WHAT ABOUT ME
by Mike Sorenson [download printable PDF version]
In my last article, “The REAL Problem in Your Marriage,” I confessed my frustration with the marital self-help genre and how these books always seem to leave me ineffective in relating genuinely to my wife. 6 simple steps become 30 as I continue reading, and while they all make sense, I can never seem to remember them as clearly when it comes time to have the conversation. Sometimes I feel like I have developed a case of communication amnesia where I can’t seem to figure out the right words to say when it really matters. If I did not see it all the time in my clients’ lives, I might think it’s just my own lack of clarity. But it seems to be a pretty common experience to have all the right tools and ideas, yet find ourselves doing the opposite when we approach a difficult conversation with our husband or wife. I really believe that the vast amount of information available has cluttered the discussion, rather than clarifying it. You see, I am the kind of person who wants to know the bottom line. I want to dig down to the root and see where the real problem is coming from, and I don’t believe it is largely a lack of active listening skills or clarifying questions. The more I take a step back from traditional marriage communication books and look to the deeper problem, the more I see specific character issues at the heart of most marital conflict. In the coming months, I want to devote an article to each of the primary character issues that I believe marriage conflict reveals. This month, I want to discuss a heart issue that we all see, but few of us want to admit to possessing: selfishness.
I don’t like to think of myself as a selfish person. I spend a great deal of time serving others and I genuinely like to see other people’s needs get satisfied, particularly those of my wife. Conflict, though, has a way of bringing out a selfish side of me that I would otherwise be unaware existed. I try to deny it sometimes or explain it away, but when I am not being treated the way I think I deserve, I get very selfish. I like everyone to be happy with me and the mood to always be positive. When those lines are crossed, it makes me uncomfortable, and my comfort suddenly becomes the most important thing. I enter a very selfish state of mind and have a really difficult time hearing my wife’s side until my needs for comfort are met. I am sure you know what I am talking about. You might really covet your schedule being organized or the house being clean. You might feel you deserve to be respected or you need time to get things accomplished. Whatever that line is, once it is crossed we hold our ground until our spouse recognizes their fault and repents. When lines get crossed on both sides, as is often the case, a conflict ends either in a stalemate or in one person caving in to pressure. There is no communication technique that is going to help us at this point. Our own heart is working against us
The Biblical writer James recognized this issue playing out in the hearts of those around him. In James 4:1, he asks the question, “What causes fights and quarrels among you?” His answer seems simplistic to me when I read it, but accurate, explaining, “Don’t they come from your desires that battle within you? You desire but you do not have, so you kill. You covet but you cannot get what you want, so you quarrel and fight.” What James observes in all relationships, applies even more to marriage. Sometimes we are willing to sacrifice with others what we are not willing to sacrifice with our spouses. Probably the most important traits to have in making a successful marriage is a willingness to set even our most basic needs to the side to meet those of our husband or wife. To treat my wife in a Christ-like manner largely means to sacrifice for her. That is easy when I prepare and plan to do it, but the impromptu conflict will reveal whether I really value her desires above my own. If I am unwilling to listen to my spouse’s complaint and consider her hurt until my own needs are addressed, I have a problem with selfishness. This is not a communication issue, but a heart issue, and our heart needs to be changed.
Our hearts tend to be selfish and covetous because we fear our needs and desires will not be met. That is why our first recourse when we recognize our selfishness is to turn to God. James points us this way when he says, “You do not have because you do not ask from God.” He works to change our heart by showing Himself to be faithful. Whether tangible or intangible, He is the source of satisfaction for the needs that we feel. It is not that we are supposed to somehow not have any needs, but we must learn to find our contentment in Him. We must also learn to trust Him when those needs aren’t met on the timetable we desire. This is where we come up against that pressing question: Am I willing to set my own needs aside to discover what my spouse needs from me? When I find myself in that selfish mindset, I sometimes imagine myself literally setting those things to the side so I can focus on what my wife is trying to get me to hear. On those rare occasions where I do it well, I can see the conflict dissolve before my eyes. In the end, I find that I usually get back in return what I have been looking for from her. It’s a tough thing to consider, but I urge you to take a hard look at your own selfishness. Maybe a few more communication techniques are not the answer. Set your own needs down for a few minutes and really listen to what your wife is needing. Give your husband’s needs priority over your own. Your spouse is going to thank you for it and communication might just get a whole lot easier.