Richard Baxter on Avoiding Dissension in the Home

It is a great duty of husbands and wives to live in quietness and peace, and avoid all occasions of wrath and discord. Because this is a duty of so great importance, I shall first open to you the great NECESSITY of it, and then give you more particular directions to perform it.

(1) Your discord will be your pain, and the vexation of our lives. Like a disease, or wound, or fracture in your own bodies, which will pain you until it is cured; you will hardly keep peace in your minds, when peace is broken so near you in your family. As you would take heed of hurting yourselves, and as you would hasten the cure when you are hurt; so should you take heed of any breach of peace, and quickly seek to heal it when it is broken.

(2) Dissension tends to cool your love; frequent dissension tends to leave a habit of distaste and averseness on the mind. Wounding is separating; and to be tied together by any outward bonds, when your hearts are separated, is but to be tormented; and to have the insides of adversaries, while you have marital outsides. As the difference between my ‘home’ and my ‘prison’ is that I willingly and with delight dwell in the one, but am unwillingly confined to the other; such will be the difference between a quiet and an unquiet life, in your married state; it turns your dwelling and delight into a prison, where you are chained to those calamities, which in a free condition you might flee.

(3) Dissension between the husband and the wife, disorders all other family affairs. They are like oxen unequally yoked–which can perform no work, because they are always striving with one another.

(4) It exceedingly unfits you for the worship of God; you are not fit to pray together, nor to confer together of heavenly things, nor to be helpers to each other’s souls. I need not tell you this, you feel it by experience. Wrath and bitterness will not allow you so much exercise of love and holy composedness of mind, as every one of those duties requires.

(5) Dissension disables you to govern your families aright. Your children will take example by you; or think they are at liberty to do what they desire, when they find you taken up with such animosity between yourselves. They will think you unfit to reprove them for their faults–when they see you guilty of such faults and folly of your own. Nay, you will become the shame and secret derision of your children, and bring yourselves into contempt.

(6) Your dissensions will expose you to the malice of Satan, and give him advantage for manifold temptations. A house divided cannot stand; an army divided is easily conquered, and made a prey to the enemy. You cannot foresee what abundance of sin you put yourselves in danger of.

By all these reasons, you may see what dissensions between husband and wife do tend to.

DIRECTIVES for avoiding dissension in the home

(1) Keep up your marital love in a constant heat and vigor. Love will suppress wrath. You cannot become bitter upon small provocations, against those whom you dearly love; much less can you proceed to reviling words, or to averseness and estrangedness, or any abuse of one another. Or if a breach and wound be unhappily made, the balsamic quality of love will heal it. But when love once cools, small matters exasperate and breed antipathy.

(2) Both husband and wife must mortify their pride and passion, which are the causes of impatience; and must pray and labor for a humble, meek, and quiet spirit. A proud heart is troubled and provoked by every word or action that seems to tend to their undervaluing. A peevish, proud mind is like a sore and ulcerated member–which will be pained if it be touched. He that must live near such a sore, diseased, impatient, proud mind–must live even as the nurse does with the child, that makes it her business to rock it, and lull, and sing it quiet when it cries; for to be angry with it, will do no good. And if you have married one of such a sick or childish temper, you must resolve to bear and use them accordingly. But no Christian should bear with such a malady in themselves; nor be patient with such impatience, pride and haughtiness in themselves. Once get the victory over yourselves, and the cure of your own impatience, and you will easily keep peace with one another.

(3) Agree together beforehand, that when one is in a tempestuous, angry fit, the other shall silently and gently bear it–until it be past and you have come to your senses again. Do not both be angry at the same time. When the fire is kindled, quench it with gentle words and demeanor, and do not cast on more fuel, by answering provokingly and sharply, or by multiplying words, and by answering wrath with wrath.

(4) If you cannot quickly quench the anger in your heart–yet at least refrain your tongues! Speak no reproachful or provoking words. Talking hotly and angrily does blow the fire, and increase the flame. Be but silent, and you will the sooner return to your serenity and peace. Foul words tend to more displeasure. As Socrates said when his wife first railed at him, and next threw a vessel of foul water upon him, “I thought when I heard the thunder, there would come rain”; so you may foretell worse following, when foul, unseeming words begin. If you cannot easily allay your wrath, you may hold your tongues, if you are truly willing.

(5) Let the sober party condescend to speak gently and to entreat the other. Say to your angry wife or husband, ‘You know this should not be between us; love must allay it, and it must be repented of. God does not approve it, and we shall not approve it when this heated argument is over. This frame of mind is contrary to a praying frame, and this language contrary to a praying language; we must pray together soon; let us do nothing contrary to prayer now. Sweet water and bitter come not from one spring,’ etc. Some calm and humble words of reason, may stop the torrent, and revive the reason which passion had overcome.

(6) Confess your fault to one another, when angry passion has prevailed against you; and ask forgiveness of each other, and join in prayer to God for pardon. This will lay a greater engagement on you the next time, to refrain from argument. You will surely be ashamed to do that which you have so confessed and asked forgiveness for–of God and each other.

If you will but practice these directives, your family peace may be preserved.

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