This is the fifteenth post in a sixteen part series on “Marriage with a Chronically Self-Centered Spouse.” In the posts nine through twelve we will examine four key markers of genuine change and in the process discusses who should be involved in the helping relationships that surround this type of marital restoration work.
Rarely are we humble and patient in isolation. The more we restrict our sphere of being socially known, the more we create an environment given to pride and demanding quick results. Consider this: why is there more crime per capita in a city than in a rural setting? A primary reason is because people are more anonymous (less known) to the people surrounding them in cities.
When the chronically self-centered spouse is not honest about his/her actions to trusted Christian friends, then his/her spouse and kids are the “only ones who complain.” When this is the case, the offended spouse is forced to choose between “nagging” (as it would be perceived), excusing the behavior (living in denial), or leaving (another action with vilifies the offended spouse).
Until the self-centered spouse reverses this dynamic with honest confession without downplaying events (intensity or duration) to trusted outsiders, this dynamic will continue. These “trusted outsiders” should include three types of people:
- A pastor or elder with spiritual authority over the family (if the offending spouse is a church member).
- A counselor with experience working with relationships involving active or passive manipulative dynamics.
- A mature Christian couple who is mutually trusted by both husband and wife.
Coming out of a chronically self-centered approach to life, of which marriage was likely only a part, will not be a short-term, easy process. Placing the full role of guidance and support on one individual (pastor, counselor, or friend) is unrealistic and confounds roles that can best be accomplished separately.
The pastor or elder is there for authority (the abusive or neglectful behavior will not be accepted by a church member in good standing). The counselor is there to provide guidance (detailing the manipulative patterns that exist beyond the pinnacle experiences the couple’s attention naturally gravitates towards and providing biblical counsel). The mature couple is there for relational support (both spouses will doubtless face discouragement and want to give up or say it’s too hard before the journey is complete).
The offended spouse should not be the one who asks for this level of involvement. It is doubtful the offending spouse will volunteer for this level of intervention. This guidance needs to come from the first person who is enlisted as an experienced advisor (pastor or counselor). This initial advisor must be able to articulate the necessity of this amount of involvement. It is usually several meetings into a counseling relationship before the helping relationship before an assessment can be made to substantiate this recommendation.
It is at this stage in the process that the offended spouse can begin to learn to trust. No longer is the offended spouse making isolated judgments based upon information the offending spouse is in primary control over. The offended spouse can begin to trust the various people (pastor, counselor, and couple) who are hearing the past and present interactions without the fearful biases of emotional/financial dependence or the sense of rushed-ness to “keep the peace for the kids.”
Submitting to this amount of involvement is a significant demonstration of humility and patience by the offending spouse. It surrenders control over major areas of personal and family information and decision making. Beyond this it also requires denouncing a common lie that seeks to undermine genuine repentance – if I do what repentance and change requires, I will be groveling. That will be the final quality of authentic change addressed.