Determining Who Is the Relational Tone-Setter

By Brad Hambrick
Dogs

Photo by Thomas Hawk.

This is the fourth post in a sixteen part series on “Marriage with a Chronically Self-Centered Spouse.” In the posts three through five we will examine the criteria and categories Scripture uses to define a severe case.

The previous post on Matthew 7:1-6 brings an uncomfortable, dangerous freedom. We should be leery to step outside the log-speck domain for relationships. When we step outside these parameters it means that something is severely broken. But when a relationship is destructive, Jesus’ words are to provide a needed freedom.

The question becomes, “When should we apply them? Most of us are slow to repent at times. We shouldn’t use this passage to justify our impatience or bitterness and just start ‘writing people off.’ But there do seem to be cases where this freedom is needed. How do we differentiate unpleasant and rude from unhealthy and destructive?”

The following criteria are meant to provide guidance on when to apply Jesus’ teaching in Matthew 7:6. The more of these that are present the more likely you are in a Matthew 7:6 relationship.

Aggressive “Dog” Actions:

  • Physical violence is minimized or excused.
  • Authority or power is used to silence or intimidate.
  • In arguments the spouse threatens to alienate you from children, family, and/or friends.
  • Major and/or risky financial decisions are made without your consent or awareness.
  • You observe this person lying to others.
  • If you ask for a time out in an argument the spouse will not grant it.
  • The spouse is condescending during a disagreement.
  • The spouse uses the Bible as a weapon to silence dissent.
  • The spouse exaggerates their own achievements, abilities, and importance.
  • Have to have the best of everything.

Passive “Pig” Actions:

  • Your pain is consistently met with a “What do you want me to do about it” attitude.
  • The spouse faces hard times by escaping through substance or pornography.
  • Your day-to-day thoughts and concerns are ignored or misunderstood.
  • Your spouse withdraws and/or pouts for days if he/she is upset with you.
  • Your spouse has a hard time taking pleasure in the joy of others.

Mutually Relevant Self-Centered Actions:

  • Apologies are given, but the wrongs are not understood or blame is shifted.
  • You are shamed for feeling hurt or tried to be silenced when you’re upset.
  • Immoral actions are defended as acceptable.
  • There are repeated lies about known offenses.
  • The spouse will question known facts during an argument.
  • After an explosive exchange the spouse wants to act like nothing happened.
  • Inflexible thinking – what they are thinking of must be the subject of conversation.

In a later post we will discuss how to respond if these criteria describe your spouse. For now, you (and your spouse) need to know that “the right response” on your part will not “fix” the marriage. When these traits are present in a spouse the primary problem is not a marital problem; it is personal problem of the self-centered spouse.

Often the offended spouse is used to fluctuating between effort and despair. Don’t take this assessment to mean that you are left with “nothing to do.” You are doing the most important thing right now – educating yourself on why your previous efforts have been ineffective.

Initially, that feels like it leaves you empty handed. But remember you already felt that way before reading this post; you just didn’t want to admit it. After examining several different styles or causes of self-centered spouses, we will examine how you can respond in a way that keeps the attention on the main issue.

Brad Hambrick

Brad Hambrick

Brad Hambrick, M.Div., Th.M. serves as Pastor of Counseling at The Summit Church and Chief Editor of The Journal of Counseling & Discipleship. He is also Adjunct Professor of Biblical Counseling, Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary and is a Council Member of The Biblical Counseling Coalition.

Read more from Brad and find other great resources at his blog.