Who Is to Blame? Him or Her?

By Brad Hambrick

This is the third 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.

We have looked at Jim, a passive self-centered spouse, and Eddie, an aggressive self-centered spouse. But if we were talking to them instead of about them, doubtless we would hear the rebuttal, “This can’t be all me. Counselors always take the side of the crying woman. She’s not innocent. What about all the stuff that she does that upsets me? Am I supposed to let all that go, and she gets to unload on me?”

This poses a difficult question in counseling a self-centered marriage. No spouse is ever completely innocent, yet we have focused on Jim and Eddie to such a degree that we have not even given their wives’ a name. Is this counselor bias? Is it a violation of the biblical teaching on forgiveness (Matt 18:21-22)?

No, it is the direct application of Matthew 7:6 and the conclusion to Matthew 7:1-5. In this passage, Jesus is dealing with troubled relationships. In three stages, Jesus addresses relationships that are mildly, moderately, and severely troubled. In the same stages, Jesus speaks to relationships that are increasingly close.

Stage One: Minor Offense, Broad Relationships (v. 1-2)

Jesus has just taught for two chapters on the moral ideal (Matt. 5-6). It is much easier to listen to this kind of teaching when you are thinking about other’s faults. Jesus cuts them off at the pass and says, “By whatever standard you apply my teaching to others, it will be applied to others. Give grace if you want to receive grace.”

Then you can imagine someone raising their hand and asking Jesus, “Teacher, I’ve tried that. I really have and some relationships don’t get better, because it feels like we’re ignoring important offenses. I understand it is a man’s ‘glory to overlook an offense (Prov. 19:11),’ but what should I do?”

Stage Two: Moderate Offense, Closer Relationship (v. 3-5)

Jesus takes up that question and answers by changing the metaphor from judging, “Start by admitting your sin before you confront someone else’s. Model what it looks like to live by the same grace that is available to your friend. Create an environment that sets up reconciliation. If you neglect doing this, you’ll wind up being a hypocrite.”

You can imagine many people liking that answer, but someone else raising their hand, “Lord, that is great advice. I’ve done that and it usually works. But I’ve got a couple of relationships where the more I take the log out of my own eye, the more I get hurt. Should I just continue to ‘turn the other cheek’ or is there another way I can respond?”

Stage Three: Major Offense, Intimate Relationship (v. 6)

Jesus takes up that question as well and answers by changing the metaphor from logs and eyes. In this case Jesus uses two metaphors. The first is for a serially aggressive offender (dogs). The second is for the serially passive offender (pigs).

“Do not give dogs what is holy… lest they… turn to attack you.” There were many wild dogs in Jerusalem that roamed the streets. A compassionate, animal lover might try to feed them. But if they did, the dog would bite the hand that offered it food. Similarly Eddie would attack the gracious efforts of his wife to restore the marriage. Her efforts at restoration resulted in her repeated harm. Jesus says it is permissible to stop feeding such dogs.

“Do not throw your pearls before pigs, lest they trample them underfoot.” A pig has no use for nice things. Similarly, Jim would ignore or minimize anything his wife tried to address – log or speck. She could exhaust herself trying to make things better and, like a pig, Jim would just “waller” (read with a thick country accent) in himself.

This does not remove hope from a self-centered marriage. But it does grant freedom from owning the problem, or even 50% of it, to the abused or neglected spouse. It brings to bear Romans 12:18 for such a spouse, “As far as it depends on you, live peaceably with all.” Jesus is saying that once you leave stage two, “it” no longer only depends on the abuse-neglected spouse.

In the next post we will look at the criteria by which this assessment can be made.

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.