Have you ever over-reacted to a situation? I think we all have at one time or another. Oftentimes, those instantaneous reactions are wrong, and they cause the biggest fights. It is a very dangerous thing to be ruled by our emotions. In fact, the Bible warns us about knee-jerk reactions in the book of James. James 1:19-20 says, “Therefore, my beloved brothers, let every man be swift to hear, slow to speak, and slow to anger, for the anger of man does not work the righteousness of God.” Later in James it says, “The tongue is set among our members, staining the whole body, setting on fire the entire course of life, and set on fire by hell” (James 3:6). So how can we limit, and hopefully even eliminate knee-jerk reactions?
I think there are a few things we can do. First, remember the ratio of ears to mouth. God gave us two ears and one mouth. That means we should do twice as much listening as we do talking. In his book, Seven Habits of Highly Successful People, Stephen Covey says that we should, “seek to understand, then seek to be understood.” Oftentimes, when we have an emotional reaction it is because we didn’t fully listen and comprehend what was being said. We simply heard something that we didn’t like, and we reacted in the moment. A way to combat this is to ask questions to make sure you understand what is being said. Second, have a cooling off period. When I do pre-marital or marital counseling, I always encourage couples to have a mandatory cooling off period. There are many reasons why emotions could run high in given conversations. Therefore, it is wiser to step back, control your emotions, and collect your thoughts instead of shooting from the hip. A momentary word spoken in anger can have a lifetime of ramifications if we aren’t careful. Third, give each other the benefit of the doubt. A lot of misunderstandings and over-reactions come from us believing the worst about the person saying it. Maybe they have been hurtful in the past, but forgiveness means that we don’t hold what they have previously done against them. If it is a martial argument, try and remember that your spouse loves you. They aren’t out to hurt you (at least hopefully they aren’t). So look past the words being said to the person saying them. Finally, give grace to each other. Sometimes, people who love us end up hurting us. Of course, we need to remember that sometimes we hurt those we love as well. Maybe there was a better way that it could have been handled. Maybe they could have said it a different way. But here you are, emotions are running high, you’re getting ready to lash out in anger or hit them with a sarcastic comeback. This is the moment of decision, will you give in to your sin nature and say what you are thinking or will you give them grace and hold back? What is the standard of giving someone grace? The standard is not how bad they hurt you, how bad you want to get back at them, or the standard of other people. The standard of grace is Jesus Christ. How much grace as God extended to you? How many times has God not given you everything you deserved for your sins against Him? That is the standard of grace. In that moment, you may feel good and justified with your reaction. However, at some point you are going to regret it. As the saying goes, you can’t unring the bell once it’s been rung.