Selfishness and Marriage (Keller)

It’s been awhile since I’ve read a book on marriage with the depth and wisdom of Tim Keller’s The Meaning of Marriage.  I appreciate how he talks about our culture’s selfish view of marriage.  Today, many people think of marriage and romantic relationships in terms of self – what they get out of it.  Turns out that this selfishness is actually the major problem in many marriages (Christian and non-Christian):

“In Western culture today, you decide to get married because you feel an attraction to the other person.  You think he or she is wonderful.  But a year or two later – or, just as often, a month or two – three things usually happen.  First, you begin to find out how selfish this wonderful person is.  Second, you discover that the wonderful person has been going through a similar experience and he or she begins to tell you how selfish you are.  And third, though you acknowledge it in part, you concede that your spouse’s selfishness is more problematic than your own.  This is especially true if you feel that you’ve had a hard life and have experienced a lot of hurt.  You say silently, ‘Ok, I shouldn’t do that – but you don’t understand me.’  The woundedness makes us minimize our own selfishness.  And that’s the point at which many married couples arrive after a relatively brief period of time.”

Keller then notes that at this point there are two paths to take.  The first is deciding that your hurt and woundedness is more fundamental than your selfishness.  You believe that if your spouse does not see your wounds and try to help you, it’s not going to work.  The marriage could then end, or it could go on with emotional distance growing due to a cease-fire and not talking about the problems.

Another path – the better one – is “to determine to see your own selfishness as a fundamental problem and to treat it more seriously than you do your spouse’s.”

Why? Only you have complete access to your own selfishness, and only you have complete responsibility for it.  So each spouse should take the Bible seriously, should make a commitment to ‘give yourself up.’ You should stop making excuses for selfishness, you should begin to root it out as it’s revealed to you, and you should do so regardless of what your spouse is doing.  If two spouses each say, ‘I’m going to treat my self-centeredness as the main problem in the marriage,’ you have the prospect of a truly great marriage.”

Of course, this is based on the gospel: Jesus went to the cross not out of selfishness, but out of selflessness, to give his life for sinners.  The more we understand how Christ graciously served us this way, the more we will be able to graciously serve our spouses, not our selves.

The above quotes are found on pages 63-64 of Keller’s The Meaning of Marriage.

Shane Lems