Often the present is a window into our past, but it doesn’t have to dictate our future. We often develop what many call, “self-directed commands” from our histories. For example, “I need to make sure my family is protected” or, “I need to perform to be approved of.” These are innocent responses to how we interpreted our environment and they’re not always correct, but seem to remain with us until God deals with those areas. Obviously, as they are revealed, it’s good to work on them, discover the truth and find freedom from them.
Here’s the thing though: marriage can tend to bring out those self-directed commands and most times we’re not realizing it. We observe something our spouse is doing or not doing and it is accentuated in our head due to a historical connection. I am not saying our spouse is faultless, but all too often it’s not really our spouse, it’s us, i.e., our reaction connected to our history. That’s why it is often said you cannot change your spouse, only yourself. The reality is marriage teaches us to love and God uses it (as author Gary Thomas states) to not necessarily “make us happy,” but rather to make us more like Him. In short, one of the ways we express our love for God is how well we love our spouse in spite of their imperfections.
Marriage exposes our weaknesses and when our weaknesses are exposed the more difficult it may be to show respect. However, showing respect amidst difficulty is a sign of maturity. To dishonor and disrespect our life mate is a sign of immaturity. That is, immaturity defined as my needs are not being met and I am not happy. Truth is, in marriage we are no longer free to pursue whatever self-centered thing(s) we want. What we must strive for is what is best for our partner so that it builds “us” and not just me. When we run toward our struggles, we are strengthened. When we run away, we remain immature and weak especially when it comes to relationship.
Finally, when we hold back in marriage due to a present or historical incident, we are saying, “I will no longer relate to you on a deep level of intimacy.” When we move away from that deep level of intimacy and we stop sacrificing for one another, we are on the road to narcissism. And that is so well addressed in the verse that follows.
“…Being like-minded, having the same love, being one in spirit and purpose. Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit, but in humility consider others [your spouse] better than yourselves. Each of you should not only look to your own interests, but also to the interests of others [your spouse].” (Philippians 2: 2-4)