Last week I did a post about Problems that Cannot be Solved which has generated some disagreement. I had several emails and a facebook comment suggesting this should not be the case for Christians, and there is a bit of a debate in the comments over this issue. Several have suggested dying to ourselves is the solution.
First, let me clarify as I was not precise in my wording. The kind of problem I was talking about is a difference of opinion or preference between spouses that does not involve a sin issue. As an example, let’s take Bob and Kathy. Bob dislikes cats a great deal. He’s not allergic; he simply doesn’t want to be around them – at all, ever. His wife Kathy is of the mind a house is not a home without a cat. It’s highly unlikely either of them will ever feel as the other does about cats, so the difference will continue for their entire marriage. One of them may choose to go against their preference – out of love, to keep peace, or just because they get tired of being nagged. Regardless of why one acquiesces, the difference still exists. If the reason for acquiescing was love, especially if the other person understands and appreciates it, it’s all good. If what happened is more one person giving in, then there may be problems down the road.
Dying to self is about dying to our own desires for our lives so we can live for God. I don’t think that includes dying to things like the foods we like, our favourite colour, or other preferences. God doesn’t call us to be mindless robots devoid of passion or preferences. That said, I do see biblical concepts about putting others ahead of ourselves, which would mean we should be ready to go against our preference so others can benefit. I’ve spoken several times about dying to our preferences. I think it’s a very good thing to do, but I don’t see it as a biblical command.
In The Seven Principles for Making Marriage Work John M. Gottman says his research finds 69% of marital problems are what he calls “perpetual problems” meaning, “they will be a part of your lives forever, in some form or another.” This is based on working with many, many couples and following up with those couples four years later. While we can argue about what Christians should do, the reality is many problems marital problems are perpetual. I think it’s best to admit this and work on how to deal with such problems. Chapter ten of Gottman’s book,” Overcome Gridlock” is about this very issue.
Endlessly fighting about things that will never be “fixed” is a waste of energy and harmful to your marriage. Work to identify unsolvable differences so you can focus on ways to work around them. You can’t end the differences, but you can find ways to keep them from limiting or hurting your marriage.
Note: No felines were harmed in the writing of this post!