August 15, 2015

Are You Married to a Selfish Spouse?

Gary Thomas — 

Are You Married to a Selfish Spouse Final

Victoria (not her real name) is married to a selfish spouse. She prays for him. She encourages him. She seeks ways to serve him. Her husband soaks it up but hasn’t learned to give half as much in return. If I give examples I may blow her cover, but most of you know marriages like this.

Maybe you’re in one.

Somewhat understandably, Victoria struggles with bitterness. If her husband only knew how much just a small bit of giving back in return would mean. If for only one hour a weekend he could make it about her instead of about him. The relief she would feel would be enormous, but her husband’s selfishness seems to run through his core.

They have talked about it with a counselor, but the thing about selfishness is that the more selfish you are the less you realize it. Her husband thinks he’s doing “better,” but not by much, and usually only when Victoria brings it up, which ushers in a new kind of pain.

Victoria’s husband tries to be a little less selfish so that he doesn’t have to listen to his wife complain about it. So he’s fighting his selfishness with, yes, selfishness.

Victoria has prayed. She has gone to a counselor. She even brought her husband with her to the counselor—everything advice-oriented people tell her to do. But the situation hasn’t changed much, and doesn’t appear likely to. In that light she asked me, how do you maintain a godly attitude?

Keep in mind—I wasn’t talking to the couple. I was talking to Victoria, and about her spiritual attitude not resolving the situation (that’s a different discussion). What I’m about to say may make some of you married to selfish spouses angry, but I believe this advice is rooted in spiritual reality.

“Victoria,” I said, “you need to start thinking of yourself as the postal worker not the store. You see all this good stuff that you do for your husband in reality, it’s coming from God. Your graceful attitude, your servant’s heart, your inspiration and motivation are all evidence of the Holy Spirit at work in your life. At root though, you’re just the postal worker delivering God’s package to your husband. A postal worker doesn’t expect a thank you letter when she delivers the gift.”

I said this because I didn’t want Victoria to let her husband’s selfishness engender poisonous pride in her own heart. This wasn’t to chastise her but to protect her on her journey toward God.

“Second,” I said, “and here’s the hope—if God is the owner of the store, and we’re just the postal workers, God can use any number of postal workers to deliver what we need. You’re acting like what you need can only come from your spouse, and since he refuses to deliver it you’re stuck. With some things, that’s true. There are certain things only a spouse can provide. But God can deliver a fulfilling, meaningful life through any number of channels.Personal Mail boxes

“If I keep waiting for a package from the U.S. Postal Service that has been sent and resent a dozen times and is always lost, eventually I’m going to ask God to send something via U.P.S. or Fed Ex. Maybe you can buy your own flowers, and thank God that your husband earns enough, together with you, for you to enjoy the weekly luxury of fresh flowers in your house. No, your husband didn’t think to buy them, but in a way God used your husband to make their presence in your home a reality. And no, your husband might not think to send you to the spa, but if you need a ‘pampering day,’ perhaps you’ll have to set up the appointment. Yes, it would be much more delightful if it came through your husband as that would show his care for you, but think of it in this light: there are a lot of wives who could never afford to have a day like that even though, their husbands would be inclined to provide it if they could.”

Every particular application is going to be different, so I won’t go on any further with Victoria’s story. But if you’re married to a particularly selfish spouse, hold on to these two points:

  1. Fight pride by remembering you’re just the postal delivery person. Everything God gives to your spouse through you comes from God. Your desire to serve, your creativity in serving, your commitment to serve, your conviction to love—that’s God’s work, not your own heart. You are choosing to be faithful in delivering those blessings, but without God you wouldn’t have the blessings to give nor likely even the inclination.
  1. God can deliver life’s blessings through many channels. We’d all like them to come in a certain way, but wouldn’t it be rather ungrateful of you to complain about a pair of diamond stud earrings if they came in yellow wrapping paper instead of red? Ask God to bring what you legitimately need as He wills, in His timing, and in His way. It may not be your ideal, but even in this your spouse’s selfishness is simply helping you to press deeper into God. That, in itself, is a gift when you think about it.

I write this because some of you may live the rest of your lives still married to a selfish spouse, and the last thing I want to see is your spouse’s selfishness affecting your spirit with resentment, bitterness, and eventually your own selfish demands. Nobody gave to Jesus a tenth of what He gave to them, yet He lived a supremely glorious, powerful, faithful, and joyous life.

In other words, don’t allow what your spouse isn’t to define what you become. 



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54 responses to Are You Married to a Selfish Spouse?

  1. Gary, I loved the blog but I was wondering what does one do with an unbelieving spouse that does not see him as being selfish. My joy in serving is short lived. And yes I do daily question my husband love for me. The 40 years we have been married I have never felt really loved by him, yes he needs me to care for his needs but love me I mean really love me no its not there. I don’t think he even realizes it himself, he has mistaken need for love. Yes he is committed to the marriage out of duty and what would others think of him if he were to leave.

  2. May I repeat a lesson I keep re-learning?

    God, in His infinite wisdom and love, sometimes blesses me in ways I don’t enjoy.

  3. Francis Chan and his wife Lisa discussed this very topic the last couple of days:

  4. Honestly Gary, I feel this good counsel works but it has a short lifespan. In a marriage I believe love should rule, especially the love of a husband towards a wife. Where there is selfishness, then I question whether there is genuine love. Love is not selfish… And I think the two, love and submission are part and parcel of each other. It is okay for a wife to play the postal errands but for how long? This may not be practical in the long term since selfishness can suck one dry. I know that bad character corrupts so much!
    We have not been told whether this family has children, but in a situation where there are children, what are they picking from a selfish father?
    All in all, I believe that Jesus came that we may have life and abundantly, that includes complete happiness and peace and joy.

    • Again, I had to speak generally in this blog post. Every situation needs to be looked at particularly and individually.

    • Jonathan Kalton July 26, 2016 at 8:58 pm

      Hi Bea,
      Jesus was referring to a spiritual life of abundance. We are to remember that Jesus assured us that in this world we would have trouble but to take heart as He has overcome the world! His promise is fulfilled to us in our hope in Him and eternity in heaven and not on this broken sinful earth. There is not complete happiness, peace and joy on earth but only in heaven.

    • Amen!!!! I agree with you Bea. Thank you

  5. Gary, I’d like to hear your take on how chapters 2 and 3 of Revelation relate to how husbands are to love their wives as Christ loved the church?

  6. This really hit home for me this morning. My life has become full of bitterness and anger and resentment living with an incredibly selfish husband. It’s been taking all my joy and here I forgot that God wants to give me joy. Why must I limit where and how I receive it? Thank you thank you thank you!

  7. What to say…I personally don’t know of a marriage that hasn’t had or isn’t in some sort of conflict. The relationships, including my own which was already into the mediation process and now in the reconciliation process, that made it or are making it, look at the individual self. Any one can point the fingers and push the blames. It takes looking at self no matter if a person feels (operative word) 100% not at fault. It takes being humble, content, and not conforming to the instant gratification world we unfortunately live in while living by faith and prayer until hearts and minds are turned and fulfilled by the only one that can; God. In the event it is physical abuse to the other spouse or children, by all means, don’t walk but run for safety. Even then, with forgiveness, grace, and actual change on the abuser’s part, reconciliation is possible. Emotional abuse is a different animal. Threatening another with physical ramifications, no physical intimacy, stonewalling, divorce, etc can all be emotional abuse. It’s used to intimidate and scare the other spouse; sometimes it’s just downright degrading or used to manipulate. Sometimes we are so childish and selfish we buy into the lie, “if they loved me enough, he/she would know that I need (fill in the blank).” Because we live in a pc looking to be offended world, too many times we take what is said as offensive. Case in point, the truth (i.e. this article), agitates some people. Oftentimes the truth is not accepted by one spouse and overly repeated by the other. When tensions are at their peak, both selfish spouses don’t want to hear much from the other besides…I’m sorry. We are human so instead of building up, we tear down. We need to grow as deliverers of our thoughts (be more loving) as well as grow as receivers of another’s thoughts (who, besides God, knows us better than our spouses after a few years of marriage). In our case, we both won a lot of disagreements (in our own minds) but lost each other bit by bit that culminated into an empty house and divorce papers on the counter. It wasn’t until we adhered to growing ourselves to what the triune God spoke millennia ago. And it isn’t without His constant instruction through devotions, attending church, reading Biblical writings like that of Mr. Thomas, and listening to it via the internet (Chip Ingram at living on the edge, Jimmy Evans, Crawford and Karen Loritz, Dr. Tony Evans, Voddie Baucham, Dennis Rainey at family life today, Steven Furtick at elevation church…to name a few favs of mine), that we are able to maintain and grow through the good times and times of turmoil.

  8. Such a difficult subject, especially knowing how wounded people and marriages are. Thank you for your courage in addressing it biblically, Gary.

    This is the dilemma of the mediocre “Christian” marriage. The spouse has not provided the “golden ticket” of abandonment, abuse or adultery (though I would suggest that those can occur emotionally as well as physically) — they are simply *selfishly* mediocre. I grieve at every wife who shares with me her hidden desire that he just go ahead and have an affair, already, or give her a good beating, so she can finally feel she has legitimized reason to leave the guy who continuously takes advantage of her faithful holiness. (This happens in reverse, as well.)

    Where I think we miss the boat as Christians is that the conflict resolution methods outlined in Matthew 18 are no less applicable to marriage than they are to other relationships — but for some reason many Christians don’t apply them! You are justified in going to your spouse with your concerns privately (following much prayer, introspection, the Holy Spirit’s leading). If your concerns fall on deaf ears and the selfishness continues, you move to the second step and meet with a qualified Christian counselor. If counseling fails to bring repentance and your counselor is in agreement, you approach the elders of your church and make your plea, seeking their intervention, accountability, etc.

    The gross lack of application of this conflict resolution process allows selfish “Christian” spouses to forever remain immature and unaccountable — it is incredibly enabling to selfish spouses by putting the responsibility on the long-suffering, godly and mature spouse.

    My prayer all those years was, “Lord, move him UP or move him OUT, and please do it quickly!” Either allow him to be softened and repentant or give him over to his sin so that the natural consequences will drive him to repentance.” And once his hard-heartedness led him into long-term, unrepentant sin, I did indeed feel not only God’s approval but His blessing in protecting myself via divorce. No less a tragedy but at least I had peace in knowing I followed God’s prescription and gave it my all.

    A very tough topic, much grace necessary, much love to those who continue hoping despite all the evidence that things are hopeless.

    ps: And as an aside, I will also mention here that God’s love may be unconditional, but our relationship with Him is NOT. A relationship with Him is contingent on our REPENTANCE! The same applies for maintaining a marital relationship with our spouse. Watch for long-term signs of genuine repentance…. while protecting yourself from the consequences of abuse, abandonment, and infidelity throughout.

    Sorry for the dissertation. 🙂 Have lived through all of this heartbreak and simply have great compassion for others who are suffering while pursuing godliness. <3

    • Sarah, doesn’t it depend on how the selfishness is manifesting itself? There are some biblically unacceptable actions that could qualify for divorce, and others that are just unfortunate and must be borne. I purposefully didn’t get into the specifics with Victoria’s case, as I didn’t want to out her, but she would agree they don’t rise to the level of seeking a divorce. Again–the limitations of a blog. Without knowing the particulars of your situation, we can’t judge the decision you made, nor will I get into the “ps.” This isn’t the place for that kind of discussion. But I’m truly grateful that you added so thoughtfully to the discussion that others could reflect on.

    • Thank you so much Sara.. I needed to hear this. The Lord continues to confirm and give me peace!!

  9. This brings to mind two verses:

    1. 1 Thessalonians 5:18 King James Version (KJV): 18 “In every thing give thanks: for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus concerning you.” IN EVERY THING give thanks, BECAUSE that is God’s will for you. It’s a tough one, and one of the reasons why I am always doing a gratitude journal on my own blogs, because it is not easy to give thanks when you are battling or feeling week or jealous (something I am battling with today) or resentful… But, God’s will is that we give thanks. I pray He gives me the strength to do so.

    2. James 1:17 New International Version (NIV): 17 “Every good and perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of the heavenly lights, who does not change like shifting shadows.” All gifts we receive are ultimately from God. The delivery method might not be what we envisaged it would be, but it is still from God.

    And you can’t argue with scripture… 😉

  10. This is a fitting passage and is what I grapple with daily: How not to allow resentment to speak to my flesh and instead walk in the Spirit.
    I must disagree somewhat by your point #2. Sometimes life isn’t full of blessings. It is full of God’s promises but some circumstances in life never change.

    To James above, unfortunately suffering is part of our life. The purpose is to make us more like Christ. Marriage was not created to make us happy or I assure you at least in my case that divorce is far easier than the many hours of searching, reading, praying, counseling to help me understand the purpose of marriage. I encourage you to search what the Bible has to say on the matter.

  11. I’m sorry, but this article represents what is so very wrong with the Church in our day, and with the teachers within it. This article is a “band-aid” solution, and a poor one, at that. In typical fashion, it puts the onus on the suffering partner (usually, the woman; thus, “Victoria’s” story is utilized, not “Victors”). “Victoria’s” husband is not only a typical man, but (worse!) a typical Christian man, who either did not have a godly father to teach him to be a MAN, or does not attend a church where there are any MEN around to teach him to be a MAN. Her husband is not a man; he is a “BOY-man”, and rather than address him as such, she is told basically to suck it up and be a “postal-worker”! In actuality, this relationship is going nowhere, and is headed for life-long unhappiness (at best) to separation/divorce (at worst). Mind you, once you’ve swallowed the myth that “God doesn’t give marriage/relationships to make you happy, but to make you holy” then band-aids such as we have here are all that is left….

    • James, I said, in the blog post, that I would have a very different conversation with Victoria’s husband. I live in real-ville–when only one person wants to work on the marriage like this, you do what is best for their soul. if you think divorce for selfishness fits your view of what a “MAN” is, so be it. To call this a “band aid” shows me you didn’t even consider the point I was trying to make. I can be a poor communicator, especially with the limit of words imposed by a blog post, so I’ll own up to that. But I truly believe, brother, that you missed the point entirely. Yelling at someone to be a “MAN” sounds much more like a Band-Aid to me than anything I wrote about.

      • 30YrsMarriedAndHere’sHow June 29, 2016 at 9:14 pm

        How about suggesting she STOP delivering so many packages?? How is codependence Godly? Are pride and codependence her only options? And how it is pride to expect to be honored as Christ’s own, ourselves? Some women like to cater to their husbands, and if it works for them, so be it. It’s not working for Victoria. She’s hurting. You claim not to be chastising her and yet of course you’ve done exactly that – warning her of “poisonous pride” if she does anything less than continuing to support her husband’s selfishness by doing nothing differently except fixing her own incorrect attitude.

    • Bravo for telling the truth, James Parker!

    • I agree

    • Thank you Parker…I’m with you on this one….what if that selfish man is reading this, then he’ll say hurray I can continue being a jerk cause my wife can handle it… this article should have address the selfish man and not the woman because I’m sure like she mentioned she’s been doing all the right things

    • I agree with you James Parker!

      Im living this situation for 21 years now.

      I married him because he was a “Christian ”

      He states he has no weaknesses.

      I tell him your biggest weakness is your Pride. That is why you are so selfish!

      I am a giver a nuturer. I am in pain. And myb3 children are too.

      I have a 20 yr old son, an 18byr old daughter and a 10 yr old son who are also affected by his selfishness.

      They want me to leave him!! They are being affected in a negative way.

      Does staying in this broken,loveless marriage mean Jeopardizing the health, emotional and mental of my children?

      God is a fair amd loving God.

      I am reading and studying the story of Nabal and Abigail..I Samuel 25.

      I feel as though the Lord is going to give me/us a breakthrough very soon.

  12. I understand the situation. It is hard to give love and your spouse not give it back.I am in the same situation. My wife tells me she doesn’t care about my happiness if it hinders hers. Where I find myself compromisin most of the time to make sure that she is happy. A short story: This morning started out with my wife making us a light breakfast. That was great and I expressed my gratitude to her. Once we were ďone eating I then said to her that I will be going to the park to get some exercise on the walking trail. She responded by saying I will go with you. I said that’s great I thinking that we will have some more quality time together. Before we got to the park she asked which side I would be walking on. I responded the left side. The park is is divided into two sections. Once we got there she said that she would walking on the opposite side. I thought we would be doing this thing together but she had other plans. We went our separate ways and walked. In the middle of my walk I sent her a text asking why couldn’t we walk together. She never responded. Once I was finished I saw her sitting there on the bench ripping her head set apart. I asked her what was wrong. She said nothing. She then started talk trash on the way back to the car in a very angry tone stating that I do not alow her to have her own opinion about what she wants to do. I did not argue back at her. I simply expressed that I thought we could walk this exercise trail together. She then went on to ensite argument with her tone and choice of words. I told her again that I will not engage in this argument with you. To be honest I am getting to the point that if she wants to do things by her self it is time to allow her to be single.

    • Ed, I am sure this is very frustrating, but I’ve seen couples get into these kinds of ruts before. This COULD be (not saying it is, definitively) an issue of communication, or buried resentment. Before you arrive at “it is time to allow her to be single,” I would urge you to get with a good counselor who can poke around a bit and see what’s going on. This is a very helpful, revealing story and it would give a wise counselor an excellent opening into exploring what’s really going on.

      • Love this post. I try to find strength in Jesus. I pray for him to help me through this difficult time in my life. My husband was spending 7 days a week with the neighbor girl who is 26 yrs younger than him and getting drunk with her on a regular basis and sneaking around with her getting high. He was making plans with her to go on outings. This is a married person also. They found no fault at all in their disrespectful behavior towards me.She thought she was doing nothing wrong by coming over to my house 7 days a week only at times I wasn’t home to hang out with my husband. No nothing wrong in her book with coming over and getting drunk with my husband while I am at work, then when her husband leaves for work she would dump her kid with me while they sneak over to her house to get high. I stopped that nonsense, but still hard to get over the nerve some people have. Hard to get over my husband disrespecting me with another woman like that.
        He takes vacations alone to party spots like Vegas and spring break party beaches. Right now he is in Hawaii alone, what husband wants to watch a sunset in Hawaii alone? I don’t understand.

  13. Very encouraging. Thank you!

  14. I absolutely love how God use you to help us sheep!

  15. You always hit the nail directly on the head, Gary! Thank you for piercing our hearts with the truth.

  16. Gary, Thank you so much for all that you said in this blog. I have a narcissistic husband. At times I wonder “why am I still doing this?” But then I remember Christ, a covenant and could really live the rest of life without him, I have found out through much counseling “No I can’t”. My husband takes advantage of my love for him, he has admitted that himself. So thank you for these words of true and how to keep pushing forward with a very selfish, unbelieving husband. LOVE THIS BLOG, this one is a keeper and yes my husband does make enough money to buy those fresh cut flowers.

  17. Thank you found it helpful

  18. Thank you so much Gary. The last line of the article says it all!

  19. Great article! I just caught myself this week thinking about how really terrific I am as a wife! Maybe I do choose to do generous things, but God gives me the ability and the willingness tondo them. Never thought about it like that!

  20. Great article and I truly want to be the postal worker, especially at this chapter in our lives! To see things from this perspective is an eye opening truth! Thank you for the insight and may God continue to bless you and your family.

    • Thank you for this awesome article. I am a newly wed and I am in a marriage where my spouse is very selfish and has no compassion. This is my first marriage and his second and I feel like giving up because I come from a home where my mom and dad where there for each there no matter what. I get upset with myself because I dont understand how I got here sometimes. How can a person you love with GOD love treat me this way and I give my all to my husband and our kids. I know in my heart its not me and I dont blame myself I just need to know what should I do. Do I divorce if there is no chage after praying. He never tells me encouraging words unless I say something. He doesnt have my back no matter what I am doing. I didnt know that it was like this. I have been praying and hoping GOD touch his heart. I am a lover, giver, and I have an wonderful spirit because God gave it to me.

      • Just because God doesn’t answer yes to our prayers “changing our husband the way we want him to” does not give us a go ahead for divorce. You are newly married? How new? I have been married to my husband now for 5 years and let me tell you sometimes it is still a daily struggle. I so relate to what Victoria goes througb because I do with my husband. However loving God and Obeying him is more important to me than my own ‘happiness’ and i say that bc its instant gratification. Our marriage is much better now 5 years later than it was in the beginning. However there is a LONG way to go. The author said something that I absoluetly loved. ” In other words, don’t allow what your spouse isn’t to define what you become. ” Let that sink to your heart and know that you dont have to be “drug down” just because your husband isnt like you. Never give up in your marriage it is the best example to show your chikdren about christ.