To my dear marriage counseling client…
You seem to be intent on telling me several indicting things about your spouse (the person sitting next to you on my couch), and perhaps you are trying to convince me of these things. You may also be trying to hurt them in some way. You are succeeding at the latter, but not at the former. Do you believe, if you convince me of how awful they are, that they will be declared guilty, and as though by magic, they will be returned to you, thoroughly scolded, and transformed back into the dutiful and compliant spouse you thought you were getting so long ago? That’s not how this whole thing works.
As you vent, I think you may have some valid points about your spouse, but I wonder at the same time. How much of what you are saying are you hearing for the first time, and how much is your spouse hearing for the first time? More so, I wonder how much of it is true. What truth are you not telling me? Do you tell each other the truth?
It also matters what you are trying to do with the truth. The truth can sometimes hurt, but wanting to hurt someone, and using the truth to do it is another. Thelonious Monk said, “There are no wrong notes on the piano, but it matters when and how you use them.”
The truth is… your spouse wants to feel significant, and so do you. But, how people get to significance is often thwarted by mistaken and misapplied theology. Men are offered the idea that they can and must be leaders in the home. Leading is one way of finding significance, and after all, there are a lot of decisions to be made in a home, and a lot of problems to be solved. Yet, that is not the real issue. The real issue is whether the husband will be in that leadership position alone. Does he really need to feel threatened by a strong woman wanting to share leadership? Is he really in danger from her? Does he believe the world’s message of shame? If he is threatened by the prospect of an open and intimate life with an equal, then he is probably not seeking significance, but is instead seeking superiority… an appeal to human pride and avarice. Do you tell the truth about what you are wanting from your spouse? Are all your wants O.K.?
The truth is… your spouse wants to feel significant, and so do you. Women hear the “inferiority” message and in many ways feel a great sense of shame. People who feel shame often inflict shame. She was often taught to use Spite Talk, as her husband was taught to use Fight Talk. Sadly, significance is still elusive. No one wins. She becomes angry over this “one-down” position, many of us understand the anger, but none of this brings significance. The truth is, neither superiority nor inferiority really fit anyone. Neither of them were really God’s original plan. Only the Significance Plan works, and true intimacy doesn’t need someone in charge.
The truth is… your spouse wants to feel significant, and so do you. God wants us to repent, with all the mind change and emotional shift that goes with it. But, many in theological circles preach scorn and shame. Scorn and shame are not the same as repentance. We don’t get the ability to repent from other people, we can only get it from God. Check sometime the words of Paul in II Corinthians 7, in which he compares the sorrow of the world (scorn and shame) with the sorrow he calls Godly Sorrow.
So,… there you are on my couch, recognizing pain (and I understand that) but not the whole truth. You can’t make somebody do better by making them feel worse. (Jane Nelsen) It is not “worse” that your spouse needs to feel… it is responsible that they need to feel, and repentant if there has been some wrong done. They need to feel zealousness for change. If you only see your spouse as someone to be controlled, or punished, or avoided, or used… then you don’t know all the truth about them. Humiliation is about shame, and humility is about the truth… and they are not the same thing. The truth is that your spouse is someone for whom Christ died, and so are you. If they can’t see you and themselves in that perspective, then you aren’t dealing with all the truth, and hope will be slim, but if they can… they are more likely to be changed. If we turn in the names we call ourselves, and the names we call each other, and we receive from Christ the names, and the characters he has for us, then in Him, we have significance, and we can validate it in others.