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While most modern countries …
have some form of military-oriented defense structure to protect the homeland from the enemy “out there”, like never before we are witnessing the battle for security turn towards dealing with “the enemy within”, hence, the emergence and expansion of costly detection and intervention systems like the Department of Homeland Security in the US.
On a more local level, we are finding that security for private homes has become more elaborate and sophisticated than ever, but statistics in the United States scream that it is the homeowners themselves who most often are the prevailing cause of tragedy:
- improperly managed candles cause an average of 10,630 fires per year causing more than 100 deaths, 900 injuries and $400 million in property damage.
- smoking causes an average of 17,600 fires per year resulting in more than 450 deaths and $516 million in property damage.
- electrical failure causes an average of 47,700 home structure fires per year resulting in 400 deaths, 1,500 injuries and $1.4 billion in property damage.
- clothes dryers account for an average of 17,000 home structure fires doing more than $236 million in property damage.
- children start an average of 7,100 home fires, causing $170 million in property damage.
- unattended cooking pans, pots and appliances are the cause of 40% of all house fires, or an average of 156,600 per year, causing $850 million in property damage.
Simply summarized – while natural disasters and storms are to be respected, the vast majority of the time finds us burning our own homes to the ground.
The Slippery Slope …
… of Matrimony Arson
The same is can be said when it comes to the institution of marriage. Yes, while external negative forces like materialism, pornography and pagan entertainment are not to be taken lightly, it’s the fires we start inside our homes that wreak the greatest amount of heartbreak and breakup . . fires, that more often than not, are started and stoked . . by a careless tongue.
In fact, there is a very simple, time-tested formula for how to burn your marriage to the ground with the vocabulary of your marriage that I choose to call “The 3 C’s of Matrimony Arson”, and here they are:
A caustic culture of complaining in a marriage happens when one or both spouses fixate on failed expectations great and small.
While there does need to be a safe place in every marriage where disappointment in both circumstances and the choices of either spouse can be constructively shared, a complaining spirit is a dangerous obsession with self – it is almost like one or both spouses begin to see the other as an attachment or accessory to their own life rather than as a person made in the image of God with their own God-given beauty and purpose.
Is complaining a big deal to God? Absolutely! Paul wrote “Do everything without complaining” in Philippians 2:14 and we should be mindful of the cost of complaining alone to the Israelites in the wilderness (see Exodus 15, Psalm 106 and I Corinthians 10).
But the real dilemma with a spirit of complaining when it’s allowed to take root in a marriage is that it opens the door to a destructive slippery slope that is nearly impossible to reverse – and runaway complaining will always open the door to the spirit of criticism.
John Gottman, who wrote Why Marriages Succeed or Fail, distinguishes the difference and the connection between complaining and criticizing:
He notes that a complaint is a specific statement of distress, displeasure, or anger while a criticism is more global and less specific. When you complain, you are referring to a particular action (or lack of action). When you criticize, you are attacking the character of the person.
For example, a general complaint is: “I am disappointed that we didn’t go out last Saturday night”. A targeted complaint is: ” I am disappointed that you did not make plans for us to go out last Saturday night.” A criticism is: “You never make plans for us to go out.”
The problem with criticism in God’s eyes is twofold: 1) you are playing the devil’s hand when it comes to accusing and tearing down your spouse, and 2) you are starving your partner’s soul and your marriage of the one thing we all need to be able survive and stand this side of heaven: grace. Consider Ephesians 4:29 which says, “Let no unwholesome word proceed from your mouth, but only such a word as is good for edification according to the need of the moment, so that it will give grace to those who hear.”
Tragically, once complaining and criticism have become entrenched in a marriage, it is only a matter of time (without God’s intervention) before contempt will take over.
Contempt is never satisfied with the verbal slights of criticism but instead feels the need to express dislike toward the other spouse in a way that implies that they are now worthless and undeserving of respect. Contempt is verifiable when insults, name-calling, a harsh tone of voice as well as demeaning and judgmental facial expressions become the norm. Contempt eats away at a relationship rapidly and painfully and comes loaded with a dishonest streak that will inform anybody and everybody outside the marriage that their spouse “is the problem” while they themselves “never wanted a divorce”.
Found yourself on …
the giving and/or receiving end of a marriage that has burned? While it is true that we are all broken and contribute to brokenness and hurt in our relationships, we also cannot be held responsible for a spouse that has torched a relationship by succumbing to the “3 C’s”.
I have been there . . I hoped for years that a different outcome would surface . . I invested deeply and very imperfectly in the spiritual and emotional welfare of my family . . I felt the sting and darkness and the void created by a spouse consumed with contempt and disrespect . . I watched my mate obscure the wisdom and insight of numerous godly counselors while consumed with the redesign the of the man God had given her for life . . I know the horror of “enough is never enough”.
If you are there, your are not beyond the compassion, care and grace of a Savior who has endured alienation and rejection on a level we will never comprehend . . yet when it comes to tending to, and guarding, our own heart . . never offers a pass.
In part 2 of How To Burn Your Marriage To The Ground, I talk about the “heart behind the heat” (or you could say the “ire behind the fire”) and offer a path of hope to the marriage arsonist in all of us . . and to the burn survivor . . and better yet, a way to stop the fire before it starts.