After the Honeymoon: Keller on 3 stages of self-centredness in marriage

After the Honeymoon: Keller on 3 stages of self-centredness in marriage

I’m really enjoying Tim Keller’s The Meaning of Marriage at the moment. As is typical Keller, he’s brilliant at engaging with the worldviews of the surrounding culture(s), and then presenting the Bible’s teaching into that context.

Obviously marriage is something of which we all have different experiences, whether from within or from looking on. We come to the subject with ‘marriage baggage’, be it expectations, wounds, scepticism, assumptions, longings. Keller’s approach feels meaningful in the way he gently brings some of those to the surface, exposing them to the fresh air of the Bible.

In his second chapter, he exposes the particular problem of self-centredness in marriage, before showing how the gospel of Jesus is “the power for marriage”. It’s not an easy or instant solution, but it is what we really need to persist in a selfless, permanent, relationship modelled on Jesus and the church.

But perhaps we don’t think we’ve got a problem. After all, marriage is about give and take, right?

In the chapter he makes this observation about the way we can tend to ‘process’ this self-centredness in the early days of marriage. I found it a helpful rehearsal of the way I often think and respond:

In Western culture today, you decide to get married because you feel an attraction to the other person. You think he or she is wonderful. But then a year or two later – or, just as often, a month or two – three things usually happen.

First, you begin to find out how selfish this wonderful person is.

Second, you discover that the wonderful person has been going through a similar experience and he or she begins to tell you how selfish you are.

And third, though you acknowledge it in part, you conclude that your spouse’s selfishness is more problematic than your own.

This is especially true if you feel you’ve had a hard life and have experienced a lot of hurt. You say silently, “OK, I shouldn’t do that – but you don’t understand me.” The woundedness makes us minimize our own selfishness. And that’s the point at which many married couples arrive at after a relatively brief period of time.

Spotted yourself yet? Yep, me too.

It’s only once you know what you’re doing, that you know what to do with it.