This is the seventeenth post in a seventeen part series on “Marriage with a Chronically Self-Centered Spouse.” In the posts fourteen through seventeen we will examine four key markers of genuine change and in the process discusses who should be involved in the helping relationships that surround this type of marital restoration work.
Not Concerned with Groveling
As we prepare to examine the final characteristic of authentic change, let’s review how we got here. We looked at Matthew 7:1-6 to determine that Jesus did recognize cases of chronically self-centered relationships as exceptions to standard biblical protocols. We sought to learn how to understand self-centered, manipulative relationships and how to most effectively respond in these unhealthy situations.
Finally, we have looked at how to determine if genuine change is occurring, who to involve in that discernment, and what the roles of key people should be. Admittedly this will have been an uncomfortable journey for everyone involved; maybe not least of all for the offending spouse. Having to express humility, patience, and involving external accountability may feel like a lot to “concede.”
This is why the final mark of genuine change is so important – the offending spouse must not construe what he/she is doing as “groveling.” The steps that have been outlined are severe. They cut to the core of what has been plaguing the marriage and call for a level of intervention that involves the couple’s social network.
But this is not “going the extra mile,” “being sensitive to the offended spouse’s feelings,” “trying to go along with whatever the counselor says,” or “jumping through flaming hoops to prove something.” All of these images make the change process sound like punishment that places the offended spouse in charge for a brief season until the offending spouse feels like he/she has “been good long enough” or “served my time.”
These actions are nothing more than the reasonable acts of repentance and restoration after an extended season of manipulatively (intentional or not) sinning against one’s spouse and family.
To portray these evidences of genuine change as groveling is to recast repentance into the old self-centered narrative. This error runs the great risk of derailing all of the progress (which may have given every other reason to be trusted).
Repentance doesn’t mean the offended person “wins.” It simply means that the offending person quits losing. For the offending spouse to construe this as their spouse “getting everything their way” and “I have to suck it up and take it because I’ve been bad” is absolutely, unequivocally, unacceptably wrong.
What has happened? At this stage we have merely gotten back to (or at least are on our way to) neutral. At this stage, if repentance is not mistaken for groveling, the couple can begin to turn the corner from marital restoration to marital enrichment.
Marital restoration is dealing with a major crisis or chronic condition which threatens the ability of a marriage to function healthily. Marital enrichment takes a marriage that is functioning relatively healthily and refines aspects of the marriage to better fit the individual preferences of each spouse or new challenges that arise with new seasons of life.
There can be no “winning” (one spouse’s preferences being enacted over the other’s) until the transition is made from restoration to enrichment. Until this transition, all changes are made because they are essential to the health of the marriage and rooted in morality (not preference).
It is at this point, when genuine repentance is not mistaken for groveling, that the couple can begin to engage the marriage books, conferences, or counseling they tried before addressing the chronic self-centeredness and begin to see progress. While the couple may have grown cynical about these kinds of marriage enrichment practices in the past, they should now be able to engage them with fresh hope realizing they are coming to them from a much different place.
If this post was beneficial for you, then considering reading other blogs from my “Favorite Posts on Abusive Relationships” post which address other facets of this subject.