Back in the 70’s, a self-help book entitled I’m Okay, You’re Okay was all the rage, spending a couple of years on best-seller lists. I remember it being used in educational circles in the schools I worked in. After several years of observing how our culture seemed to embrace every new fad that came down the pike but thumped Christians to a fare-thee-well, I articulated the I’m Okay, You’re Okay Social Contract.
The gist of this modern social contract was that all segments of our culture made silent agreement to give okays and attaboys to each other, as long as the others gave okays and attaboys back, and to join together to kick the stuffings out of anyone who had the temerity to not go along with the arrangement. A cultural NATO, if you will.
Okay, that’s past history, but I have to confess that recently, in my thinking, I’ve revisited the I’m Okay construct again. As I was thinking about how spouses blame each other for problems in the marriage, I’ve come to realize that, consciously or unconsciously, both are engaging in another I’m okay behavior.
Instead of going I’m okay, you’re okay, spouses are shucking any responsibility for the situation of the marriage by claiming…
I’m Okay, But You’s Jes’ A Hot Mess!
(Did I mention that I live in the South, btw?) I’ve mentioned in previous posts that I read, and sometimes post on, a secular sexless marriage forum. I see it as a hospice for dying marriages where, unfortunately, some Dr. Kevorkians work to help dispatch the dying.
Recently, I have realized that a goodly number of the habitués of that forum exhibit an all-or-nothing, self-righteous/self-justifying mindset. By that I mean that the only reason that they live in such a craptastic marriage is due to the actions and attitudes of their spouse, while they, themselves, would make Mother Teresa so jealous she could spit, they are so good!
According to these marriage practitioners, the problems in these marriages stem from the fact that “My spouse is a bitch/jerk whilst I am a joy and a delight.” In essence, s/he is a pure hot mess, and needs to change if this marriage is to survive! A popular shibboleth of our day is that marriage isn’t a 50-50 proposition, but a 100-100 arrangement. All too often, though, in these toxic marriages the fault is often ascribed as 100% your fault, and 0% mine!
Many a blogger has written of the anguish that a husband/wife experiences after years of sexual refusal, disrespect, emotional abuse, etc. But after so many years of being accused of being the problem, there comes a time when emotional breakage is inevitable. I’ve read many a post where someone moves from “What’s wrong with me?” to “What’s wrong with him/her!”
In an set of posts from last year (Muddle and Ugly), I traced the slide of marriages from good to indifferent to ugly. In the same way, there is a downhill slide from continual self-doubt and -flagellation to anger and recrimination. It’s only natural. (Ah, natural, that’s the rub, isn’t it?)
A Lesson From a Louse
One Sunday morning, the Scottish poet Robert Burns attended church, and during the service, happened to spy a louse crawling on the back of a lady’s bonnet. That afternoon, he sat down and wrote a poem entitled To A Louse, the last stanza of which contains two lines that I have never forgotten:
O wad some Power the giftie gie us
To see oursels as ithers see us!
Translated into English, he said, “O would some Power give the gift to us, to see ourselves as others see us!” That woman in church had her own idea of the image that she presented to the church, but Burns literally saw a side of her she did not know she was presenting. In doing so, he recognized what a true gift self-awareness is.
It’s often said that the first step to dealing with a problem is admitting that there IS a problem. However, even that first step won’t help if you refuse to examine yourself to see if you have played a part in the creating the problem. Unfortunately, we have obstacles that prevent us from such self-awareness, and I’m thinking that they are only magnified in a sexless marriage.
In the first stages of a sexless marriage, the refused often begins by trying to ask why there has been a downturn in frequency, and then tries to work on the problems the refuser mentions (this is, cynically, referred to as jumping through hoops.) I referred to this in my Mr. Natural post.
As the sexlessness becomes entrenched, the refused begins why-chasing, often leading to self-doubt and lowered self-esteem. After all, the refused begins to think, “there must be something wrong with me that my spouse finds me un-do-able.”
All too often, as I read around, I’m finding that over time, this inward doubt becomes internalized as bitterness and anger. Years of sexual indifference and neglect begins to crystallize into real resentment and turns outward onto the refuser. When this season of the marriage is arrived at, either cold or hot war can break out.
Log, Meet Splinter
I think that Robert Burns was onto something, especially since the idea occurred to him in church. I know that it is unlikely, but I like to assume that the minister had used Matt. 7:3 as his sermon text that morning: “Why do you see the speck that is in your brother’s eye, but do not notice the log that is in your own eye?” (ESV)
In all of my 68 years, I’ve never met a sho-nuff, bona fide, dipped-in-bronze saint, and really don’t think likely that I will before I shuffle off this mortal coil. Remember, folks, there are two sinners in every marriage, and the sooner you realize that, the nearer you are to being able to restore a relationship. When you reach the point that you think that you are irreproachable, that your actions in the relationship are pure and unassailable, you have no chance of restoring your marriage.
In Matt. 7:3, Jesus tells us to take a step back and examine ourselves. After all, unless you are a second incarnation of Jesus, you aren’t sinless. By the way, I make no guarantees that your marriage will be restored. In fact, even Jesus doesn’t make any guarantees. He simply tells you what you must do; it’s just the right thing to do.
But when you do what Jesus commanded, removing any splinters that you yourself are carrying around, it allows you to see more accurately the reality of the situation that you find yourself in, and not just the marriage as you see it. And this gives room for your spouse to have a chance to have a better look at him-/herself. Admittedly, his/her response can be positive or negative, but by stepping back, you let God work on your flaws, and give Him a chance to work on their flaws.
So, Good Christian Husband/Wife, are you willing to take a step back and take an honest look at yourself? Do you have garbage to own up to, in your marriage? Do you need to take time to remove any splinters, and let God be God?