Two Philosophies, Two Marriage Trajectories

by | Mar 9, 2011

If you take the Biblical notion of “everyone will die for his own sins” down to everyday life, you’ll see you can’t live your life based upon everyone else’s reaction.  You are responsible for everything you do irrespective of how others treat you. Does this happen to you?  You come home from work in a […]

If you take the Biblical notion of “everyone will die for his own sins” down to everyday life, you’ll see you can’t live your life based upon everyone else’s reaction.  You are responsible for everything you do irrespective of how others treat you.

Does this happen to you?  You come home from work in a perfectly good mood and when you greet your wife she isn’t so nice to you and your feelings are hurt and you take it personally and aren’t so nice to her.  Even though, two seconds ago, you were in a perfectly good mood, you let her reaction to you determine your reaction to her.  And when you aren’t so nice to her, she does more of the same to you and you respond in kind and now the whole evening is shot.

Great.  React.  React.  React.  React.

Maybe she wasn’t in a bad mood.  Maybe she was preoccupied with something else and you took her preoccupying demeanor to mean she’s indifferent to you.  Here you are reading her mind when, hey, you aren’t God, so you can’t read her mind.  But you impute ill will to her mood and assume her preoccupying mood means she’s indifferent to you.  So here you are, all of a sudden, pouting or stomping around or acting all indifferent about her.  Your spouse was preoccupied and you interpreted it as indifferent.  You escalated preoccupation to being INTENTIONALLY indifferent and that caused your wife to pop out of her preoccupation to notice you are being rude and she assumes your rudeness is intentional and you are not simply in a bad mood from work (you were in a good mood just moments before) and if you are being rude on purpose to her then she needs to be rude to you ON PURPOSE and treat you in kind.

Now you REALLY have a reason to be in a bad mood.  She really has treated you rudely, intentionally, and now your mood and demeanor accurately reflects her intentionally rude behavior and you are intentionally rude back, only more so, because

If Cain is revenged seven times, then Lamech is revenged seventy-seven times.*

This quote is from Cain’s descendant, the seventh from Adam. He’s the world’s first philosopher and basically his philosophy was he wasn’t going to take no crap and if you hurt him he was going to hurt you worse and feel totally justified in doing so.  He actually applied his philosophy of life and killed a man for wounding him.  He was the first Real Housewives of Beverly Hills.  He could have had his own reality show.

I’m not sure what you’d call Lamech’s philosophy, but it is the most common philosophy known to man for these last few thousand years. It’s been pretty good at causing wars and bringing down kingdoms.  It’s one that will destroy your marriage, without even trying.

That’s just it: without even trying.

If you don’t try, it’ll be easy to treat your spouse with contempt if she doesn’t treat you the way you think you deserve.  You’ll scoff and huff and puff and, if she’s operating on the same principle, she’ll scoff and huff and puff, too.

There could be another way.

If your spouse appears indifferent to you, you could give her the benefit of the doubt and say to yourself, maybe she’s not really indifferent.  Maybe she’s preoccupied.  You could ask, “So, what’s up?” and she could say she’s sorry, she’s preoccupied about thus and so and didn’t even notice you there and you give each other a kiss and a hug and chat and talk and reconnect and the evening is fine and you don’t have any bodies in the ditch.

You could do that, but that would mean you were being nice even though you thought your spouse was being mean to you.  It’s not an easy thing to do, but if you don’t your marriage will self-destruct and pretty soon there won’t be anything left.

This is a little easier for Christians, though it’s not easy for anybody.  Christians believe what Jesus said, to turn the other cheek and to forgive seventy times seven.  Ha!  Lamech said he’d be avenged seventy-seven times.  He promised as a matter of principle to hurt others way more than they hurt him.  You-don’t-mess-with-me.  Jesus upped the ante in the total opposite direction and said to forgive way more than you are hurt.  Did you catch that?

These are the two philosophies that have warred for your soul ever since you were born and they are fighting for your soul today.  Lamech’s words ring loud in your ears: hurt back, hurt back and Jesus’ words whisper softly, forgive back, be nice back.

One very loud voice; one very soft voice, both vying for your very soul.

Don’t think this war isn’t affecting you.  It’s pretty easy to fall into Lamech’s trap.  Consider this pretty common scenario:  He’s really beat from work.  Really beat.  He’s not faking it.  He’s really beat.  He comes home and his wife is really beat, too.  She’s dead tired.  The kids have run her ragged.  She can’t wait till he comes home to relieve her of some of the burden.  She looks forward to his coming home.  He walks in the door and appears in a bad mood, not because of her, but because he’s really beat.  Really beat.  He’s not even in a bad mood.  He’s just tired.  He heads to the couch, barely saying a word and she feels neglected and makes a sarcastic comment about needing some help.  He makes a sarcastic comment about needing a minute to pull himself together and she makes a sarcastic comment about how she could use a minute too and how come he gets a minute and she doesn’t and off they go down Lamech’s Lane, only the scenery isn’t very pretty.

You could see how this could deteriorate pretty rapidly.  She says to herself, this is a bunch of crap, and quits picking up the house, since, she says, he never does and it’s not fair.  He says to himself, the house is a disaster when I come home and she’s never in a good mood, I’ll just not come home or when I do I’ll avoid her altogether so as to not get the stare or the lecture or the sarcastic comments.  And the more he doesn’t come home or the more he withdraws into the basement or the garage or the computer or whatever the more caustic she gets in her comments or the more she doesn’t say anything or the less she does in return for the less he does and pretty soon they quit laughing as a couple and hanging out with each other because there’s all this tension and they quit going to bed at the same time or even with each other because it’s just easier to fall asleep on the couch ‘cuz she doesn’t seem to want me anyway and pretty soon they are at opposite ends of the bed or in different beds altogether (If you are in different beds you are telling your spouse that you are indifferent and how do you escalate indifference?  I can be more indifferent than you?  What a contest that will be!).  And then it won’t be long before sexuality is as rare as a Chicago Cubs playoff berth and then they won’t be able to be sexual because they aren’t close enough which is funny because they can’t be close if they aren’t sexual.  Sexuality is one of God’s clever ideas to keep a husband and wife interested in each other (that would be like, you know, the opposite of indifference?).  It also helps them overcome Lamech’s temptation, but if they’re not going to be sexual either, frickin’ this and frickin’ that, and pretty soon they’ll be married in name only or maybe not at all.

But nobody learned anything and later they remarry somebody else who operates under Lamech’s mentoring eye and they do the same thing, only, if you haven’t noticed, people in second marriages REALLY REALLY REALLY AIN’T GONNA TAKE NO CRAP and they have way less tolerance for inequities and jump to conclusions even quicker because they’ve already been hurt before and they don’t want to be hurt again.  And around and around we go.

A better approach would be take Jesus’ cue and if your spouse isn’t nice to you, be nice anyway, remembering that it’s your job to be a good husband or a good wife, it’s not your job to make sure your spouse is a good spouse to you.  Irregardless of how your spouse treats you, you are going to be a good spouse.  This is easier if you serve a higher Master and you know you are responsible for your own actions, good or ill, that you answer to someone other than your spouse.  You know…like on Judgment Day?

Really?  If I did that wouldn’t I be setting up myself to be abused?  Won’t he just take advantage of me then?  Really?  I don’t think so.  If your spouse is mean to you and you are nice back and your spouse is mean to you and you are nice back and your spouse is mean to you and you are nice back, pretty soon your spouse is going to get the idea he is being mean and you are being nice and that that isn’t really fair for him to be mean when you are nice, so pretty soon he’s going to be nice back.

But maybe not.  Nevertheless, doing good is it’s own reward.  You are going to die for your own sins, right (Oh, I don’t believe all that religious crap.  Too bad.  I bet there will be a lot of surprised looks on Judgment Day!  You were wrong?  Damn.  No pun intended.)?  You’re not going to let anyone, let alone your husband or wife, convince you to do the wrong thing, right?  Doing the right thing, even in the face of odds, is the right thing to do.  You’re only going to be nice to your spouse when your spouse is nice to you?  Then your marriage will self-destruct.  Someone has to pick up the ball and rise above and be nice anyway.

Somebody.

Anyway.

And since you are the one reading this, that would be you.

Dr. Bing Wall

Dr. Bing Wall

Dr. Bing Wall is a marriage therapist with a practice in Ames and Urbandale, Iowa. To set up a time to see Dr. Wall click here or call 888-233-8473.

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