Victoria (not her real name) is married to a selfish spouse. She prays for him. She encourages him. She seeks ways to serve him. Her husband soaks it up but hasn’t learned to give half as much in return. If I give examples, I may blow her cover, but most of you know marriages like this.
Maybe you’re in one.
Somewhat understandably, Victoria struggles with bitterness. If her husband only knew how much just a small bit of giving back in return would mean, how if for one hour of a weekend he could make it about her instead of about him, the relief she would feel would be enormous, but her husband’s selfishness seems to run through his core.
They have talked about it, even with a counselor, but the thing about selfishness is that the more selfish you are, the less you realize it. Her husband thinks he’s doing “better,” but not by much, and usually only when Victoria brings it up, which ushers in a new kind of pain.
Victoria’s husband tries to be a little less selfish so that he doesn’t have to listen to his wife complain about it. So he’s fighting his selfishness with, yes, selfishness.
Victoria has prayed. She has gone to a counselor. She even brought her husband with her to the counselor—everything advice-oriented people tell her to do. But the situation hasn’t changed much, and doesn’t appear likely to. In that light, she asks me, how do you maintain a godly attitude?
Keep in mind—I wasn’t talking to the couple. I was talking to Victoria, and about her spiritual attitude, not resolving the situation (that’s a different discussion). What I’m about to say may make some of you married to selfish spouses angry, but I believe this advice is rooted in spiritual reality.
“Victoria,” I said, “you need to start thinking of yourself as the postal worker, not the store. You see all this good stuff that you do for your husband coming from you, but in reality, it’s coming from God. Your graceful attitude, your servant’s heart, your inspiration and motivation are all evidence of the Holy Spirit at work in your life. At root, though, you’re just the postal worker delivering God’s package to your husband. A postal worker doesn’t expect a thank you letter when she delivers the gift.”
I said this because I didn’t want Victoria to let her husband’s selfishness engender poisonous pride in her own heart. This wasn’t to chastise her, but to protect her on her journey toward God.
“Second,” I said, “and here’s the hope—if God is the owner of the store, and we’re just the postal workers, God can use any number of postal workers to deliver what we need. You’re acting like what you need can only come from your spouse, and since he refuses to deliver it, you’re stuck. With some things, that’s true. There are certain things only a spouse can provide. But God can deliver a fulfilling, meaningful life through any number of channels.
“If I keep waiting for a package from the U.S. Postal Service that has been sent and resent a dozen times and is always lost, eventually I’m going to ask God to send something via U.P.S. or Fed Ex. Maybe you can buy your own flowers, and thank God that your husband earns enough, together with you, for you to enjoy the weekly luxury of fresh flowers in your house. No, your husband didn’t think to buy them, but in a way God used your husband to make their presence in your home a reality. And no, your husband might not think to send you to the spa, but if you need a ‘pampering day,’ perhaps you’ll have to set up the appointment. Yes, it would be much more delightful if it came through your husband, as that would show his care for you, but think of it in this light: there are a lot of wives who could never afford to have a day like that even though their husbands would be inclined to provide it if they could.”
Every particular application is going to be different, so I won’t go on any further with Victoria’s story. But if you’re married to a particularly selfish spouse, hold on to these three points:
- Fight pride by remembering you’re just the postal delivery person. Everything God gives to your spouse through you comes from God. Your desire to serve, your creativity in serving, your commitment to serve, your conviction to love—that’s God’s work, not your own heart. You are choosing to be faithful in delivering those blessings, but without God, you wouldn’t have the blessings to give, nor likely even the inclination.
- God can deliver life’s blessings through many channels. We’d all like them to come in a certain way, but wouldn’t it be rather ungrateful of you to complain about a pair of diamond stud earrings if they came in yellow wrapping paper instead of red? Ask God to bring what you legitimately need as He wills, in His timing, and in His way. It may not be your ideal, but even in this, your spouse’s selfishness is simply helping you to press deeper into God. That, in itself, is a gift, when you think about it.
- Don’t stop giving. Don’t allow someone else’s selfishness to infect you. Set the positive example rather than join in the negative one. There’s a certain fulfillment that comes from being faithful when it’s done in the right spirit; seek to capture that.
I write this because some of you may live the rest of your lives still married to a selfish spouse, and the last thing I want to see is your spouse’s selfishness affecting your spirit with resentment, bitterness, and eventually your own selfish demands. Nobody gave to Jesus a tenth of what He gave to them, yet He lived a supremely glorious, powerful, faithful, and joyous life.
In other words, don’t allow what your spouse isn’t to define what you become. Yes, in one sense this is an act of “spiritual self-defense.” But when a spouse sins in a way that doesn’t rise to the cause of divorce, and traditional methods haven’t worked, what else is a spouse to do? There may be a time, further down the road, when you can re-engage with this issue. But when you know it’s time to just accept it for the time-being, these three steps will keep you on track spiritually and even help you to grow in love rather than collapse in bitterness.
(If you’d like to learn more about Gary’s newest book, A Lifelong Love: How to Have Lasting Intimacy, Friendship, and Purpose in your Marriage click here: http://www.garythomas.com/books/lifelong-love/)