August 17, 2014
I Corinthians 13:4-7
Last week I began a series of messages based on the responses I received from the three questions I asked you throughout the summer, and I began with a series of messages on marriage.
To begin this week, I need to speak a pastoral word about marriage. A good deal of the material in this series of messages is material that sets out ideals on marriage. I don’t know anyone whose marriage represents the ideal. All of us live in a reality of the ups and downs of life and we do not always rise to the ideal in any facet of our lives.
This morning, as we continue this series, we come to the second phrase in the marriage vows – to have and to hold. What does it mean to have and to hold? There is a dual meaning, as to some, it means to cherish the person that God has brought into their life; to others, it means something different, specifically it becomes about control. To have and to hold means to love someone, to thank God for that person, but the words have and hold can also represent the context of power and control that is found in some marriages.
I believe that of all the issues that cause conflict and heartache in a marriage, this is the culprit that is most commonly the root cause – control. A couple may have a conflict about money or many other issues, but the root cause is most likely to be a question of control. Some people, knowingly or unknowingly, have a strong desire to always be in control. They want to control all aspects of their lives, and especially relationships. But when you bring control into a marriage relationship, you will be courting disaster. Control is one of a group of what I would call marriage killers – those issues that, if they remain unresolved, will kill the joy and love in a marriage.
A marriage relationship is one that is not based upon control. It’s not about who controls the schedule or the checkbook or who controls any particular aspect of a marriage – the issue really is, will a marriage be based on love or control? So this morning, as we continue our marriage series, we’ll look at some of the dangers of seeking to control a person rather than loving them.
1. A Desire To Control Will Kill Love.
I thought about which word I should use in that sentence; I could have used smothered, damage or others. Instead, I chose kill because a controlling attitude can ultimately bring about the death of a relationship. While that word may seem extreme to describe a relationship, it describes what happens to a relationship if control is allowed to prevail over love.
The Bible speaks of love as a mutual self-giving, respecting love that leaves no room for exerting power and control over another person. Genesis 2:24, which we read last week, speaks of becoming as one flesh, as one person, and that is impossible in a controlling environment. Paul, in Ephesians, writes of a love that is one free of control and power and is instead built upon a self-sacrificial love, the kind of love demonstrated in the self-giving nature of Jesus. In Philippians chapter 2 Paul writes very eloquently about such a love.
I am convinced that power and control cannot coexist with love in a marriage relationship, and some of the greatest devastation I have seen in marriages comes because one person was seeking to control the other person, and control took over to the point that love was either in the process of dying or was already dead.
A couple doesn’t have to be married very long to discover that becoming one flesh is not a particularly easy process. Even the most compatible of couples find issues, both large and small, where it is difficult to find common ground. Tanya and I have been married for 30 years but we cannot agree on how to get toothpaste out of a toothpaste tube. She just squeezes that tube anywhere, and I think it is very logical to always squeeze from the bottom of the tube. Don’t you think that makes sense? But thankfully, we have managed to overcome that tremendous challenge to our marriage by getting separate tubes of toothpaste.
God has made each person in a marriage a unique and special individual, and becoming as one doesn’t mean those unique characteristics have to be flattened out so each person becomes a carbon copy of the other. Celebrate those differences. Some of the things I most enjoy about Tanya as a person are those qualities about her that are very different from whom I am as a person. Different cannot only be good; it can be beautiful.
But differences threaten some people, and the insecurity that comes with being threatened drives them to seek to control and manage the other person, which will kill love.
2. Control Destroys Communication.
Here’s the interesting thing about controllers – the person who seeks to control generally doesn’t recognize they are controlling. We develop our basic behaviors based upon family patterns when we are young, and if we grow up in a controlling household we may model that in our own marriage without even being aware of it. Tanya and I had the opportunity to spend a lot of time with each other’s family before we were married, so we knew the families into which we were marrying into crazy. It is essential to observe your future spouse’s family very closely before you get married. You need to see how they relate and what their patterns are, because those are going to be a part of your life. You don’t just marry your spouse – you marry their family as well (some of you are grimacing).
Controllers don’t know they are controlling, they simply seek to control because they are repeating a pattern, or they are reacting out of fear or insecurity. If you have ever confronted your spouse about how they were being controlling in a particular area they were probably shocked. What do you mean I’m controlling? I’m not controlling? By the way, when I want your opinion about something I’ll give it to you!
In their mind, a controller is being helpful. For instance, their view may be if I don’t watch the money my spouse will spend every penny. That may be true; the other person may have a difficult time managing money, but that particular issue can be handled in a way that does not mean one person is making all the decisions and exerting control over every penny of the household budget. There is a great deal of difference between allowing the person with financial acumen to handle the family budget and controlling the other person by limiting their access to the family finances.
One of the observations I have made about communication in marriage is how over time, couples begin to mark off certain issues as no/trespassing/no discussion zones. Generally, this is because it keeps peace in a relationship, as some issues never really get resolved and they become constant sources of conflict, so in some ways it’s just easier to mark them off as a no trespassing/no discussion zone.
Controllers understand subconsciously that this can be used to their advantage. Because people generally learn to stay away from issues that generate conflict, controllers will act very defensively as a way of controlling how issues will be dealt with in a marriage; their defensiveness makes it difficult to have a discussion about whatever issue is creating a problem. So what happens in a marriage is somewhat like what happens to a computer hard drive over time. A computer hard drive has to go through a process called “defrag,” or defragmenting. This is a process that cleans up all the unusable parts of a hard drive and makes it function more efficiently. A marriage relationship is very similar, because issues that generate conflict are segmented and ignored and over time a couple can develop any number of these issues that must always be avoided, and so you end up with a large number of issues about which there is no communication. And those issues do not heal themselves; instead, they remain, and they break down communication and they break down love and they break down intimacy and they prey upon a relationship and make it unhealthy. So those no trespassing/no discussion zones become like a house in which a couple live. One room – representing a difficult topic – is closed off and never entered. Then another room – representing another difficult topic – is closed off and never entered. And soon, though there is a large house of a marriage, a couple is living in only a few rooms – just a small portion of the space – because they have closed so many rooms because of the conflict they cause.
Is there an issue where you feel you can’t communicate with your spouse? Have you tried to talk to them and they react in a way that tells you to just leave it alone? Or, do you push your spouse away because a particular issue scares you, or troubles you to the point that you just want it to be ignored? If you pursue either of those pathways, you are taking a pathway that will destroy the communication in your marriage, and if you destroy the communication in your marriage, you risk the danger of eventually destroying your marriage.
3. Love is about the giving of ourselves.
I was in the food court at one of the malls some time ago. In line in front of me was a young couple, and I looked – as inconspicuously as I could – to see if they were wearing wedding bands. They were, and I assumed they were newly married. He was evidently going to leave his wife to walk across the food court to get something at one of the other restaurants. It appeared to me that he was preparing to leave the country for ten years without her. They were gazing into each other’s eyes and saying I’ll miss you; I’ll miss you, come back soon. I wanted to step between them and say excuse me, but you’re walking 50 feet across the food court, not going to sea for five years. So how about we both go over there and I’ll buy you a really big, cold drink so you can cool down. But I just stood there and rolled my eyes.
But we love the idea of love, don’t we? Even though people struggle with their relationships and marriages struggle, we love the idea of a deep and abiding love. But while romance and passion are a part of love, they are not all there is to love. To really love, you have to give up the idea of power and control over another person, and to find out how you do that you have to have an example of that kind of love.
This is what provides the power to Paul’s words in I Corinthians. Listen to what he says; this is explosive; it’s so powerful – Love is patient, love is kind, and is not jealous; love does not brag and is not arrogant, does not act unbecomingly; it does not seek its own, is not provoked, does not take into account a wrong suffered, does not rejoice in unrighteousness, but rejoices with the truth; bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.
I must ask myself are those qualities that I demonstrate in my life to Tanya? If I am truly demonstrating love, this is the standard to which I must aspire. Are these qualities you demonstrate in your marriage? This is the standard to which you must aspire.
Control is ultimately a form of self-love; it means you love yourself more than your spouse. You cannot exhibit the qualities Paul mentions and love yourself more than your spouse.