If you had an apple tree in your back yard and the apples started to turn grey and pulpy, how would you fix the problem? Would you take down the bad apples and use a staple gun to put up good apples? It might make the tree look good for a while, but it sure wouldn’t fix the real problem. The real problem is not with the fruit, but rather with the roots.
Married couples struggle with many things: communication, conflict resolution, busyness, sexual struggles, etc… But, I’m convinced that many of our good attempts at fixing our issues don’t last because they aren’t fixing the roots. It is equivalent to only replacing bad behavior with good behavior… in other words, apple stapling (thanks to Paul Tripp for this helpful example).
To experience lasting change in our life and marriage, we must address our root system – our heart. Please hear me: it isn’t wrong to work on our behavior. Lasting, biblical change does not involve something less than working on our behavior, but rather much more. Our work must go deeper. It must go through our heart.
“The heart is the wellspring of life.”
What is wrong with our hearts (and our marriages)? In short, sin. Romans 3:23 says, “…for all have sinned and fallen short of the Glory of God.” We could say, and it would be right to do so, that sin is what is ultimately wrong with our marriages. It is our deepest problem. It is THE root problem.
Sin is Full of PUS
I know pus is gross, but it’s a memorable and accurate acronym for the three ways sin expresses itself in marriage (and in life): Pride, Unbelief, and Selfishness. Here’s what they look like:
1. Pride – The expression of pride in marriage says, “I deserve,” “I’m better,” or, “I can do this on my own.” When you think you deserve for your spouse to treat you a different way, pride is speaking. When you have thoughts and feelings of superiority to your spouse, pride is the culprit. When you think you can pull up your boot straps and fix things by yourself, or worse yet, fix your spouse; pride is talking. Saying, or even just thinking, any one of these things has the potential to eat away at the best of marriages.
2. Unbelief – This is a little trickier to recognize, but is just as much to blame for the marriage problems we experience daily. The unbelief I’m speaking of has to do with our beliefs about the character of God. When we aren’t getting what we want from our spouse (respect, appreciation, acceptance, etc…), our temptation will be to sinfully demand these things from them.
This is more than just prideful or selfish behavior. It is rooted in our beliefs. We are tempted to take control of getting these things ourselves because we don’t believe God can, or will, provide them.
Our unbelief says 1 of 3 things: “God can’t provide” (because He isn’t able), “God won’t provide” (because He doesn’t love us), or, “God isn’t aware” (because He doesn’t see what we’re going through).
3. Selfishness – The most commonly recognized problem with our heart is selfishness. Selfishness says, no, screams, “I want“! Husbands want more respect. Wives want more love. Husbands want more sex. Wives want more deep conversation.
There’s nothing wrong with wanting any of these things from our spouse. The problems start when we want these things more than we are willing to give these things. We have a heart of selfishness more than a heart of service.
Solution to PUS (the REAL problem in your marriage)
You must understand the real problem in your marriage to apply the right solution.
If you’re breathing, you will struggle with PUS (Pride, Unbelief, and Selfishness.) It is a part of your DNA, and it is affecting your marriage. But, there is hope for your infection. Jesus wants (and is able) to turn your pride into heart felt humility, your unbelief into rock solid faith, and your selfishness into radical service.
Here’s how to start working on the real problem in your marriage:
1. Accept You Need God – John 15:5 says, “…apart from me, you can do nothing.” This must be our starting point…every day! We have to admit our moment by moment need for God to help us. Let the first thought after you open your eyes be, “God, I need you today…you’re my only hope!”
2. Admit Your Sin – 1 John 1:9 says, “If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness.” You’re going to mess up, but your mess up will never mess up God’s forgiveness for you. Don’t let shame, guilt, or condemnation paralyze your pursuit of right living. Allow God’s forgiveness to sink in deep and motivate you to take another step.
3. Ask God for help – Ephesians 3:20 says, “Now to him who is able to do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine, according to his power that is at work within us…” As a Christ follower, you have the All-Powerful Spirit of God living inside of you – the same Spirit that raised Jesus Christ from the dead! We are needy more than we can imagine but simultaneously empowered more then we could ever dream! Ask him to help you see and overcome your specific temptations with PUS.
4. Align your mind and heart with God’s Truth – We all struggle with sin, and the manifestation of sin is PUS, but do you know what your specific struggles in each of those areas are?
Under the umbrella of pride, do you struggle more with entitlement, superiority, or independence?
Where do you struggle with unbelief of God’s Character? Do you struggle to believe God’s love for you, His power and ability in your life, or His knowledge and awareness of your specific situation?
Lastly, what does your selfish heart want so bad from your spouse that you are willing to sin to get it: Respect? Acceptance? Security?
As you become more aware of the specific inclinations of your heart in each of these 3 areas, you can develop a “truth strategy” to proactively attack those sinful temptations. A truth strategy involves identifying, meditating on, and memorizing a specific truth(s) of the Bible that proactively re-orients your heart and mind so you can better respond in your moment of struggle. There is no better time and way to do this than establishing a morning routine.
“… be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is—his good, pleasing and perfect will.”
5. Advance in Your Faith – Up to this point change is hopefully happening on the inside…in your heart. But remember, Biblical change doesn’t only happen on the inside, it always shows itself on the outside. James 2:26 says, “Faith without deeds is dead.” Real change on the inside will produce visible change on the outside. Faith isn’t faith unless its accompanied by a step: Say you’re sorry. Serve your spouse when they aren’t deserving. Comfort instead of correct. Seek to understand before trying to get your point across. Forgive instead of holding a grudge. Whatever the step is, take it. Especially when you don’t feel like it.
One last word. This is a strategy for progressive change, not perfection. Even the perfect implementation of this strategy won’t insulate you from the on-going presence of sin in your life. Jesus offers strength to do the right thing and forgiveness when we don’t. When you mess up, and you will, let it be a reminder of #1 above and lead you to say, “Jesus, you’re my only hope!”
Hans co-founded Marriage Revolution with his wife, Star, in 2010. He counsels couples in The Woodlands, TX, speaks at marriage conferences around the country, and provides leadership and direction to Marriage Revolution.