Sometimes when I talk with couples about their marriage, the husband looks as though he is in abject pain. And he is. It is not that he hates his wife—in fact his very presence shows that he wants to do marriage well. The problem is that he feels like an outsider among those who are insiders. He is forced to talk about relationships and feelings—a language that seems to make sense to his wife and this other guy—i.e., me—but that language is a dialect that he doesn’t understand. He feels a bit out of it; he feels less than competent; he feels stupid. Oh, and feeling stupid is likely to be followed by anger.

This happens in other venues too. Let’s say a fourth grader just can’t get the knack of school. Everyone else seems to be getting it, but, for him, the classroom is all jumbled chaos. As a result, he hates school. Who wants to spend most of the day in an environment that accentuates incompetency? So he starts aggravating the girl next to him. At least that creates a temporary break in the thing he hates and puts him on more comfortable turf.

I know a man who works in a technical field and feels as though he is always trying to catch up to everyone else. They get it, he doesn’t. As such, work is painful to him. Even though he actually performs at an acceptable level, sometimes even death seems preferable to work. Who is able to spend eight hours a day in an environment that accentuates incompetency?

But there is a difference with relationships. Though we might never be comfortable in school, and some jobs might always feel over our heads, the Spirit guarantees a certain measure of success when we are committed to loving someone well. And this may help head-off the anger. We can grow in knowing and being known, in loving wisely, and in unity because the Spirit promises to grow us. Innate competence is not required, but humility is.

Humility might look like this. “I am here because I want my wife to be happy, but I don’t have a clue how to help her with that. Lots of times, when the two of you are talking about marriage, I don’t know what you are talking about. But the Bible says that I am called to unity with my wife, and I will receive grace to grow in unity. So I want to learn.”

This husband might have no idea why such a comment would leave his wife in tears. But it is enough for him to simply understand that they are tears of joy and hope.