Selfishness and Marriage

by J. R. Bronger

Divorce! This word used to call to mind "breaking up a home," and with it trauma, unhappiness and all manner of problems. Today, however, it is so commonplace that it rarely raises and eyebrow. There is no need to overwhelm you with statistics in order to prove that nearly half of all marriages end in divorce. Personal evidence may be sufficient. It is probably safe to assume that you have in some manner been touched by divorce, whether friends, family or perhaps yourself.

Despite the Lord's teaching that marriage is permanent and man is not to separate what God has joined together (Matthew 19:6) divorce continues unabated. The only exception to the Lord's no divorce policy is sexual immorality (fornication) according to Matthew 19:9. But, did you know that adultery is not the reason most couples divorce? Surveys indicate that incompatibility, financial problems, sexual inadequacy, mental or physical abuse, no longer in-love, or loving someone else are the leading factors resulting in divorce. Regardless of the name put on the reason for seeking a divorce, the real incentive is selfishness. People divorce for selfish reasons.

A 40-year-old school administrator walked out of her 19-year marriage because she felt her husband was "boring, uneducated, and unmotivated." Now she wanted someone who was "an intellectual dynamo, and successful in his career." Her divorce was about her, not her husband. She acted out of selfishness!

Even incompatibility and sexual inadequacy are code words for selfishness. Incompatibility says, "You are not like me." Or, "Our love life is the pits because you don't know how to please me." How we see our partners often depends more on how we are than how they are. For example, before they married she thought he was unselfish, considerate and smelled of cologne. But after marriage all he wants to do is watch TV and he smells like Doritos. In her view, he has gone from Stud to Dud. Before they married he thought she was a knockout, now to him she looks like she has been knocked-out. Self-centeredness is slowly suffocating this marriage. Selfishness is about commitment to me, love of me, serving me and it will destroy any marriage despite God's prohibitions against divorce.

For years, members of churches of Christ lagged far behind the general population in the number of divorces sought. Still behind, the gap is shrinking. Preachers, elders, deacons and bible class teachers are joining the ranks of the divorced. Men and women are walking away from the vows they exchanged even though they know full well the bible forbids divorce. Selfishness is driving men and women to solve their perceived problems by divorcing. Change partners, like changing a shirt one no longer likes.

When a man ceases making marriage about him, and begins to make it about his wife – his marriage will less likely end in divorce. When a woman stops demanding her marriage center on her and begins to focus on her husband, her marriage will less likely be ended by divorce. Paul said, "Let each of you look out not only for his own interests, but also for the interests of others." (Philippians 2:4). This is excellent medicine for any marriage, including yours.

Love is doing just that. "Love suffers long and is kind; love does not envy; love does not parade itself, is not puffed up . . ." (I Corinthians 13:4). Love is not something that you find, fall in or fall out of. Love is in you, and you can learn to love another human being, if you take the time to do it, and if you have the desire to do it. If people would stop dwelling on themselves and begin to dwell on the spouse, soon they could rekindle the love that was once there, or always wish had been there.

Do everything possible to keep your marriage together and keep it happy. Always have the intention of being together for life. Do not let anything or anyone change that determination. Also, give yourself completely to your partner, body, mind and being. If your marriage bed is unfulfilling this is something that can and must be corrected (the Bible calls this sin in I Corinthians 7:1-5). Talk about it with your husband or wife. Solve it the way God says solve it.

Love your mate unconditionally and with an unselfish heart. Look out for the well-being of your partner and not yourself. Take time to enjoy every minute together, you may not have tomorrow. You are one flesh, so become one every day.

I've witnessed men and women pour themselves into caring for a disabled or dying partner. No task is too great, no chore too disgusting. No complaining, no moaning and no regrets – just complete serving. This doesn't just happen. Those who care for a dying spouse with patience, love and tenderness do so with the same devotion they had before the illness invaded. This fidelity comes from selflessness and not selfishness.