abusive. It also seems to remove emotions from the question – or rather, presumes that the point of a discussion is to validate the emotions of the partners. This comes from the deification of feelings in popular culture. The Fathers of the Church and classical philosophers alike were dubious about feelings, especially the strong feelings termed the ‘passions’ which could lead man away from God, his fellow man, and a right way of life. Your feelings, especially feelings of anger or of having been wronged are not actually a reaction to events, but to your interpretation of events and they can be wrong. They can lead to destructive words and actions. They can hurt your partner. Presuming that your feelings are an infallible guide to the reality of the world is the attitude of a small child, not a healthy adult capable of a right relationship with another healthy adult.

As a result, sometimes you do need to apologize when you don’t entirely understand why. Sometimes a partner needs to apologize even though that partner is not in the wrong. Apologies are oil on troubled water. They can calm anger, assuage hurt, and end a clash. It’s hard to have a fight with someone who won’t fight. When one partner blows up, for whatever reason, and the other partner can keep calm, the fight is far less likely to have long-term damaging effects than if both loose their anger on each other. So while poorly presented, the original meme does have a valid point that someone too proud to apologize is not yet ready for a real relationship. If you can’t concede an argument for the sake of the relationship, you aren’t going to hang onto that relationship very long.

There is a saying that you can be right or you can be married. I don’t entirely agree with it, because nuance is lacking and there are some things that are worth making a stand over. If your partner wants to do something destructive to themselves or the relationship, you may have to be right at the cost of your partner’s ego. But if it isn’t that serious, then practice the little martyrdom of marriage, by dying to yourself. Lay that ego down, apologize if necessary, and humble yourself sometimes. We do not struggle in marriage in order for our own glory.

In a healthy relationship with someone who is also struggling to salvation, your partner will realize his error when you don’t give a hook for him to seize in order to fight. He will make it right and the whole thing will strengthen the relationship. If, of course, he is an abusive jerk who is not self-aware enough to realize the error of his ways then that is a different topic. But my intent is not to presume unhealthy abusive relationships are the norm. I decline to live in the world where, like the second meme maker, I view all relationships through that lens.

  • John