I am not sure how comfortable my readers have been with my last two blog entries. For some, I am assuming, it may feel like a little too much information. For others the fact that a pastor uses the language I use sometimes is a major turnoff. The reason I share this stuff with you all is because I have felt a great burden these days to share and speak on the topic of marriage. Why? Because it can be tough. Marriage is a unique kind of tough. Because our lives as husband and wife are so intertwined and so complex (family history, temperament, personality, hurt, gifts, sin, etc.) it has been easy for my wife and me to ignore issues in our marriage. It is easy to be overwhelmed because the knots in our relationship can be so many and so big. We did not ignore them on purpose. We either didn’t have the self-awareness (we got married when I was 24 and she was 21) or we didn’t know how determine if our problems were deep issues or just a result of being stressed and tired from the responsibilities we have.
My wife and I came across something that helped us a lot. I do not know who wrote this thing (most likely Tim Keller…a pastor in NYC). As all of you know, the human heart has a propensity for making GOOD things ULTIMATE things. The Bible calls this idols. If you are not a Christian, I still think this concept applies. We take good things like money, sex, work, culture, possessions and make them ultimate things from which we derive our identity and self-worth. It happens to the best of us. If this is true then there are millions of potential idols. I came across a chart that saw four major idols which all other mini-idols serve. Below is the chart.
Before you try to determine your dominant idol there are a few tips…
1. To a certain extent all four of these exist in all of us. So don’t be discouraged if it is hard to discern your dominant idol. My wife and I fought all the way from LA to SF misdiagnosing each other.
2. What we found helpful in discerning our idols, was asking the question, “What gives you the greatest joy and the greatest angst?” This will help weed out three and help you get to your dominant one.
3. For married couples…it is possible that your secondary idol is primary in your marriage. But that does not mean it is your dominant idol. For example, my wife struggles with control. However with me and only me she struggles with approval. This is why I misdiagnosed her. I thought it was approval. She pointed out that she doesn’t seek the approval of anyone else except me. Therefore control was her dominant struggle. As usual, she was right.
4. Your dominant struggle can change. For example, before I met my wife my greatest struggle wasn’t power (which it is today). It was approval. It was a very specific kind of approval. Approval from women. After I got married, my wife’s acceptance and loved helped cure my unhealthy need.
Remember idols are GOOD things made ULTIMATE things.
The good it corrupts: privacy, lack of stress, being chill, freedom
Price you pay: Reduced productivity
Greatest Nightmare: Stress, demands
Others often feel: Hurt
Problem emotion: Boredom
Notes: You know you struggle with comfort when every time you have to meet someone or go somewhere, you get annoyed that you have to go. But the funny thing about people who struggle with comfort, they always have a good time when they get there. So what’s the issue? They hate obligation and responsibility. Therefore they never fully go deep with anything be it academic, professional, relational, etc. The result is boredom.
The good it corrupts: affirmation, love, relationship
Price you pay: Less independent
Greatest Nightmare: Rejection
Others often feel: Smothered
Problem emotion: Cowardice
Note: The problem emotion piece took me a while to figure out. How is cowardice a problem emotion of approval? Well, those who struggle with seeking approval will often compromise their values or what is right for acceptance. Therefore cowardice becomes a problem.
The good it corrupts: self-discipline, certainty, high moral standards
Price you pay: Loneliness
Greatest nightmare: Uncertainty
Others often feel: Condemned
Problem Emotion: Worry
Note: People who struggle with control are usually incredibly disciplined. They have high moral standards but the right way is always their way. They feel lonely because very few people will ever do it the way they think it should be done. They feel like they are the only ones who know how to do it right. Thus lonely. Others feel condemned. How? For example, wife is washing the dishes. Husband is a control freak. He looks over her shoulders and starts telling her how she is doing it wrong. She tells him to just go and watch tv that she will help out with the dishes today. He insists on telling her how to do it and where to put it. She stops and tells him he can do it since he knows so well how to wash dishes. She felt condemned.
The good it corrupts: success, influence
Price you pay: burdened and take on too much responsibility
Greatest nightmare: Humiliation
Others often feel: Used
Problem emotion: Anger
Note: You know that power is your struggle when you find yourself saying or thinking, “Who the hell do you think you are?” Power could easily be respect. You feel burdened because you, in your ambition, will always bite off more than you can chew. You are attracted to competence and talent. Therefore, people are only good to you if they are useful to the cause which is usually building you castle. Power is not the only struggle that produces anger. So why is it a problem emotion? For people who struggle with power, they often feel disrespected and struggle with anger because things are not moving forward the way they want.
So how did this help our marriage? For 10 years we didn’t know the source of most of our fights. I am not talking about the little quarrels. I am talking about the major fights. Because we didn’t see the idols that gripped our hearts, we always assumed the fight and the issue was 100% the other person. My dominant idol is power. Most of my anger revolved around me feeling disrespected. My wife struggles with control in general and approval with me. Therefore whenever I felt slighted or if I felt like my life wasn’t progressing towards my goals, then I would get angry. My anger would make my wife feel rejected and she would always respond with frustration because she couldn’t control my view of her nor could she control the argument itself. What I mean by this is that whenever I get really mad, I walk out. That drives my wife crazy. She lost control. She would rather that she walk out or that she dictate the terms of how we start and end the fight. My sin doesn’t permit that because it dominates. Her sin can’t stand it and therefore she lashes out in way that makes me feel even more disrespected.
After discovering our idols we were more readily able to see the underlying issues and emotions. This discovery has not stop our fighting but it has helped us recover and reconcile more quickly and in a way that isn’t sweeping stuff under the rug. Somehow knowing our idols slowed our minds and heart to a pace where we could more quickly see if our anger or frustration was our problem or the other person’s problem. The problem with good things becoming ultimate things is that your perspective of yourself and your spouse gets jaded and skewed. You either see yourself as too great or too small. You also see your spouse as too great or too small. This is why my wife and I would be crushed by every fight. We either made too much of the other person’s word or we disregarded the other persons words. Too small or too big.