We were only minutes late, but it didn’t matter. The parking enforcement officer got there first.
As I ran up to my car panting and trying to explain, he was unmoved.
“The ticket’s written,” he said, tearing the citation off its printer spool and handing it over. “Sorry.”
My good spirits from an evening out dissolved as I fumed. The incident was a perfect storm of things I hated: lateness, Washington, D.C. parking enforcement, losing money for no good reason, and it was all my fiancé’s fault!
I’d cut dinner short with friends when I realized I had just ten minutes before the meter expired on my car, half a mile away. I knew I could hustle the distance and reach the car in time, but Ben didn’t seem to share my urgency. He wanted to stroll, and not wanting to be rude, I slowed to his pace.
But with the parking ticket in my hand, I was fuming.
“Why didn’t you move faster?” I snapped at him on the drive home. “Why couldn’t you care about getting back on time when I clearly did? What does matter to you?”
I’ve always had a way with words. I can craft a remark sharp enough to draw blood if I feel like it. Growing up, my mom tried to tame my smart mouth by making me memorize and copy out Bible verses about the tongue being “set on fire by hell.”
Becoming an adult gave me more restraint, but it didn’t diminish my love of a withering comment. Disappointed as I was to get the parking ticket, I found I was getting some enjoyment out of telling my fiancé in no uncertain terms that I was right, he should have listened to me, and he was to blame. Finally, he plucked the ticket out of my hand, preferring to pay the $25 fine himself than to continue talking about it.
Here’s what I’ve learned since that night a few years ago: it’s never safe to treat a spouse like that unless you’re immune to mistakes yourself.
A year into our marriage, after we had combined our bank accounts, we emerged from a restaurant on another D.C. street to find two tickets on my windshield, each for more than $100. One was for failure to display a decal that I had carelessly stowed in my glove box, and both were unquestionably my fault.
Without so much as a grimace in my direction, Ben took the tickets and stowed them in his wallet to pay later. When I began to apologize, he gently stopped me.
“It’s okay,” he said. “Maybe just remember and take it easier on me next time, all right?”
It has taken time, but we’re both becoming more skilled at practicing this kind of gentleness with each other. Rather than getting more brusque and casual in our interactions with each other as we grow more familiar, we’ve become kinder and more polite. It’s still hard for me to choke back a harsh word when my husband makes a mistake or a wrong decision that affects us both, but I know I depend on him to show me grace when I’m the one at fault.
Marriage isn’t a competition or a zero-sum game. While conflicts and disagreements are sometimes unavoidable, we risk damaging trust and diminishing grace by tearing into each other over wrong turns and parking tickets. We’re a team, and it serves us both when one of us serves and supports the other.
A few weeks ago, Ben forgot about an important event we had both agreed to go to. When he realized his mistake, the event was already starting and he was still at work. For an instant, I wanted to vent my frustration and tell him how bad it would look for us not to be there and how I had counted on him to remember this. Instead, I took a breath and waited for him to propose a plan.
Twenty minutes later, we were both at the event after all — the unity of our team and the peace of our household unbroken.