Dr. Wall explains two paradigms in marriage: One works. One doesn’t. This is another in a series comparing Living as Roommates vs. Living as Husband and Wives. For the entire series click here. For the first in the series click here.
If Cain is avenged seven times, then Lamech seventy-seven times.
In everything, do to others what you would have them do to you, for this sums up the Law and the Prophets.
There are two spirits in the world represented in the two quotes above. The first is Lamech’s (Cain, the first murderer in the world, was Lamech’s great-great-great-great grandfather) spirit that says, if you hurt me, I will at minimum hurt you back, and if pressed, I will hurt you worse. If you are nice to me I’ll treat you nice, but if you aren’t nice to me, watch out! The second spirit is summarized in all the teaching of Jesus that in essence says I will serve you even though you don’t deserve it. These two spirits are at war in your heart and which spirit you listen to will fundamentally affect your marriage, and everything else in your life.
If you’ve been reading this series of blogs contrasting married couples acting as roommates with couples who treat each other as husbands and wives, you’ve noted that roommates are characterized by selfishness and husbands and wives are marked by sacrifice and a servant spirit. How this plays out in practice is roommates treat the other the WAY THEY ARE TREATED and husbands and wives TREAT EACH OTHER BY THE GOLDEN RULE. The GOLDEN RULE, Jesus’ fundamental summary of healthy human relationships 2000 years ago is:
Treat others the way you want to be treated.
Let’s look at these two lifestyles side by side:
Roommates: Selfishness I treat you like you treat me
Husbands and Wives: Sacrifice I treat you like I want to be treated
NOTE THAT: Cohabiting couples, who are NOT married, AND married couples, who treat each other as roommates, TREAT EACH OTHER THE SAME. Structurally, cohabitation outside of marriage says, we don’t need marriage and commitment and the sacrifice of waiting and patience to delay either sexuality or living together. The cohabiting relationship is in the land of selfishness and roommates and “I’ll treat you like you treat me” from the get go. This philosophy of life oftentimes DOES NOT CHANGE WHEN THEY GET MARRIED. Cohabiting couples take this cohabitation way of thinking and choosing and acting and feeling into their marriage and, apart from some miracle, they will end up negatively affecting their marriage to be one marked by selfishness and treating the other the way they are treated (See my series on cohabitation that shows how these forces play out in their cohabitation relationship and how they inadvertently harm the future of the marriage. The first of the series starts here and continues here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, and here). So when I say “roommates” I’m referring to cohabiting couples AND married couples who treat each other as roommates.
Look, now, how this plays out in marriage in everyday life.
Lamech’s Spirit: Living as Roommates: You are nice to me. I’m nice to you. If I’m nice to you, you are nice to me. If you have a bad day and aren’t nice to me or you are indifferent to me for whatever reason, I scold you for being in a bad mood or for being indifferent or I automatically get in a bad mood if you are in a bad mood or I withdraw and am indifferent to you. If I’ve had a bad day and aren’t nice to you or I am indifferent to you for whatever reason, you scold me for being in a bad mood or for being indifferent to you or you automatically get in a bad mood if I am in a bad mood or you withdraw and become indifferent to me. If you get mad at me, I get mad at you or bottle up my anger and convey that I’m not angry by withdrawing from you, but I secretly build up resentments against you. If I get mad at you, you get mad at me or bottle up your anger and convey that you are not angry by withdrawing from me, but you secretly build up resentment against me. Since negativity has a longer shelf life than positivity, there isn’t enough positivity to overcome the negativity and our relationship deteriorates.
If either of us hurts the other, either unwittingly or on purpose, the other is sure to hurt back and take offense and to see the hurt as germane to the relationship. In other words, if we hurt each other, unwittingly or on purpose, this shows there’s something inherently wrong with the relationship, because we each have this idyllic notion that people who love each other will never hurt each other either unwittingly or on purpose and if they do, then they shouldn’t be together. Neither of us is able to forgive the other and both think the other has hurt us more than the other. We remind each other of our shortcomings and offenses as a way to build our own egos that each of us is more worthy than the other and rather than forgive each other we hurt each other back, adding fuel to the fire and making sure that neither of us can heal and neither of us can learn from our mistakes.
Since both of us are selfish, both of us think we are right and neither can see the other’s point of view. If you disagree with me, it means that I think you think I’m stupid and that you are a control freak and a manipulator. If I disagree with you, you think I think you are stupid and that I’m a control freak and a manipulator. Over time both of us teach each other to keep our opinions to ourselves for fear of a fight, so it’s very difficult for us to learn from our mistakes, because we can’t talk about important issues without conflict.
I would be understandably depressed about these all problems, so I’m in a bad mood a lot and since I treat you like you treat me, you follow my example and treat me like I treat you and since I have no energy to be nice to you, you are not nice to me either until we say to each other, we can’t go on living like this and rather than actually learning to be servants and treating the other like we’d like to be treated, we treat each other the way we are treated and our relationship finally becomes unbearable, so we divorce, in order to not go crazy. And then we each marry someone else, or, more commonly of late, we move in with someone without marriage, and since our hearts are already hurting and filled with pain and resentment and anger and sadness, we have very little patience or niceness to go around, and the second marriage lasts shorter than the first, since we never learned to overcome Lamech’s spirit in our first marriage and his spirit dominates our lives, but based on Lamech’s spirit, we can confidently blame everyone else for our problems, because they aren’t nice to us after all! It’s not OUR fault!!!
The Golden Rule: Husband and Wife: You are nice to me. I’m nice to you or I’m not nice to you, because I’ve had a bad day. You reach out to me anyway, even though I’m not nice to you, because you want to treat me the way you want to be treated, not the way I am treating you. I am nice to you. You are nice to me or you are not nice to me, because you’ve had a bad day. I reach out to you anyway, even though you are not nice to me, because I want to treat you the way I want to be treated, not the way you are treating me.
If you need some space, I give you space and I don’t take offense and later, when you are ready, I reach out to you. If I need some space, you give me space and you don’t take offense and later, when I am ready, you reach out to me. You appreciate that I reach out to you, when you can’t reach out to me. I appreciate that you reach out to me, even when I can’t reach out to you. Over time, you notice that I reach out to you, even when you aren’t very nice. You appreciate this about me and your heart goes out to me. It’s easier for you to reach out to me, when I can’t reach out to you. Over time, I notice that you reach out to me, even when I’m not very nice. I appreciate this about you and my heart goes out to you. It’s easier for me to reach out to you, when you can’t reach out to me. You notice this spirit in my heart and you appreciate that I have a giving spirit. Your respect and love for me grows. I notice this spirit in your heart and I appreciate that you have a giving spirit. My respect and love for you grows. As I love you when you don’t deserve it and you love me when I don’t deserve it, we each believe in the other more and more. Over time we grow closer together. We have each other’s back. We believe in each other.
If we hurt each other, either unwittingly or on purpose, the hurt really hurts, but we talk about it and make adjustments to change and grow and learn from our mistakes and over time we forgive each other and heal from these hurts. Neither of us makes threats to divorce, because when we said, “in sickness and health, rich or poor” we meant it and we knew from the get-go that there would be times of trial over our lifetime together. Neither of us keeps a record of wrongs because both of us are humble enough to know that we have hurt the other, either unwittingly or on purpose and that neither of us deserves the other’s love. Past hurts don’t come up in disagreements because we’ve already healed from those. Both of us being forgiven when neither of us deserves it keeps both of us humble and encourages both of our hearts to grow closer over time. Past hurts become instead obstacles we’ve overcome and triumphed over and our mutual respect for each other grows over time. How we overcome our problems helps us believe in each other more and more and our relationship becomes more secure and stronger.
If I disagree with you, you might at first be a little irritated, but over time you learn that my ideas aren’t that bad, that I bring some wisdom to the table and that my point of view is worth considering. If you disagree with me, I might at first be a little irritated, but over time I learn that your ideas aren’t that bad, that you bring some wisdom to the table and both of us realize that we need each other’s opinion to make it in life, that two heads are better than one, and that we need both of our perspectives to be sure that we don’t make huge blunders and that often, it’s not that you are right and I am wrong, but more like that both of us have a point of view worth considering, that both of us are bringing some wisdom to the table and that we need to compare notes in order for us to make the best decision. Since we respect each other’s opinion, we’re more likely to not say our opinions in a mean way and to work out our differences and to discuss things and to not be mad and offended when we disagree and we work out our problems and learn from our mistakes and over time our relationship improves and our life improves, because we are not afraid to address our problems.
These are the two trajectories: Lamech or the Golden Rule. We’re moving toward one or the other. Sometimes we flip-flop. Sometimes we’re in one camp, sometimes in another. I see my job as a therapist to help couples spend more and more time in the latter camp and putting the Lamech camp far, far away. I want to do this in my own personal life, also.
Here’s the kicker: Let’s say that you and I are married and I think I am living by the Golden Rule and I think you have Lamech’s spirit. This is probably NOT the case, because if I am keeping the Golden Rule I’m going to know that I need to keep the Golden Rule even if you don’t. I’m not going to spend my life worrying over whether or not you live according to the Golden Rule. I’m going to be concentrating my effort on living according to the Golden Rule. I have control whether or not I’m a good husband or wife. I do NOT have control over whether you are a good wife or husband to me or not. My concern needs to be over what I have control over. I have control over myself. I can choose to be a good spouse or not. If I’m worried about whether or not you are reaching out to me the way I would like you to reach out to me, then I am slipping into Lamech’s mode and need to get a grip. If I’m so worried how you are treating me I will very easily be tempted to treat you how I’m worried you are treating me and Lamech’s spirit will be close behind.
And that can’t be good. We’ll end up dragging each other down.
But if it is really true, that I am living by the Golden Rule and you are living by Lamech’s spirit, or you think you are living by the Golden Rule and I am living by Lamech’s spirit, a really amazing thing can happen in our marriage: Either of us could lead by example. If one of us is living by the Golden Rule, it becomes harder and harder for the other to live with Lamech’s spirit, because Lamech’s spirit has a difficult time blaming someone living by the Golden Rule. Lamech’s spirit only works if Lamech is being offended. If one of us is hurting the other on purpose and the other doesn’t hurt back, over time Lamech’s spirit will be confronted with the fact that that person living under Lamech’s spirit has some real problems! This isn’t a guarantee (e.g. Jesus not hurting back just made the Rulers around Jesus madder), but you’d be startled how often it happens, where the spirit of the person living by the Golden Rule spills over into the other person living by Lamech’s spirit. The marriage will certainly improve if only one is living by the Golden Rule. If they both finally get it: Wow!
But even if your spouse doesn’t ever understand what you are doing, and you continue to live by the Golden Rule and your spouse doesn’t, you have the reward of doing the right thing.
And doing the right thing is it’s own reward.
The first in the series of blogs on living as Roommates vs. Husband and Wife is:
Dr. Wall takes a sarcastic look at what it’s like to be married, living as roommates. Since this isn’t satisfying, people divorce in spades. Maybe they should have tried living as husbands and wives instead.
Check out the following blog comparing real love to love that only feels:
In this next blog he looks at what happens when couples DON’T have a servant spirit. It isn’t pretty. Proceed with caution: