What did you expect?
You Are a Sinner Married to a Sinner
I will say much more about this throughout the book, but you and I just don’t get to be married to someone perfect. It seems true when you read it, but even though this seems obvious, many people get married with unrealistic expectations about who they are marrying. Here is the point: you both bring something into your marriage that is destructive to what a marriage needs and must do. That thing is called sin. Most of the troubles we face in marriage are not intentional or personal. In most marriage situations, you do not face difficulty because your spouse intentionally did something to make your life difficult. Yes, in moments of anger that may happen. But most often, what is really happening is that your life is being affected by the sin, weakness, and failure of the person you are living with. So, if your wife is having a bad day, that bad day will splash up on you in some way. If your husband is angry with his job, there is a good possibility that he will bring that anger home with him.
At some point you will be selfish. In some situation you will speak unkindly. There will be moments of jealousy, bitterness, and conflict. You will not avoid this, because you are a sinner and you are married to a sinner. If you minimize the heart struggle that both of you have carried into your marriage, here’s what will happen: you will tend to turn moments of ministry into moments of anger. When your ears hear and your eyes see the sin, weakness, or failure of your husband or wife, it is never an accident; it is always grace. God loves your spouse, and he is committed to transforming him or her by his grace, and he has chosen you to be one of his regular tools of change. So, he will cause you to see, hear, and experience your spouse’s need for change so that you can be an agent of his rescue.
Often, in these God-given moments of ministry, rather than serving God’s purpose we get angry because somehow our spouse is in the way of what we want. This leads to the second thing that happens: the reason we turn moments of ministry into moments of anger is that we tend to personalize what is not personal. At the end of his bad day at work, your husband doesn’t say to himself, “I know what I’ll do. I’ll take my bad day out on my wife so that her day gets as wrecked as mine.” No, the trouble you are experiencing is not about you directly. Yes, it is your trouble, because this angry man is your husband. But what you are experiencing is not personal in terms of conscious intentionality. You are living with a sinner, so you will experience his sin.
Now, when you personalize what is not personal you tend to be adversarial in your response. When that happens, what motivates you is not the spiritual need in your spouse that God has revealed but your spouse’s offense against you, your schedule, your peace, etc. So, your response is not a “for him” response but an “against him” response. Rather than wanting to minister to him, what you actually want to do is get him out of your way so you can go back to whatever was engaging you beforehand. Let’s be honest—all of us have been there.
When we respond in an adversarial way, we actually escalate the trouble that the other person splashed up on us. This leads to one more thing: because we have turned a moment of ministry into a moment of anger by personalizing what is not personal, we are adversarial in our response, and because we are, we settle for quick situational solutions that do not get to the heart of the matter. Rather than searching for ways to help, we tell the other to get a grip, we attempt to threaten them into silence, or we get angry and turn a moment of weakness into a major confrontation.
This is one place where I think the Bible is so helpful. The world of the Bible is like your world—messy and broken. The people of the Bible are like you and your spouse—weak and failing. The situations of the Bible are like yours—complicated and unexpected. The Bible just isn’t a cosmetic religious book. It will shock you with its honesty about what happens in the broken world in which we live. From the sibling homicide of Cain to the money-driven betrayal of Judas, the blood and guts of a broken world are strewn across every page. The honesty of God about the address where we all live is itself an act of love and grace. He sticks our head through the biblical peephole so we will be forced to see the world as it really is, not as we fantasize it to be. He does this so that we will be realistic in our expectations, then humbly reach out for the help that he alone is able to give us.
Paul David Tripp, What Did You Expect? Redeeming the Realities of Marriage (Wheaton, IL: Crossway, 2010).