By Christine Suhan
My husband (of now seven years) and I entered marriage counseling for the first time less than a year after we got married. Nothing big happened as a catalyst to this decision, but we sought out counseling because of all the little things that were threatening the stability of our relationship on a daily basis. Prior to becoming a wife, I believed there were only two events that warranted divorce: an affair or physical abuse. This belief was largely shaped by my Christian upbringing and the fact that I didn’t personally know any divorcees.
After becoming a wife, however, my heart and mind softened to the idea that divorce might be a pliable option after-all. It wasn’t that I didn’t love my husband, I did. Most of the time. But for the first few years of my marriage, I loved myself more. Not in an obnoxiously evident way, but as I’ve grown in my relationship with God and my self-centeredness has slipped away, there has been a stark contrast in the way I view my husband and my relationship with him.
I accepted my husband’s marriage proposal because I couldn’t imagine my life without him. I needed him in my life; he made me feel happy, safe, loved and complete. I loved him too and would give him the world if I could, but if I’m being entirely honest, I was more focused on how he made me feel than how he felt. I went into my marriage thinking that my husband would meet my needs first, and then, once my needs were met, I would meet his. I wasn’t aware of my self-centered thinking at the time, but looking back on my attitude and actions throughout the first few years of our marriage, I now see that I was more invested in being loved than I was in loving.
I hate to break it to you, but most of us, if we take a good, hard look at ourselves, are more invested in our own well-being than that of our significant other prior to, and even well after, marriage. It’s human nature to want to have our needs met. Self-preservation, in its most basic form, lives at the core of every human being. It’s a survival mechanism; a natural, God-given instinct; As is attachment- a deep longing for connection with other human beings. These two inherent components of our make-up often evolve into an unhealthy dependence upon other people and over time, begin to clash with God’s ideal image of what a relationship should look like.
Let me give you a few examples of what this clash of instincts look like in a marriage.
Expectations: This has been the biggest offender in my marriage. I set realistic or unrealistic expectations of how my husband should act and when he fails to meet my imaginary standards, I become angry, resentful and sometimes even vengeful. The problem with expectations is I’m not accepting my husband for who he is and therefore I’m not married to him, I’m married to an idea of who I think he should be. Each time my husband fails to meet my expectations, it chips away at my perception of him until eventually I realize that he isn’t the person I thought I married.
Keeping Score: This happens to a lot of marriages when a baby comes into the picture.
“I got up with the baby last night, so it’s your turn to do it.” or “You went out with your friends last Saturday so you owe me a night out.”
Each act of service I perform for my family becomes a deposit that I slip into my marriage bank and use as collateral when my husband isn’t doing what I think he should. The relationship becomes an exchange of duties instead of a shared partnership.
Co-dependency: This happens when I depend too much on my husband to meet my emotional needs. I cannot separate my emotions from his. If he’s angry, I carry the weight of that anger. If he’s sad, I feel his sadness. My emotional stability depends entirely on him and co-dependency can lead to a very dysfunctional relationship.
These manifestations of instincts in collision all stem from the same, hazardous core: self-centeredness. I used to think it was the big, life-altering events that led to divorce but I now believe that self-centeredness paying out in thousands of ways on a daily basis is what steals and destroys marriages.
God’s hope for my marriage, as well as yours, is that we live in harmony with each other. That we practice a Christ-like love, meaning we freely give of ourselves (service) without expecting anything in return. Successful marriages happen when both partners continually work at adopting a selfless attitude that allows them to be of service to each other. There is no such thing as a perfect marriage; we are all human, after all. But marriages that are built upon a foundation of Christ’s perfect love have a much higher chance at succeeding than those that stem from human desires.
We love because He first loved us. 1 John 4:19
About the Author: Christine Suhan is a wife, stay at home mother to three wild toddler boys and writer/creator at www.feelingsandfaith.net. She has a master’s degree in marriage and family therapy and enjoys helping people through openly and honestly sharing her journey of life, recovery, mental illness, marriage, parenting and more. You can also find her on her Facebook page.