When we forget that evil exists within our own hearts—indeed, when we stop ordering our thinking and feeling around God and begin to live to please ourselves—we open the door to all kinds of evil in our marriage, especially the evil we are most likely to be unaware of or excuse: the evil of self-obsession.
We don’t like to talk about this evil as it pertains to us (though we’ll talk plenty about our spouse’s failures in this regard), but silence and ignorance is where evil grows. If we don’t recognize the existence of evil and guard against it we’ll never find a cure for it.
Instead, we’ll just explain it away or blame others for it.
Dallas Willard talks about how “we are like farmers who diligently plant crops but cannot admit the existence of weeds and insects and can only think to pour on more fertilizer. Similarly, the only solution we know to human problems today is ‘education.’”
Educating an evil person without regard to evil doesn’t remove the evil; it simply makes him or her cleverer in spreading their evil.
If I get all kinds of marital education and knowledge but never confront the evil self-obsession that lies within my heart, I’ll use that knowledge (my spouse’s love language, for instance) as a weapon rather than a blessing. I’ll employ her love language to get my way rather than to bless her.
The most popular path among Christians to deal with our evil self-obsession is to deny that it exists, or at least that it is motivating us. In his book Renovation of the Heart, Dallas Willard warns that “denial—usually in some form of rationalization—is the primary device that humans use to deal with their own wrongness.”
This is universal. Every married person reading this is in some way a bit in denial about the evil lingering in their heart that is negatively affecting their marriage.
Personal evil is so painful and difficult to admit that we are tempted to transfer the evil to others. We don’t think of ourselves as angry spouses; we think our spouse is wrong in lighting the spark that makes us angry.
A man doesn’t think of himself as lustful and unfaithful. He thinks of his wife as cold or preoccupied or neglectful.
A woman doesn’t think of herself as critical. She just thinks of her husband as a doofus.
Evil is best confronted by ordering our minds and hearts around the presence and will of God. Evil is coddled when we forget God is God and try to set ourselves up as God.
This is where self-obsession assumes its throne. It is nothing less than evil for me to try to turn my wife into a “love Gary as he likes to be loved” machine. That’s narcissism. God calls her to seek His kingdom first (Matthew 6:33). Here’s the question to ask if you want to know how much you are directed by God and how much you are motivated by hidden selfish evil in your marriage: Do you spend more time praying for your spouse’s relationship and service to God or more time praying about how they need to become a better spouse to you?
Edith Schaeffer wrote, “The philosophy of living with an underlying motive of doing everything for one’s own personal peace and comfort rapidly colors everything that might formerly have come under the heads of ‘right’ and ‘wrong’… If one’s peace, comfort, way of life, convenience, reputation, opportunities, job, happiness or even ease is threatened, ‘just abort it.’”