Friday, 19 November 2010

Fundamental Attribution Error

Okay, he’s lost it now. What on earth is a “fundamental attribution error” and what could that conceivably have to do with marriage?   

Dr. Lee Ross
If you have read this far, I’m ahead of the game. Stanford psychologist Lee Ross coined the term that basically means “we err in our inclination to attribute people’s behavior to the way they are rather than to the situation they are in.” Marriage therapist Michele Weiner-Davis said, “Most people attribute their marital problems to some deeply engrained personality characteristics of their spouse.” She then goes on to cite an example of a wife who might say, “My husband is a stubborn person.” The reality is this husband’s stubbornness surfaces only when they talk about a new approach to parenting while in most other contexts he appears to be willing to discuss new ideas and make changes. Mr. Ross’ point is that often our behavior is determined by the situation we are in, not necessarily indicative of who we are as a person.

According to Mr. Ross’ theory I would suspect that If you found yourself in a very unhappy marriage then your behavior might reflect your dissatisfaction. Psychologically speaking that may explain your mood and how you behave. However the rationale doesn’t excuse the behavior any more than it excuses the husband’s behavior for his stubbornness. And God might suggest that you stay after school and write out Ephesians 5:21-33 one hundred times and then put it into practice.

Michelle Weiner-Davis

From God’s perspective I doubt that our circumstances are ever a legitimate reason for violating His Word. Ephesians doesn’t say husbands love your wives unless they are having a bad hair day in which case it is alright to respond in kind.

Nor does it say, wives respect your husband unless he throws his clothes on the floor in which case treat him like the obvious slob he has become.

As Christians we should be quick to show grace. As “new creations” we have the ability to make choices, so our situation is never a justification for a behavior that would not be glorifying to God.    

Bad Hair Day

Wednesday, 17 November 2010

Can My Marriage Change if My Spouse Doesn't Change?

Winston Smith, author and faculty member at the Christian Counseling and Education Foundation addresses a difficult and challenging question.

Many couples never get beyond thinking “if my spouse would only change” we could have a decent marriage. IF one partner or the other comes to the realization that their spouse will not change, more often than not the next thought is can I tolerate this marriage for the rest of my natural life or is it so painful I want out. Far fewer get to this point in their thought process and consider “if I change perhaps my marriage might be better.”

Let’s kick it up a notch. The Bible commands husbands to love their wives as Christ loves the church, to love their wives as they love their own bodies. It doesn’t say love her if she encourages you and supports you. It doesn’t say if your wife is a great lover, friend and confidant that you are to love her. Your love is to be unconditional, therefore if she never changes, never meets your expectations or desires, you are called to love her.

Wives you are commanded to respect your husbands, translated reverences, notices him, regards him, honors him, prefers him, venerates, and esteems him; and ]that she defers to him, praises him, and loves and admires him exceedingly. Just as the husband’s love for his wife is not to be based on her performance so it is with the wife’s obligation to respect her husband. The Bible calls husbands to lead, to protect and to provide for his wife. Whether he does any of these things or not she is to respect him.

Why on earth would a husband continue to love his wife if she continues to nag and criticize him, i.e. show him no respect? Why on earth would a wife continue to respect her husband if he in turn failed to demonstrate love? The answer is found in verse 21 of Ephesians five. We are to demonstrate love and respect out of reverence for Christ. It is because He has loved us unconditionally in spite of the fact that we continue to disappoint, that we continue to sin, and that we continue to seek to do our will instead of his.

Winston’s point is valid. If we as husbands /wives begin to act in a way that is consistent with the Biblical mandate there is a very good chance that our spouse will respond. Just don’t think it will happen over night.

Monday, 15 November 2010

Is There a Doctor in the House?

A recent blog I read suggested that a couple might find it beneficial to seek a professional counselor when they appear to be at an impasse. In part, because our communication skills are not always what they need to be, the perceived problem is not always the real problem. This is sound advice, with a qualifier.

If you felt that you needed a heart transplant or bi-pass surgery would you seek a brain surgeon or contact your family doctor to perform the operation?- hopefully not. When it comes to relational issues, issues of the heart, I would suggest a Biblical counselor is uniquely suited to address the couple’s concerns.

Some counselors have been successful using behavioral change methods, i.e. requiring date nights, skill based homework, etc. Though behaviors may change this does not normally get to the core issues that underlie the initial cause of conflict. It has been said that until you fix the couple’s vertical relationship you can’t fix the couple’s horizontal relationship. More specifically it has been suggested that our problems in relating to our spouse are often a reflection of our problem relating to the Lord.

When we peel away the layers of the onion surrounding most marriages that are in distress we find that something or someone has usurped God’s rightful place in the heart of one or both partners. In addition we all tend to be self-centered. Our love for one another becomes performance based, I will if you will. Very few people are introspective enough to identify the “idol(s) of their heart”. A Biblical counselor can help each person identify who or what has replaced God and then help the couple identify what they need to do.

A Biblically based marriage is first God –centered and then other-centered. The Book of Luke, chapter 10, verse 27 summarizes what is needed to have a God glorifying marriage, ”Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength and with all your mind'; and, 'Love your neighbor as yourself.” Your husband/wife is the closest neighbor you have.

Marriage was not designed by God for man’s happiness but for His glory. And when things do not seem to be going right it is reasonably safe to assume that we have mistakenly come to believe that marriage is all about us.