The Power of Humility in Marriage
- 2012 7 Apr
Editor's Note: Do you need sound, Biblically-based advice on an issue in your marriage or family? Dr. David Hawkins, director of the Marriage Recovery Center, will address questions from Crosswalk readers in his weekly column.
The couple had been separated for several months when she first contacted me. Both Debra and Kent had been married previously and had high hopes for this second marriage. However, blending their families had proven more difficult than either had imagined.
"It's all about blended families," Debra told me during an initial counseling session. "I have two teenagers and he has one teenager and one middle-schooler."
"So, why are you two separated?" I asked.
"Because we can't agree on how to raise the children," she said matter-of-factly. "He likes to do things his way, and I do things my way."
Her abrupt response surprised me. "Blending families can be difficult," I said. "But, with a bit of understanding and patience it can certainly be done."
"Not something he is very good at," she said. "I think he is way too indulgent with his kids, and he thinks I'm way to strict. We can't seem to agree on anything when it comes to the kids."
"So how did you two end up getting married?" I questioned.
"We are wonderful together when we're away from our kids. We love to do things together. We enjoy the same activities and share the same faith."
"So, you really do have a lot in common," I said. "And you thought the differences in parenting would just disappear?"
"I guess we were naïve," she said. "I can't believe how many sacrifices you have to make when you're married! I know Kent is bull-headed, but I guess I can be just as stubborn. When we fight about the kids, it gets really ugly. Things really began to deteriorate when he told me he is not going to make any changes for me in the way he parents his kids."
"Marriage is all about compromise," I said. "You certainly know that by now. If you don't find ways to work together, you're going to be in trouble."
"That's the point," she said. "We are in trouble. I'm willing to work with him, but Kent is really stubborn and won't even come to counseling."
The more I listened to Debra, the more I was convinced that Kent and Debra weren't struggling so much with "blended family issues" as they were issues related to being opinionated. Her story reminded me of an email I received recently with a similar theme.
Dear Dr. David: I am really frustrated with my wife. She has to do things her way and won't listen to me at all. Any time I try to negotiate with my wife she argues with me. It's her way or the highway. I must admit that I'm growing angry with her. I would like my opinions to at least be considered, but she refuses to listen to anything I say. What can I do to encourage her to at least listen to me, not necessarily do everything my way? I need help or my marriage will be in trouble.
First, opinions can be a source of strength but also a source of division. Marriage is all about blending lives, and that requires letting go of rigid opinions. While it is healthy to know your point of view, becoming welded to it will always be divisive. Encourage listening to each other and learning from the other's points of view.
Second, we all have a desire to have our point of view considered and valued. Not only do we have a desire to have our point of view heard and considered, but this is actually a source of self-esteem. Being listened to is a primary source of self-esteem. Respecting our mate's thoughts is a way to honor and respect them. To diminish their point of view is not only hurtful, but hampers esteem.
Third, taking a rigid position creates polarity. When we become too attached to our point of view, we become intolerant of others' positions. Power struggles ensue, creating distance and ultimately leading to serious trouble. No one wins a power struggle—everyone loses and bitterness sets in.
Fourth, believing you are right leads to attempting to coerce your mate into agreeing with you, creating division. No one wants to have their point of view ridiculed or dismissed. While you may feel strongly about something, you must allow others to feel differently. Tolerance for differences is critical.
Fifth, you must decide if you want to be right, or if you want a relationship. Latching yourself to your position is a sure way to take yourself very seriously, dismissing your mate's position. Scripture indicates there are dangers of considering yourself more highly than you ought to think, (Romans 12:2) and ruining a relationship is surely one of them. Unless your spouse is asking you to go against God's laws and morality, consider your spouse's opinions equally with yours.
Finally, consider the path of humility. Discover the joy of not taking yourself so seriously, being teachable and deferring to your mate. Learn the art of questioning yourself, being open to others' opinions and valuing relationship over being "right." Your mate will appreciate you and your marriage will thrive.
Please share your thoughts on the topic of humility.
Originally posted April 6, 2010.
Dr. David Hawkins is the director of the Marriage Recover Center where he counsels couples in distress. He is the author of over 30 books, including 90 Days to a Fantastic Marriage, Dealing With the CrazyMakers in Your Life, and Saying It So He'll Listen. Dr. Hawkins grew up in the beautiful Pacific Northwest and lives with his wife on the South Puget Sound where he enjoys sailing, biking, and skiing. He has active practices in two Washington cities.