No one wants to get into an argument with a stenographer. You know the type. They have the uncanny ability to recall every failure, mistake, and sin and cannot only recall it, but read it back to you. When you’re married to a stenographer your relationship suffers. If there is no room to make mistakes, no room to be wrong, no latitude, then your relational health will suffer. Healthy marriages give latitude to one another.
Mistakes and failures within marriage are constant. We are all imperfect sinners married to other imperfect sinners living together in a broken and fallen world. Sins, hurts, wrongs, and oversights will most definitely happen. How we respond to those wrongs depends on several key factors. What was the nature of the offense? (Some wrongs are too big and too significant to be overlooked) How frequently does this same offense occur? (A pattern of failure is significant enough to be addressed) What was the motivation or reason for the failure? (Some offenses are intentional spiteful) What is my personal history with that particular offense? (Some offenses hurt because of my past, my spouse needs to be aware of my sensitivity to such wrongs) These are all important questions to wrestle with and the best of marriages will have to do deal with them. Unhealthy relationships, however, will turn every offense into a monstrous betrayal and disastrous error. Unhealthy relationships will make every mole-hill into a mountain, every disagreement a hill-to-die-on, and every failure a critical offense. A refusal to give our spouse the latitude to be wrong, or make some mistakes, will cripple our relationships.
Think about the nature of unreasonably high expectations. They place an insufferable burden on those we love. We expect a level of perfection out of them that not only can they not meet, but we couldn’t meet either. Jesus speaks to this very issue in the Pharisees when he says of them:
They tie up heavy burdens, hard to bear, and lay them on people’s shoulders, but they themselves are not willing to move them with their finger. (Matt. 23:4)
The Pharisees heaped unbearable burdens on others, but in reality they couldn’t meet this same level of expectation. What are your expectations for your spouse? Do you expect them to be perfect? Do you expect them to be someone else? Do you expect them to read your mind, meet your demands, affirm your every desire? Are our expectations reasonable? How we answer these questions may reveal whether our marriage has any latitude in it.
God, of course, gives us a degree of latitude. No sin, of course, is ever swept under the rug. God’s perfect justice demands that all sin be punished, and each sin earns us death (Rom. 6:23). Yet, God does not point out every one of our failures. In fact the Scriptures testify that God has, over the course of human history, “overlooked” sin for a season. Paul, speaking at Thessalonica, said:
The times of ignorance God overlooked, but now he commands all people everywhere to repent (Acts 17:30)
He says the same things regarding the nations when he preaches in Lystra:
In past generations he allowed all the nations to walk in their own ways. (Acts 14:16)
And to the Romans, he speaks of Christ:
whom God put forward as a propitiation by his blood, to be received by faith. This was to show God’s righteousness, because in his divine forbearance he had passed over former sins. (Rom. 3:25)
Note, of course, that eventually God deals with all sin, but He is gracious and slow, “wanting all men to come to repentance” (2 Peter 3:9). He allows, in other words, for men to be wrong. His Scriptures encourage similar responses from us when we read that “love covers a multitude of sins” (1 Peter 4:8).
Think how depressing and defeating it would be for God to point out every failure, ever sin, every oversight, every error. Think how overwhelming it would be to constantly be exposed, and indicted for our imperfection. Who could live this way? Thank God for Jesus who took our sins so that every failure is dealt with in justice, but we do not have to have them all pointed out to us. There are, of course, times where sin must be addressed; love does not pretend that all is well when it is not. Yet, not every sin must be addressed and healthy relationships know to be balanced.
Latitude means giving grace, turning the other cheek, overlooking an offense, and offering forgiveness. Give latitude in your relationships and see if sin isn’t more readily confessed, fault more honestly owned, and confrontation more welcomed. Give latitude and see if your relationships don’t grow.