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Do You Use The Wrong Tools In Your Marriage?

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In your experience, have you found that any of the following approaches have worked to influence, motivate, and energize your spouse? Keeping track of the other’s wrongs with resentment, nagging and criticizing without seeing any good, judging and shaming from a spirit of self-righteousness, getting angry to the point of showing hostility and contempt, manipulating to achieve a selfish or worthy agenda, blaming without any acknowledgment of one’s own faults, and fighting for control, not for win-win.

I believe that we would all admit knowing that these do not work long term to influence the heart of a spouse. But here is what fascinates me. I have had some people tell me that they know these things do not work but they keep doing them anyway. Why?

What they realize and then confess to me is that they don’t want a close relationship with their spouse and they know these methods will sabotage intimacy.

Such people have told me that they have a narrative in which they tell others they are working on their marriage but their spouse isn’t responding. They yarn such a story in order to solicit empathy. For them, empathy from friends is treasured more than intimacy with their spouse. So, they put a spin on the above tactics or tools. “I am trying to get through to my spouse by bringing up issues between us, by being honest with my feelings, and to light a fire under my spouse to do things differently, but my spouse closes off.”

However, this is putting a positive spin on approaches that are unloving and disrespectful. Yet, they work at providing a story to tell, keeping a spouse at bay, and opening the door to a romantic relationship with another. One can contend, “I tried everything and nothing works with my spouse.” But this is comparable to the classic trick of an alcoholic. He intentionally gets in a fight with his wife so she yells at him. He lets himself be hurt by her words and then feel self-pity. He can’t take it, so leaves. He needs a drink. If we are seated next to him at the bar, he will tell us that his wife drives him nuts. The facts are, he provoked her so she’d provoke him so he could go do what he wanted to do: drink.

Some of us may not have been “A” students in school, but when it comes to the subtle tricks of getting out of doing marriage God’s way, we are geniuses. But how “genius” is it for one to blame, criticize, manipulate, and nag constantly the one we have promised to love and respect. Behaving in such ways is actually taking the easy ways through our marriage obstacles, and how often in life have we found that the easy way is the right way? Certainly, not often at all.

But God’s way of doing marriage —through unconditional love and respect, and all that entails—is, yes, more challenging, but also infinitely more rewarding. If it was not possible, then God’s Word would never have set such standards of marriage for us. But through the power of the Holy Spirit, and together as a team ordained by God, you can persevere through any obstacles marriage throws your way and be blessed beyond comprehension—in ways incomparable to any “positive” results you think you may achieve by using the wrong tools in order to obtain empathy from others.

-Dr. E

Emerson Eggerichs, Ph.D.
Author, Speaker, Pastor

Questions to Consider

  1. Which of the above negative approaches Emerson listed have you used to try and energize, motivate, and influence your spouse? Did they work short-term? Long-term? Why do such methods not truly achieve the results we want?
  2. Did it surprise you to read that some people have admitted to using such methods in their marriage because they know they won’t work yet they have a story to tell others that their spouse isn’t responding and this ignites empathy? Could it actually be true that some seek empathy from others above intimacy with a spouse?
  3. When someone says such things as, “I am trying to get through to my spouse by bringing up issues between us, by being honest with my feelings, and to light a fire under my spouse to do things differently, but my spouse closes off,” could this be an insincere set of statements? Could this person actually be approaching their spouse in unloving and disrespectful ways but trying to put a positive spin on their approach? Could this person be doing all these things with a spirit of hostility and contempt but fails to reveal that part of the equation?
  4. When was a time in which you chose to handle a marriage obstacle using God’s ways of unconditional love and respect? (Unconditional meaning you chose to be loving and respectful in your demeanor not matter what.) What resulted from your actions?