It's a gripping scene for me, even though I have seen it a dozen times:
You see a young couple sitting in a marriage counselor's office on their second visit. After a few opening questions to both of them, the counselor steps around the front of his desk to speak to both of them.
"I'm going to cut to the chase. I'm going to tell you what the problem is with your marriage, and when I'm done, we'll decide if its worth you guys coming back next week".
First, he looks at the husband and says, "Your problem - the problem with your marriage - is YOU".
He then looks at the wife and says, "And the problem with your marriage - is YOU."
The wife starts to object, then the counselor clarifies, "You didn't hear me. You don't have issues in your marriage – you are the issue. BOTH of you."
"I don't know what you were thinking when you got engaged, but I know what most people were thinking: I'm finally going to be happy. I won't be lonely any more. I can have sex anytime I want. You think that love is this warm feeling you get when someone makes you feel special.”
“But here's the sad truth: You married pledging to love, honor, and cherish one another. But deep down you were thinking, I can't wait for someone to love, honor, and cherish me.” **
Although it's hard for me to admit, what the counselor shared is true. The problem in my marriage is ME! My selfishness is probably the biggest barrier to oneness with my bride, Shawn.
I was reminded of this recently when my wife and I had a couple of hours set aside “just for us”. I was just leaving work on my way home, excited about our time together, when she called. She said one of our sons might be home unexpectedly during that time and that we might have to reschedule.
That was not good news to me. I had my heart set on this time and I didn't want anyone or anything to interfere with it. I began to suggest ways that she could convince him not to be there. I was looking for anything I could to manipulate the situation to get what I wanted.
To clarify, there was nothing wrong with my initial desire to spend time with my wife. That is something we all should prioritize in marriage. And it wasn't that I didn't want to see our son. The problem was that it interfered with my expectations that day. When I began to try to manipulate my circumstances to get what I wanted, that is when my selfishness reared its ugly head.
Paul David Tripp says, "The thing that is in the way of love of others is love of self. Sin draws me into myself so my world is dominated by my wants, my needs, and my feelings"
That's selfishness. My natural tendency is to manipulate or try to persuade others so I can get what I want - what my heart demands I have. Or maybe it's how I too often blame my spouse, blame my job, blame my kids, blame the dog, etc., so that the blame will not rest on me- where it really should rest. “Surely I'm not the problem, am I?”
Selfishness puts “blinders” on me so I cannot clearly see myself. But if I could take off those “blinders”, I would see that my selfishness is the leading cause of marital and relational stress in my life.
But God has a remedy for my selfishness and self-centeredness. The Apostle Paul helps me see the cure for selfishness in Philippians, Chapter 2, verses 3 and 4: “Do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility count others more significant than yourselves.Let each of you look not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others.”
If you, like me, have truly seen your selfishness as likely the biggest problem in your marriage, what are the next steps you and I need to take?
STEP 1: Remember the Gospel! The Gospel is not just needed for our initial salvation, but is also needed daily for the power to live out marriage as God designed it. The same power that raised Jesus Christ from the dead is available to help you and I battle our selfishness.
STEP 2: After acknowledging your daily need for the Gospel in your marriage, the next step is confession to God. Confess this sin of selfishness to the Lord. Ask the Lord to help you think of specific situations where you acted to get your way and confess those to Him. Take Psalm 139:23-24 and make it a prayer to the Lord for His help to “take off the blinders”. The Lord tells us that if we confess our sins, He is faithful to forgive us and cleanse us from all unrighteousness (1 John 1:9)
STEP 3: The third step is confessing this to your spouse. Take some unhurried time to tell your spouse some specific ways you have been selfish.
STEP 4: Empathize. Take the important step of actually sharing how you know you have hurt your spouse and your relationship.
STEP 5: Finally, humbly ask for forgiveness from your spouse. (Here's a link to a great post on helping all of us make an effective apology.)
As important as these five steps are, I believe the Lord wants more for us and our marriages than just recognizing our selfishness and then confessing it to the Lord and our spouse. He wants us to take additional steps to learn to battle our selfishness. So look for my next post on steps to fighting selfishness in your marriage.
** The scene depicted at the beginning of this post is from The Art of Marriage, a great resource to strengthen marriages created by FamilyLife. Find out more about the Art of Marriage at this link. You can view the entire scene on YouTube at this YouTube link.
Photo Credit: Keira Burton from Pexels
AUTHOR: Glen Solberg is a man who is passionate about marriage - his own and the marriages of those around him! He and his wife, Shawn, have been married since 1992 and have been investing in the marriages of others full-time since 2003.
Written by Glen Solberg, Abiding Marriage, 2016. All Rights Reserved. If you have questions or comments, you can connect with at info@AbidingMarriage.org