Antagonizing Your Spouse

I’ve got an amazing sister.  3 and a half years younger yet people always wondered if she was older than me.


She’s carried the hardworking genes of my parents into her life.  An exceptional mother of 5.  A nursing student. A wife of a police officer.  There are very few that can match the resume that she carries.

Yet my most fond AND frustrating memories of our childhood together was how the both of us would antagonize each other.  Isn’t that what brothers and sisters do?  We find ways to “egg on” our siblings into conflict by annoying them.  The beauty of antagonizing them?  They’re the ones usually caught for being bad.  We, the antagonizers, sit back and say, “What? I don’t know why they’re freaking out.  I wasn’t doing anything.”

So immature.  So childish. Yet, I see it so often amongst grown men and women living in holy matrimony.  Some call it “egging their spouse on” into conflict.  I call it “baiting” them.  One spouse has become a silent predator baiting and setting their spouse up for disaster.

How does this happen?  What does this look like?

Spouse #1 begins to antagonize Spouse #2.  The moment happens and there’s a subtle reaction…but all is still calm.  Spouse #1 thinks, sets at bait, and the antagonizing continues.  The pressure begins to build in Spouse #2, but the volcano is still dormant. The trap is reset again with more bait/antagonizing.   This is it. The sleeping giant is awakened.  The pressure is released.  Heated words are released into the atmosphere. Harsh tones with lined with verbal shrapnel fly through the air.

Spouse #1 gets to walk away telling friends, family, and/or the marriage counselor, “Spouse #2 has some anger issues.  You should’ve seen what happened the other day.” Spouse #1 then uses Spouse #2’s responses as his/her excuse to step into unhealthy marital choices.

Being an avid sports fan, there’s a term in hockey called the “retaliation penalty.” You won’t find it in the rule book.  It’s the term reserved for the guy who gets a penalty who is simple retaliating to the other player who was baiting him. It’s childish.  It’s nothing more than a manipulation  We do things to get a reaction from our spouse that makes them look bad when it’s really us seeding the poison into them.  I’ve seen it happen.  I’ve watched spouses antagonize in front of me. Yet I cannot say that I’ve never done that in my marriage.  We are all susceptible to this.   

Take a look at Proverbs 4:23-27 MSG:

Keep vigilant watch over your heartthat’s where life starts. Don’t talk out of both sides of your mouth; avoid careless banter, white lies, and gossip. Keep your eyes straight ahead; ignore all sideshow distractions. Watch your step, and the road will stretch out smooth before you. Look neither right nor left; leave evil in the dust. 

I love the beginning and the end of this passage out of The Message.  It speaks to this issue of being the antagonist in our marriage. “Keep vigilant watch over your heart…leave evil in the dust.”  The reality is, those that antagonize their spouse into fights and conflict have done the literal polar opposite.  Their heart has become selfish.  It’s not about “how do we look good.” It’s about “how can I antagonize so that I LOOK GOOD.”

It’s time to grow up.  It’s time to throw off the childish games.  It’s time to apologize to our spouse for what we are doing (trust me…he/she knows what you’re doing).  Strive to watch your heart and leave evil in the dust.  Make sure that your goal in marriage is to make the “we” look good and not just the “me.”

I’d love to say that Rachael and I have grown out of antagonizing each other but that hasn’t happened…and probably never will (as brothers and sisters normally don’t).  But if there’s something that could be said of your marriage, let it be said that you and your spouse refuse to manipulate each other by antagonizing.

Today, keep watch over your heart.  Leave evil in the dust.

Thanks for letting me ramble…


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