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In Part 1 …
of my LifeLetter “How To Burn Your Marriage To The Ground”, we discussed a dangerous pattern of conduct inside a relationship that clearly has blown right by two of the most prominent warning signs posted by the freeway that leads to the marriage incinerator.
The warning signs?
Philippians 2:14: “Do everything without complaining” and . .
Ephesians 4:29: “Let no corrupting talk come out of your mouths, but only such as is good for building up, as fits the occasion, that it may give grace to those who hear.”
The 3-stage pattern that is nearly impossible to reverse once it takes root in a marriage?
Complaining – Criticism – Contempt . . what I describe as “The 3 C’s of Matrimony Arson”, with each stage successively producing a more destructive and toxic environment.
Two key takeaways from the important verses above: 1) sooner or later, and more often than we dare admit, we all will need grace, we all will stumble, we all will introduce injury and offense to our spouse, AND “everything” and “no” are impossible standards . . which leads to 2) great marriages are not built on replication but transformation – while some are able to jump much further than others off a cliff on the coast of Maine, none of us come anywhere close to landing on the beach in France.
Have you noticed that try-hard, do-good, “I won’t make the same mistakes my parents made”, Mr. Roger’s-styled marriages only succeed to a point? . . and then, out of nowhere, our tongues simply get the best of us . . much like what happened in this scene from the movie Tommy Boy . .
So you wouldn’t be human …
if you never had things come out of your mouth that only made things worse for you and your spouse. The question is where does the garbage come from and how can the atmosphere of your home go from tame to toxic in little more than a nano-second?
Jesus’ own answer was to look no further than our heart (Matthew 15:18-19) . . or to put it more literally, look no further than our soul (everything that makes up our inner man including our mind and our will) .. for that is where we uncover the “heart” behind the heat . . that is where we encounter the real culprit behind a mouth gone whiny and full of complaint.
Need a name for this villain?
Why not call it for what it is? Insecurity . . or expressed in a phrase “a soul not at rest” . . or perhaps best captured by attorney Peter Sanders, “the cool points are out the window and I’m all twisted up in the game” (Steve Martin, Bringing Down The House).
The sinister truth about insecurity is that as the antithesis to Ephesians 4:29, it necessarily always forces one to tear down their spouse to feel better about themselves AND it has two ugly sides:
the passive side is dominated by ingratitude which is often expressed through a critical spirit that weighs everything the other spouse does or does not do against an imaginary and unattainable level of perfection – in this kind of marital behavior, appreciation for “the good” that comes from the other spouse is typically in short supply or cautiously expressed at best out of duty . .
the more direct side of insecurity is dominated by a selfish mindset where the other spouse is reduced to the role of little more than a beleaguered “butler” who is continually criticized for never doing enough – just pick the topic du jour.
Letting Your Guard Down
Solomon, the wisest person to ever live on the face of the earth (other than Christ Himself) capped all of the instruction he offered in Song of Songs and Proverbs with this one very succinct admonition: “Above all else, guard your heart”.
How do we do that?
One of my favorite Pastor/Teachers, Andy Stanley, states that God has given us 4 unique sets of feelings that should serve as key warning lights on our marital dashboard which inform us that we are in trouble – and with each of them he offers a practical remedy that can begin the process of reversing “The 3 C’s” or even stop the fire before it starts.
I have added a fifth feeling because I think it is uniquely rooted in all the others . .
Insecurity’s 5 Warning Lights
Guilt -“I owe you”
Anger – “You owe me”
Greed – “I owe me”
Jealousy – “Life/God owes me”
Unloved – “I owe God”
If we struggle with the “I owe you” saturated feeling of guilt over our own shortcomings towards our mate, then we know that nothing is better for the soul than confession vs bringing the other spouse down to our level of misery (James 5:16)
If we struggle with the “You owe me” feeling of anger over the shortcomings of our spouse, then we know that nothing is better for the soul than forgiveness vs bringing the other spouse into our courtroom of bitterness on a daily basis ( Ephesians 4:32)
If we struggle with the “I owe me” feeling of greed and the insatiable longing for more, then we know that nothing is better for the soul than generosity vs fixation with increasing ownership of material possessions or enhancing good looks or booking the most extravagant holiday yet (Proverbs 11:25; Luke 6:38)
If we struggle with the “Life/God owes me” feeling of jealousy and insufficiency in comparison to the success of others in terms of career stability, finances, achievement or marital happiness, then we know that nothing is better for the soul than celebrating the goodness and gifts of God as He sovereignly directs vs preoccupation with behind the back and sometimes not so behind the back conversations that seek to minimize or discredit others (Matthew 7:11; James 1:17)
If we struggle with the “I owe God” feeling of being unloved and unlovable, then we know that nothing is better for the soul than immersing ourselves in God’s great big love letter, the Bible, and planting ourselves at the foot of the cross where He gave His one and only Son vs becoming a Scrooge beyond all scrooges towards our spouse with the very same grace that was first lavished on us. Is God calling you out of self-imposed religious obligation and unbelief to Himself even now in this very moment? (1 John 3:1; John 1:12)
Raising Your Guard Back Up –
Perhaps you have rehearsed the sentiments of King David when he penned “Create in me a clean heart, and restore a right spirit within me” (Psalm 51:10) but the mistake would be to assume that David was simply asking for a Divine eraser – taking inventory of, and removing, the garbage is always a good thing BUT what David missed in his times of greatest error is the same thing we as marrieds miss in our homes when we have succumbed to insecurity . . and that is life, connection, intimacy, closeness, relationship.
In the same way, confession, forgiveness, generosity, celebration and belief are essential, but never are the goal in and of themselves . . instead they are the door-opener to a vibrant fireproof marriage where . .
Encouragement replaces complaining
Understanding replaces criticism
Covering replaces contempt
How does this happen?
Certainly not through fractured and feeble human effort that got us in trouble to begin with, but rather through surrender to the Christ who lives within us.
His reminder to us today?
Encouragement supersedes complaining when listening to our spouse’s needs trumps fixation first on our own.
Understanding supersedes criticism when we align as team mates rather than as adversaries.
Covering supersedes contempt, not when we choose to ignore failure, but when we choose to love our spouse through it by serving in a well-informed humility that never forgets there is an arsonist within all of us . . that apart from God’s mercy and tender kindness and left to it’s own self-serving path . . is more than capable . . of burning a marriage made in heaven . . to the ground here on earth.
How is God encouraging you today?