Our society is littered with broken relationships. Let me tell you the story of one couple I know:
They married young, very much in love. They were opposites, and opposites can attract very quickly–but often repel just as quickly. And soon after marriage, they both started noticing things that really bugged them about each other. She wanted him to stay home and have a quiet evening with the family. She wanted them to go to the park together. She wanted to eat dinner as a family.
He, on the other hand, wanted to get out and DO something. He could never sit still. He was starting two businesses on the side while holding down a full-time job. He often answered emails until late into the night. He would play with the kids, but it wasn’t his priority because he didn’t know how to engage them.
After a few years they started to drift apart. He felt constant condemnation from her because he wasn’t a good husband or good father, so he just retreated more into work. He stopped going to church. He started having the occasional beer again. Their sex life became shallow and rare.
Whenever she talked about him, she told everyone who would listen how he wasn’t a good husband and a good father. She told people how he wouldn’t play with the kids, and asked for advice on how to make him. She constantly asked about how to get him to go to counseling, or to a marriage conference.
And finally they broke up.
Now here’s the thing: Both of them were sure that the other person was selfish. Both of them were sure that they were in the right.
You can look at this story and say that he was mostly to blame, because he didn’t spend time with the family (and many women would feel that way). Or you could look at it and say she was mostly to blame because she always complained about her husband and talked badly about him and tried to change him.
Here’s the issue: it doesn’t matter who is more to blame. Where in the Bible does it say that if the other person is more to blame, we can then justify our selfishness?
Yet I’m not being selfish, you may say. How can I show him affection and accept him when he’s acting so badly towards the family? How can I reach out to him when he doesn’t even show me that he loves me?
Let me submit to you that if there is something that you can do to make your marriage better, and you choose not to do it, then you are being selfish.
God says, in Matthew 7:3-5 (NIV),
“Why do you look at the speck of sawdust in your brother’s eye and pay no attention to the plank in your own eye? 4 How can you say to your brother, ‘Let me take the speck out of your eye,’ when all the time there is a plank in your own eye? 5 You hypocrite, first take the plank out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to remove the speck from your brother’s eye.”
Now why does Jesus stick us with the plank and give our husbands the speck? If we examine ourselves, we will always find a plank, because only we and God know our hearts and our motivations. You can always see your sins better than you can see anyone else’s. And it is our selfishness and our sin that we need to be concerned with.
Note that it also doesn’t say that we never deal with our husband’s issues. The key is that once we deal with our selfishness, then we can help our husband deal with his. But the onus is on us to do something first.
So when you are having marriage problems, the route to freedom is not to figure out who is most to blame, so that you can lay the problems at your husband’s feet. The key is to say, “what can I do to improve the marriage? Am I withholding love, or affection, or acceptance, or forgiveness? Am I holding on to bitterness, or expectations, or anger?”
The thing that is holding your marriage back is you.
I am not saying that your husband does not have issues; I am not even saying that your issues are bigger than your husband’s. I am saying that God does not ask us to figure out whose issues are bigger; God asks us to deal with our own selfishness.
He doesn’t even ask you to fix the marriage; only He can do that! He simply asks you to work on your own issues and to go to Him for strength. If, after you have done that, the relationship still falls apart, that grieves God, but at least you can say that you did what you could. You are only responsible for your own actions and reactions. So today, instead of looking at what your husband needs to change, really ask yourself if there’s anything you can do to reach out and make the marriage better. That is what God asks of you, but He never asks something that He doesn’t also give us the strength to do.