Irreconcilable Selfishness, Grounds For Divorce
Recently I was asked to speak on how to make a marriage last. The emailed invitation included this statement: “You guys obviously have a lot of street cred in this area.” I’m choosing to take that statement as a compliment instead of an inference to my age!
Here’s Carolyn and me at the front door of our new house.
After nearly 37 years of marriage, I guess we do have a track record and maybe some authority to speak on the subject.
My thesis for this article is this: too often divorce happens on the grounds of irreconcilable selfishness, (NOT irreconcilable differences as the phrase normally goes.)
I understand that divorce doesn’t always happen because of irreconcilable selfishness. The reasons for divorce can be complex and sometimes biblically acceptable in cases of:
There are certainly innocent victims of divorce due to these issues and perhaps others.
But I’m convinced that most marriages can flourish if we work hard to banish irreconcilable selfishness.
So here are 3 ways to overcome irreconcilable selfishness and make your marriage thrive:
01. Meet your spouse’s needs (and watch how yours are met in return).
Most people respond to kindness with kindness.
Sure, there are some who are impossibly egocentric. But for normal people, being kind results in kindness returned.
But even if people do not respond in kind, Scripture is clear about how we should act: “Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit. Rather, in humility value others above yourselves, not looking to your own interests but each of you to the interests of the others.” (Philippians 2:3-4)
Should you be a doormat? No! In fact I have written about 6 Strategies to Handle Insults Without Becoming a Doormat.
Jesus Himself set the example of meeting other’s needs. A vivid illustration happened when He washed His disciples’ feet and then applied his actions to our lives:
“After washing their feet, he put on his robe again and sat down and asked, ‘Do you understand what I was doing? You call me ‘Teacher’ and ‘Lord,’ and you are right, because that’s what I am. And since I, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you ought to wash each other’s feet. I have given you an example to follow. Do as I have done to you. I tell you the truth, slaves are not greater than their master. Nor is the messenger more important than the one who sends the message. Now that you know these things, God will bless you for doing them.” (John 13:12-17 NLT)
This teaching plays out in marriage in many ways. Specific application is found in Ephesians 5:21-33 where husbands and wives are told to meet some very critical needs.
The passage is summarized in the final verse: “So again I say, each man must love his wife as he loves himself, and the wife must respect her husband.” (Ephesians 5:33 NLT)
This verse tells us to meet our spouse’s most critical need:
A wife’s greatest need is typically to feel loved.
A husband’s greatest need is typically to feel respected.
How does a husband love his wife and show it? The best way to show love to your wife is to speak the love language that she speaks. Gary Chapman has described these in his books and seminars and helped many marriages.
How does a wife show respect to her husband? ASK HIM! Ask “How can I show you how much I admire and respect you?” Don’t ask just once, ask and get feedback until you are an expert on your husband’s desires.
Of course, some people are so obstinate and selfish, there might not be a great response to your kindness. Sometimes you might even suffer for doing good as I described in an article titled 6 Solutions When You Suffer for doing Good.
But you won’t know until you try.
02. Enjoy and celebrate your differences.
1 Corinthians 12:12-31 speaks about the church as the body of Christ. It uses the analogy of the human body saying that all the members of a church have different functions, just like all the parts of the human body have different functions.
I get a chuckle out of the Apostle’s description of the importance of each member when he writes: “If the whole body were an eye, how would you hear? Or if your whole body were an ear, how would you smell anything?” (1 Corinthians 12:17 NLT)
Can you imagine a giant eyeball rolling around doing nothing but seeing? I picture the character Mike Wazowski in the movie Monster’s Inc. He is close to being just a giant eyeball.
Likewise, in marriage we have differences that can beautifully compliment our spouse. The best marriages learn to make the most of the differences instead of letting them become annoyances.
Instead of letting differences turn into irritations and then irreconcilable selfishness, the best marriages move through 3 stages that look something like this:
Learning the differences. Early in relationships there is a lot of learning. We find out that our values and upbringings were different. The key here is to focus on learning instead of judging because MY values are obviously better, more intelligent, etc.
Laughing at the differences. As soon as possible, it is great to get a giggle out of the differences. I am NOT saying we laugh at our spouse or make fun of their differences or values. But we learn to chuckle about things like how one likes the covers off and the other freezes if they’re not piled high.
Lauding the differences. As a marriage matures, spouses begin to realize that part of the strength of marriage is in the differences of perspective. We learn from each other, we balance each other, we are stronger when two minds combine to find the best outcome.
Over the years Carolyn and I have learned to enjoy and celebrate our differences. They are not problems, they are strengths.
Early in our marriage one of Carolyn’s legitimate complaints was that I had to be right and I didn’t appreciate that she had a different point of view. I felt that what I was trying to do was obviously the right way since I was smarter—which is proof of how stupid I was!
03. Fake it ‘til you make it.
I am not suggesting that you be disingenuous. I’m suggesting that you act in a way that you don’t necessarily feel, until you achieve the result of a happy marriage.
This is taught in Scripture: “Likewise, wives, be subject to your own husbands, so that even if some do not obey the word, they may be won without a word by the conduct of their wives, when they see your respectful and pure conduct.” (1 Peter 3:1-2 ESV)
See how it says you can win your spouse over “without a word by the conduct?” That means you don’t act the way you necessarily feel. You act the way that will produce the results you are looking for—a happy and harmonious marriage.
It might be difficult to act in a loving way to your spouse who is not responding. But the Bible says to keep doing so in order that they might be “won without a word.” It’s a great way to overcome irreconcilable selfishness.
This principle is beautifully portrayed in the movie Fireproof. At first the firefighter husband is a jerk who ignores his wife and dabbles in porn. As a result, she loses emotional attachment and becomes interested in another man. So when the husband comes around and wants to restore the marriage, he has nearly lost his wife. His loving actions are treated with contempt. But he keeps on acting lovingly until he wins her back and saves their marriage.
Some relationships might be too far gone and some spouses might not respond. But you don’t know until you try. So the best approach is to do as the Bible suggests and “fake it till you make it.”
Recently a friend shared how she used this same tactic in her workplace. In a strained relationship with a coworker she decided to “kill ‘em with kindness.” The result? It worked! Today they enjoy a harmonious relationship after what was once very contentious.
So in your marriage, banish irreconcilable selfishness. Act lovingly, kindly and patiently and see if you don’t get a happy marriage in return.
A few years ago I wrote about Five Keys to Stay Happily Married for 34 Years and Five MORE Keys to Stay Happily Married for 34 Years. Please check out those articles for more help to make marriage work.