Article by Bob Kelleman
What Causes Our Marriage Fights and Quarrels?
Shirley and I are watching a Paul Tripp marriage seminar video series based upon his book, What Did You Expect? Session 2 of the video was quite convicting. In about four dozen different ways, Tripp communicates the same convicting message:
“My biggest problem in my marriage is me!”
All of us as spouses, when asked the question, “What’s the reason for your marriage problems?” tend to answer with:
“My spouse is the cause of our marriage problem!” “It’s him!” “It’s her!”
We are all slow to apply Matthew 7:3-5—slow to see the large log in our eye and slow to focus on our own issues. Instead, we are quick to see the speck in our spouse’s eye and quick to focus on them as the root cause of all our marital fights and quarrels.
James asks and answers the great marital diagnostic question in James 4:1-4:
What causes your marital fights and quarrels? Don’t they come from within you—from your unmet desires and self-centered demands that battle within you? You desire and demand your happiness, your agenda, your kingdom, but you do get what you want from your spouse.
So, in anger and frustration, you lash out at your spouse, blaming them—you retaliate: “You hurt me; I’ll hurt you!” You covet—you manipulate: “I’ll do whatever I can to get you to meet my needs.” But you still cannot get what you want from your spouse.
So that’s why you quarrel and fight. Your marital issues are actually rooted in a spiritual issue in your heart and in your relationship to God. You do not have because you do not ask God humbly. Instead you keep subtly demanding your will be done, your kingdom come.
Even when you do get around to asking God, you do not receive, because you ask with wrong, selfish motives—that you may spend what you get on your own pleasures—you become a taker, a consumer, a demander, instead of a sacrificial giver.
You know what that makes you? A spiritual adulterer! That’s right, you forsake God your Spring of Living Water and you try to make your spouse come through for you as your Messiah. You try to make your spouse do for you what only God can do, what only the Savior can do—quench the deepest thirsts of your soul. But no spouse makes a good Savior. So you end up turning to broken cisterns (your imperfect, finite spouse) that can hold no water. You live for your kingdom of self, instead of living for the Kingdom of God. (Bob’s marriage counseling paraphrase of James 4:1-4).
The Problem in My Marriage Is Me!
As Shirley and I watched the video, we took some notes. Here are our bullet points of the dozens of ways that Paul Tripp says the same thing—the problem in my marriage is me!
- Marriage is not a container for my happiness. Marriage is a receptacle for receiving God’s grace and for sacrificially giving Christ’s grace to my spouse. A broken spouse—and that’s every spouse—is a God-given opportunity to be a grace-giver. My spouse’s weakness and wickedness are opportunities to be a grace-dispenser.
- Marriage is soul school. In God’s Kingdom agenda, marriage is not about my happiness; marriage is about my holiness. God uses my unholy, imperfect, finite, failing spouse to sanctify me—to mature me increasingly into the image of Christ’s sacrificial, other-centered, giving love.
- When you see that your demanding heart is the core problem in your marriage, then you become desperate for grace—Christ’s grace. Then you begin to look at your marriage and your spouse with grace eyes. And you begin to realize that there is no marriage problem so deep that the grace of Jesus isn’t deeper!
- Marriage is a battleground between two kingdoms: the Kingdom of God and my Kingdom of Self. The battle begins in my own heart—who is on the throne of my marriage—Christ or me? Marriage is always a war between two kingdoms—either the Kingdom shaped by Christ or the Kingdom driven by self and my agenda for my happiness and satisfaction.
- Our marriage expectations are not rooted in the gospel. They are rooted in self. My unstated marital expectation is that my spouse will make me happy, will satisfy me, will fulfill me, will fill me, will make me feel good about me, will complete me.
- My biggest problem in my marriage is me—my putting myself on the throne of my Kingdom of Self.
- I don’t need to be rescued from my spouse. I need to be rescued from myself! I need to be rescued from my self-centered, demanding heart.
- When I’m more concerned about my spouse’s issues than my heart issues, my marriage will never become a Christlike, Christ-centered marriage.
Is My Marriage All about Me? Or, Is My Marriage All about Him—About God’s Glory and Christ’s Grace?
- Matthew 6:33—Seek you first my Kingdom. We are all Kingdom seekers. The question is, “In my marriage, am I seeking the Kingdom of God or the Kingdom of Self?” Is the secret agenda of my marriage to get my spouse to come through for me, to make me happy? Or, is the spiritual agenda of my marriage to glorify God by loving my sinful spouse with Christ’s agape, giving, other-centered, sacrificial grace-love?
- We trap our marriages in the tiny Kingdom of Self. Then we wonder why our marriage relationship feels claustrophobic. My happiness, my comfort, my fulfillment, my contentment—these are shrunken visions of the purpose of marriage. God wants to open my eyes to his grand, eternal vision for His glory and grace at work through me to my spouse.
- Is the agenda of my marriage about worshipping my preferences and my personal happiness, or about worshipping God and loving like Christ?
- When I get mad at my spouse for not coming through for me—that’s Kingdom of Self stuff! I’ve reduced marriage to me—my needs, my wants, my preferences, my desires, my happiness—me. That’s Kingdom of Self stuff! “You’re in the way of what I want and what I think I need! That ticks me off!”
- What causes conflict in marriage? Marital conflict is caused by the pre-existing conflict in my heart between surrendering to the Kingdom of God or living for my Kingdom of Self. When two people cling to their own Kingdom, no wonder marriage is filled with endless conflict and emotional turf wars! But if at least one spouse will surrender to the Kingdom of God—sacrificial giving—then the whole conflict changes. And if both spouses will surrender together—then you have a God-glorifying, grace-giving marriage.
- What did we expect at the altar? If we’re honest, we married our spouse because we thought they were the whole package—they had what I needed so that they could fill me up! We were attracted to them because we sensed what they could do for us. That’s attraction, not love. And that attraction dissipates as soon as we see our real spouse—our sinful, finite, imperfect, selfish spouse.
- Not the way it was meant to be. Our secret marriage vow: “All I want is for my spouse to make me happy.” “Be my own personal Messiah!” That’s not God’s purpose for marriage. Our marriage problem is rooted in our secret heart sin of ME and my happiness!
- The marital lie we believe: We believe the lie that what we signed up for in marriage was personal happiness. So, we say, “This is not what I signed up for. You are not who I signed up for. You make me mad because you are not making me happy!” That is not biblical love.
So What Is God Up To in Marriage?
- So…why would an all-wise and all-loving God put two immature, self-centered people together in marriage? Because marriage is a principle tool of sanctification. Marriage is a workroom for two people to become more like Christ! God intends marriage to break us of our self-sufficiency and our self-centeredness.
- Two Conflicting Marital Agendas: While we are working on our happiness in our marriage, God is working on our holiness in our marriage. While we are working on our comfort in our marriage, God is working on our conformity to Christ in our marriage.
- Your marital calling: Your spouse’s sinfulness and immaturity, rather than a reason for your rage, is an opportunity for your maturity! The more you witness your spouse’s weakness and wickedness, the greater your opportunity for your own personal holiness.
- What drives my marital agenda? My happiness, my demandingness, my taking? Or, grace-love: sacrificially serving, loving, and giving to my spouse for Christ’s glory. Am I a selfish consumer or an other-centered giver in my marriage?
- Your marital need—grace and strength. The more honest you are about your own wickedness and weakness, the greater your awareness of your need for Christ’s grace and the Father’s resurrection power. You can’t love like Christ in your own strength.
- Jesus didn’t shed His blood to make my little Kingdom of Self work! Jesus shed His blood to crucify my Kingdom and to invite me into His Kingdom of grace-love for others.
- God calls you into a messy, imperfect, sinful marriage so you can grow in your love for your spouse in their darkest, most wicked, ugliest, most evil moments—and so you can move toward them with Christlike grace.
So What? What Now?
- How would my attitude toward my spouse and my marriage change if I admitted to myself and God that the core problem in my marriage is me? “I have been about me and my happiness instead of about God’s glory and my spouse’s holiness and my own holiness.”
- More God-Dependent: What if I admitted that I can’t love my spouse like Christ without Christ’s grace, the Father’s resurrection power, and the Spirit’s filling? This is why Ephesians 5:22-33 is surrounded by the Spirit’s filling (Ephesians 5:18), Christ’s power (Ephesians 6:10), and the armor of God (Ephesians 6:11-18).
- The only hope for a holy marriage is a humbled, repentant spouse desperately dependent upon Christ’s strength to sacrificially love their spouse. Agape love is not natural. It’s supernatural. We need Jesus!
- Can I quit blaming my spouse? Can I quit maiming my spouse? Can I cry out for help from God to be more like Christ?
- Can I own the two-by-four in my eye, repent of my marital self-centeredness, and live for Christ? Can I repent of my marriage being about my happiness, my agenda, my preferences, my plans?
- What does my marriage need? My marriage needs an intervention—an intervention in my heart, in my attitude, in my Kingdom of Self agenda. My marriage needs an infusion of grace that convicts me of my Kingdom of Self agenda and empowers me to live for the Kingdom of God (grace comes to us teaching us to say no to self-centered passions and yes to other-centered sacrificial love—Titus 2:11-12).
- Through Christ, can I make my marriage vision All About Him—All About the Father’s Glory through the Son’s Sacrificial Love, by the Spirit’s Power?
Article originally posted at RPM ministries: https://www.rpmministries.org/2018/03/real-problem-marriage/