The institution of marriage has been "rocked" by the increasing divorce rate in our western culture. When divorce unfolds, is there a "vested self-interest" on the part of the spouses that does irreparable harm to the children?
We are living in a most challenging time that is painfully reflected in our cultural view of the institution of marriage. Whereas marriage was once considered sacred and has been historically seen as the true foundation of the social order, it has been “rocked” by the increasing divorce rate in western cultural experience. In the United States it has been reported that we have a divorce rate of nearly fifty percent. Other documentation indicates that second marriages (and beyond) are even more vulnerable to irreconcilable separation. And, in the midst of this are tens of thousands of children who are suffering untold mental and emotional anguish because of the selfishness of two “adults” who are often only concerned about their own vested self-interest.
Yes, I said “vested self-interest.” It’s interesting that the Bible reveals the definition of true love and it has no concept of selfishness interwoven within its meaning. The following passage provides the foundation for selfless love – the kind of love that God has for us:
“Love endures long and is patient and kind; love never is envious nor boils over with jealousy; it is not boastful or vainglorious; does not display itself haughtily.
It is not conceited – arrogant and inflated with pride; it is not rude (unmannerly), and does not act unbecomingly. Love [God’s love in us] does not insist on its own rights or its own way, for it is not self-seeking; it is not touchy or fretful or resentful; it takes no account of the evil done to it – pays no attention to a suffered wrong.
It does not rejoice at injustice and unrighteousness, but rejoices when right and truth prevail.
Love bears up under anything and everything that comes, is ever ready to believe the best of every person, its hopes are fadeless under all circumstances and it endures everything [without weakening].
Love never fails – never fades out or becomes obsolete or comes to an end.
(I Corinthians 13:4-8a – Amplified Bible)
What this means is that true , unconditional love is not about “me” but the other person – my spouse. As John Carroll, pastor, Biblical counselor and co-author has stated, the definition of true married love is the “giving of oneself to his/her spouse to enable him/her to become everything God intends for him/her to be without expecting anything in return.” Rev. Carroll’s definition clearly fits the Biblical passage noted previously.
In our culture it’s all about “me.” From the hamburger chain’s “have it your way” to the plethora of television and radio ads declaring “you deserve to have this,” we have created a subconscious mindset of selfishness that has broken forth into open declarations that “I am the only one that matters.” We see it in how we relate as human beings to one another. We all want out of the arena parking lot at the same time, driving with reckless abandon to be first on the way home. We push our filled shopping carts into the cashier line with the sign that states “twenty items or less” with no concern for the customers who follow. We try to get onto an elevator before those who need to get off can do so. We make unrealistic demands of others because its’ “all about me.” And, the more highly and important we think we are in relationship to others we expect to be treated differently – to be noticed more than others. This tragic and unstoppable bursting forth of selfishness has even found its way into the marriage relationship with dramatic and drastic results.
Instead of giving ourselves away in marriage, I see couples entering into this covenant with personal agenda wrapped around the ceremony. Even those who go through pre-marital preparation still have been tainted by the cultural acceptance of selfishness because of the depth in which it has permeated our culture. Its rise has been so insidious – so subtle – that all of us have been touched by it and are guilty of embracing it yet may deny it thinking we are above it. When working through marriage expectations with love-struck people, they are often blinded to the adversary of selfishness lurking in the shadows poised to strike down the marriage in the future. Only by adhering to the principle of true , unconditional love can marriages survive and grow into all God intends for it to be.
In nearly every case of discord and strife in a marriage, the problems are rooted in the selfishness of one or both partners. Certainly there are some situations in which this is not true , but, upon careful examination, these are few and far between. When the definition of true married love is forgotten or ignored, spouses will tend to part because they have placed their own value above that of their spouse. The very person they claimed to love is relegated to an inferior position by the selfishness of the one (or both) and, if one’s own way it not attained, they choose to part in order to fulfill their own selfish desire to be the “center of the universe.”
The untold tragedy is what happens to the children. In nearly all of these cases the children are simply mentally and emotionally neglected because of the selfishness of the parents. Parents will often claim they are doing what’s best for the children but it’s simply not true . Parting from one’s spouse is most often caused by selfishness – “I’m not getting what I want or what I think I need so I’m leaving in order to get it.” If we “cut to the chase” we find the children are simply an afterthought. They are even used as “pawns” in a game of marital “chess” by the parents in order to get their own way – another way in which the selfishness of the parents is acted out in front of the children.
When a parent leaves, it is devastating to children. We can tell them that it has nothing to do with them (which is true ) and we can “lie” to them and say it is best for them (which it isn’t), but they will ultimately discern that the truth is that they don’t really matter in this sordid display of selfishness. Their hurt cannot be verbalized but they know – consciously or subconsciously – that it’s all about Dad (or Mom) and his/her selfish desires. The older the children are when this happens they can see what the separation will mean even before it unfolds and they know their lives are forever altered. I cannot even begin to tell the many gut-wrenching stories I have heard from adults who went through this trauma in their childhood. All children know is they don’t matter – they have no value. They make that easy assumption because children are naturally selfish themselves until taught otherwise. Inside they are saying, “If you really cared about me, you’d find a way to stay.” And, children learn by example. They will replicate this same selfishness in their lives – including their own marriages to come.
I once worked with a father whose wife was living a life of unfaithfulness because of her selfish desires for “more” from the marriage. In his pain and heartache, he chose to leave the home and move into his own apartment, leaving his child with her unfaithful mother. It broke the child’s heart to see her Dad leave and he had to markedly reduce the time he could spend with his daughter because of this self-imposed separation. The mother began to bring her sleeping partners into the home in the presence of her daughter. What the daughter learned was that she was caught in the middle of the selfish issues of her parents and she perceived she didn’t really matter to either parent. Mom was more concerned about her boyfriends and Dad was more concerned about his own hurt. It wasn’t a matter of who was right or wrong; what mattered was that the actions of both were selfish. It’s hard to say that the father was not justified in his action because of his wife’s unfaithfulness because we tend to support those who didn’t cause the problem, but it must be said anyway. His action to move out was based on his pain and heartache – a selfish motive – and was done without consideration for the bigger picture – his child.
Perhaps he was not intentional about being selfish but was nonetheless.
Jesus Christ showed us how to rise about our tendency to be selfish when we reflect on an incident in His life. Shortly after King Herod had beheaded His first cousin, John the Baptist, for no valid reason, Jesus went to be alone in a deserted place in the Galilee region. This was a natural response as He was close to the very one that had baptized Him as He began His ministry and He, being equally human as well as divine, sought time to grieve this tragic loss. Unknown to Him, the populace of the area followed Him, bringing their ill to be healed by Him. When He saw the crowd he could have simply asked them for some time alone to grieve but, instead, the Bible records that, “seeing the crowd He had compassion on them and healed all their sick.” In a moment when it would seem natural to be self-absorbed, Jesus showed us that we cannot lose sight of the larger vision. It also teaches us that the healing of our selfishness can unfold as we give ourselves away when our emotions are crying out for “self”.
My encouragement for parents is to swallow their selfishness and do whatever it takes to remain in the home.
I encourage both partners to stop and look beyond their own hurt and selfish responses and see the pending devastation of their children lurking nearby. It is the seldom situation that demands a permanent separation. Similar to the definition of true married love, the definition of true , unconditional parental love is to “give oneself to one’s children to enable them to become all God intends without expecting anything in return.” That can never be done part-time or from a distance. Turn to God for help. As stated in a previous article (“Is There Any Constant In Our Changing World?”), He’s the only constant that can get us through the temptations, tests, and trials of this life. Know I’ll be praying for you. And please don’t forget - your children need you.
©2007 Mel Menker
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