Hi, this is Pastor Ken and I want to welcome you to the Monday Marriage Message.

When people come to see me for help with their marriage, I invite them to sit down and tell me how I can help. This question often reveals much more than a couple may have intended to let me in on during our first visit. What I mean by that is that their answer to that question often times tells me much more than the words alone convey.

As people tell me what they deem to be the marital problem they are struggling with, most times it seems their opinion is that if their spouse would only speak, act or respond differently, the problem would dissipate. People are gracious and most don’t desire to unload all of the blame for the trouble in their marriage on their spouse. So, they often preface the unpacking of their spouses transgressions by stating “I know I am not perfect, but…” and then proceed to let me in on their spouse’s imperfections which are of course the source of all of their trouble.

The “problem spouse” in these situations usually react in one of several ways. They may just sit quietly and endure the exposition of all of their wrongdoing. They might take issue with their spouse on one or two points, picking their battles, but offering excuses for the seemingly more egregious of their failures. Sometimes they will rise up and disagree with all of it and then try to turn the tables and share that while they may do the things their spouse is complaining about, every failure on their part is only a reaction to their spouses failures.

As I said a moment ago, all of this is far more revealing than the parties sitting in front of me understand. So what do I know? What am I able to extract from these particular conversations?

First of all the primary problem that is revealed in these situations is that there is a serious lack of developed unity. If the couple agree with my assessment, they may think that means that they are not on the same page, do not see the issues the same way, and therefore are unable to get along in peace. While these things might in fact be problematic for them, that is not at all what I mean by underdeveloped unity or oneness. I understand that the fact that they see things differently than one another, and that they don’t agree on solutions is not indicative of a lack of unity. Their propensity to view those differences as problematic is what indicates their oneness has not been developed as it should have. Unity is not a meeting of the minds, unity is the strength obtained by recognizing and valuing the differences possessed as providing more ways to work together…not fewer.

What these couples are effectively doing is indicting, judging and convicting each other as wrong simply because the other does not act, think and respond as they would. They often see every differing response from their spouse as argumentive, and as a personal attack.

This leads to the second difficulty troubling these couples. Their judgmental attitudes toward one another. Each is standing in judgment of the actions words and thoughts of the other. One of the phrases I use to help couples successfully resolve this problem is to “Keep their eyes on their own paper”. What do I mean by that? I prefer to let Scripture explain.

While giving the Sermon on the Mount Jesus addressed this very issue. In Matthew 7:1-5 it is recorded that He said; “Do not judge others, and you will not be judged. For you will be treated as you treat others. The standard you use in judging is the standard by which you will be judged. “And why worry about a speck in your friend’s eye when you have a log in your own?  How can you think of saying to your friend, ‘Let me help you get rid of that speck in your eye,’ when you can’t see past the log in your own eye? Hypocrite! First get rid of the log in your own eye; then you will see well enough to deal with the speck in your friend’s eye.

When we decide that another person should not say, think or respond in a certain way we are judging them. Certainly there are times when this is necessary, and in fact there are occasions where we would not be doing our due diligence if we failed to discern between right and wrong. Parenting is an excellent example of this. We would do far more harm than good if we chose to simply ignore incorrect responses in our children. Scripture indicates that we must parent responsibly. Proverbs tells us that if we want a good outcome we need to offer our children our correction. “Those who spare the rod of discipline hate their children. Those who love their children care enough to discipline them.” Proverbs 13:24 Another example comes from Proverbs 22:6, Direct your children onto the right path, and when they are older, they will not leave it. It is clear, in the parent/child relationship, we are to make our children aware of their missteps and take the necessary steps ourselves to correct them. I believe however, that even in the parental role, scripturally we are cautioned that the measure we use to judge our children’s activity will be used on us in our interactions with them going forward.

Additionally, we see in scripture that if we have a brother or sister in Christ who has sinned against us we are instructed to go to them privately and make them aware of the problem. Only if that doesn’t bring resolution are we to delicately follow the biblical prescription of involving others, and always from a pure motive of love. Even here we must be cautious to do so in a non-judgmental nature, offering the same level of grace and mercy that we would want shown to us. (Matthew 18:15-17)

Interestingly within the marital relationship, the scripturally prescribed response to a perceived failure is different altogether. I believe this to be for several reasons. I give them in no particular order, though all are offered for careful consideration. First, the response to a judgmental attitude is far more abrasive within a marriage. People respond to perceived spousal judgment with much less tolerance than any other. This is a result of their Oneness. No one easily accepts criticism from an equal, and the reaction is very likely to be a Hypocrite! First get rid of the log in your own eye; then you will see well enough to deal with the speck in mine!”

Second, Judgement within the marital relationship is often misplaced. What I mean by this is that misinterpretation of the words, actions, and more importantly, motives occurs with arguably higher frequency between spouses than in any other relationship. Again, the reason for this is that spouses often misunderstand unity, as well as the fact that the marital relationship is of higher consequence than any other one.

Finally, I believe that we are to respond differently in the marital relationship because we are in fact “one flesh” If we respond to our spouse with judgement…we bring judgment upon ourselves. It is nearly, if not impossible altogether, to judge the actions of one’s spouse from a position of selflessness. The fact is that if we are judging our spouse it is likely because we don’t like the way they have responded toward us…and that is a selfish motive. When we are being judgmental from a position of selfishness, it cannot be offered in a way that is godly, and will therefore be incorrectly applied regardless of the validity of the complaint.

Scripture prescribes responding to marital difficulty differently than any other relationship as I mentioned a moment ago. 1 Peter 3:1-7 says, Wives, likewise, be submissive to your own husbands, that even if some do not obey the word, they, without a word, may be won by the conduct of their wives, when they observe your chaste conduct accompanied by fear. Do not let your adornment be merely outward—arranging the hair, wearing gold, or putting on fine apparel— rather let it be the hidden person of the heart, with the incorruptible beauty of a gentle and quiet spirit, which is very precious in the sight of God. For in this manner, in former times, the holy women who trusted in God also adorned themselves, being submissive to their own husbands, as Sarah obeyed Abraham, calling him lord, whose daughters you are if you do good and are not afraid with any terror. Husbands, likewise, dwell with them with understanding, giving honor to the wife, as to the weaker vessel, and as being heirs together of the grace of life, that your prayers may not be hindered.

Obviously, the Apostle Peter wrote this instruction to husbands and wives to help them know how to interact with one another in a way found pleasing to God. As he wrote, Peter understood that the wives who read his instructions to them would have known all too well the story of Sarah and Abraham. He understood they would have known that Sarah spoke with respect to a husband who had not always acted respectably in regards to his treatment of her. Peter made the point that Sarah’s response toward Abraham was the correct one even in light of His mistreatment of her. To the husbands, Peter instructs that when a man’s wife interacts with him, he is to respond with understanding; he is to treat her with honor and care for her as the weaker or more fragile, but also as the more valuable vessel. I believe his intimation here is that the wife is a vessel to be regarded more carefully and of higher value just as one would be more careful with a crystal vase as opposed to one made of iron. In the marital relationship we are to respond to one another with the highest regard at all times and it is my belief that this scripture indicates that within that special relationship we are to let our lack of judgment and the work of the Holy Spirit do all of the convicting.

Questions to answer:

  • Is it easy or difficult for you to remain non-judgemental within the bounds of your marriage?
  • If you recognize that you have responded to your spouse judgmentally in the past what were the results of that?
  • If you feel that your spouse responds to you judgmentally sometimes, how does that make you feel?

Actions to take:

  • Discuss what your marriage would look like if you knew that judgmental attitudes were rarely or never present.
  • If necessary seek your spouse’s forgiveness for your past judgmental attitudes toward them.
  • Ask God to help you respond to your spouse the way that He wants you to…especially when it is difficult to do so.

So now, learning to respond and react toward your spouse only in the ways that God’s word instructs, trusting that His precepts are perfect for your marriage…go be awesome!