Mr. Smith postulates that marriage is all about the other person, i.e. the spouse. Selfishness destroys a marriage, and therefore, selflessness is the key to a good one. I agree. I especially love this part, "Selfishness demands, 'What’s in it for me?', while Love asks, 'What can I give?'" Amen to that and to this statement, "...a true marriage (and true love) is never about you." But, he went on to say, "It's for others," i.e, his wife, her friends and family, future kids, etc. This is when I knew something was amiss. Though his conclusions seem noble, they just don't seem enough. Please keep in mind that I'm taking the article at face value. I don't know Mr. Smith and am not attempting to guess his motivation for his actions.
As a Christian woman, my loving my husband selflessly out of my desire to make him happy simply just sounded incomplete. Though selflessness plays a key role in order to have a happy marriage, it's not enough. I think Mr. Smith's post missed the number one necessary ingredient for a good and successful marriage: God. And not just any god, but THE God of the Bible that is revealed in His Holy Word. And to truly make God the focus of your marriage, you need to be changed by His grace first. You need to be saved by Christ's redeeming work and death on the cross. Our motivation to have selfless love in marriage has to come from God Himself.
Do you want to have a happy marriage? It is imperative to make God your focus. Make Him the real reason for marriage and any relationship you pursue. Without God in the picture, it would be impossible to be completely selfless and therefore, it's impossible to have a happy marriage as suggested by Mr. Smith, at least to sustain it long-term. Without God's grace, none of us would ever truly love sacrificially. We are all born selfish. Just look at a little baby and you'll quickly see the selfishness innate in all of us. It's part of our sinful nature. But we, who are redeemed, are empowered by the Holy Spirit to change. We can pursue God's glory and desire to honor Him every day.
Mr. Smith only got it partially right because:
- Marriage is not merely for the sake of your spouse and others (and their good), no matter how noble that sounds. We will eventually see our spouse's selfishness. One unkind word or undesirable expression from our spouse will make us question if our spouse really deserves our sacrificial love when he/she isn't reciprocating and/or when he/she doesn't act deserving of our efforts. But when we love because God first loved us (1 Jn 4;19), we can overlook our spouse's faults and continue on loving him/her, even if we don't receive anything in return from him/her. And as with everything else we do (1Cor 10:31), marriage is ultimately for God.
- Our spouse's happiness cannot be the litmus test for a happy marriage because they're fickle like we all are. What makes them happy today may not be the same tomorrow. Our goal is not a happy marriage, but a joyful life in Christ.
- Mr. Smith says, "the more you truly love that person, the more love you receive." There is no guarantee that when you love, you receive it back, at least not all the time. Otherwise, "unrequited love" wouldn't be a familiar theme in literature. I think Mr. Smith's statement can be better said from a Christian standpoint, "the more you truly love, the more you become more like Christ, and the more profoundly you see His love for you."
- Selflessness in marriage is not sustainable on our own because we will undoubtedly fail. We need the Holy Spirit in us to make us become more like Christ. We can look to Him who will not fail us. Without His sanctifying work, we would all fail miserably in our marriage. And I'm not referring merely to longevity or quantity, but quality of marriage. I desire not just a marriage that lasts a long time, but one that is characterized by a loyal friendship between husband and wife, a sweet blessing to others, and a beautiful picture of true Biblical love. A friend once told me that a successful marriage is not 50-50. It's giving 100% with 0 expectations. Imagine what kind of marriage it produces when both parties do this.
Finally, I have to add that a happy marriage, though certainly a huge blessing, is not our ultimate goal in being selfless. We pursue selflessness in our marriage because it glorifies God and we belong to Him. We do it even if it doesn't result in a happy marriage. We do it even when it's hard, when our spouses disappoint us. We live in an imperfect world. We are still sinners and are married to sinners. But, what a relief that we can base our ultimate happiness in Him who is unchanging, who deserves our utmost love and devotion, who gives us the strength to keep going, and who loves us perfectly and sacrificially ALL the time. God doesn't promise us a happy, long-lasting marriage. Instead, He promises eternal joy to those who belong to Him, who faithfully seek to glorify Him every day. And for that reason, marriage, or anything in life for that matter, is not really for us or others. It's for God!
Further thoughts on Mr. Smith's Article
Here are some thoughts and questions that crossed my mind after reading his post. Some of these questions were also raised by another article, a response post by the Center of Women's Psychology to Mr. Smith's:
- Does true selflessness exist? Is it sustainable in the long run? Is a happy marriage attainable simply by being selfless?
- Is it really about the person you love? Mr. Smith's answer to have a happy marriage really only works if your spouse is kind and also self-sacrificial. What if your spouse doesn't meet you half-way in the selflessness path? Even worse, what if he/she is mean or being unreasonable? Do I have to defer to my spouse every single time?
- Mr. Smith says, "the more you truly love that person, the more love you receive." Is this true?
- Is it entirely wrong to think of one's own preference, wants and needs in a marriage? What if my spouse is asking me to do something against my conscience?
- If one is always selfless and giving in to the wants of the spouse, does that make one lose his/her identity eventually?
- Is there really no place for hedonism in a happy marriage?
- Does being selfless really make you happy? For how long do you try if it doesn't?
- Selflessness can exist and be achieved only through Christ by His redeeming power and atoning death on the cross As Christians, we are now dead to sin and alive in Him (Romans 6:11). A happy marriage is attainable because what it takes to get it is not wholly dependent on our own efforts. The sin that makes a marriage unhappy can be overcome by the Spirit. This doesn't mean we will never give in to selfishness, but it doesn't define us anymore. As believers, we ask for forgiveness and must use every day and every moment as an opportunity to exercise the fruits of a changed heart.
- Marriage is not about us or our spouses. It's about God's glory. So, even if our spouse doesn't act sacrificially toward us, we are still obligated to be kind to him/her because God's glory dictates that we commit to doing good, regardless of our circumstances. Our motivation for a good marriage is no longer to please ourselves or even our spouse, but to honor Him who deserves our all. We make a commitment to do good to our sometimes unreasonable spouse because it's what pleases the Lord.
- There is no guarantee that when you love, you receive it back, at least not all the time. Otherwise, "unrequited love" wouldn't be a familiar theme in literature. As Christians, we love because He first loved us (1 Jn 4;19) and that is enough. We love even if it's not reciprocated.
- Because we live for Christ, we should despise any form of sin. We cannot defer to our spouse when they're asking us to do something against our conscience and convictions. In this situation, through careful examination of Scripture and God's glory in mind, we have to put ourselves (our conscience and convictions) first. This also applies when dealing with abusive spouses. In which case, please seek help and counsel immediately.
- If our identity is undesirable and sinful, then we should certainly and gladly give it up. Our identity as believers is in Christ (Gal 2:20) and should be exemplified by the fruits of the Spirit (Galatians 5:22-23).
- Hedonism, i.e., Christian hedonism, has to be present in a marriage. Christian hedonism, per Desiring God, is defined as "the truth that 'God is most glorified in us when we are most satisfied in him.' Therefore, if we are going to glorify God as we ought, the pursuit of joy is not optional—it is essential. We not only may, but ought to pursue our maximum pleasure—in God." When we pursue God, joy comes inevitably. So in that sense, we can be hedonists.
- Being selfless in itself will not make us happy. But done with God's glory as our goal then yes, and not just happiness but all-fulfilling, eternal joy. It may not be experienced right away, may not even in this lifetime, but it will come because God keeps His promises (see Psalm 16:11, Isaiah 35:10, Psalm 105:43, Psalm 5:11 and many others). And we have to continue to be selfless for as long as we live.