Cheaters: Why Christian Marriages Fail to Thrive

This past month at the monthly couples fellowship that my wife Dalia and I attend, something miraculous happened. I doubt that any of the fifteen couples in attendance recognized the miracle. It wasn’t on the scale of Moses' parting of the Red Sea or Jesus' turning of water into wine. But, it was a miracle nonetheless, at least for me. The miracle was revealed in just four words uttered by my wife as she and I facilitated a group discussion. As she was sharing the lesson with the group, she confidently uttered for everyone to hear, “I adore my husband”.  The words wafted across the room. Others nodded and smiled. But, me, I melted as the words settled in my heart and I thought to myself, “So, this is what it feels like to be adored!”

I understand if you are skeptical as to whether these four words rise to miracle status. But, that’s only because you don’t know our history. Dalia and I have been married more than thirty-one years. And, frankly, I don’t ever recall her uttering those four words. What I do vividly recall is the the first decade of our marriage when she said a different, more biting four words about how she felt about me. If her goal was to get my attention, she succeeded when she said these four words, “I don’t like you”. More specifically, she said, “I love you but I don’t like you”. I was hurt—at least my ego was.

So, to go from “I don’t like you” to “I adore my husband” is my miracle and is easily my proudest moment of this year, 2019.  Despite lapses into self-centeredness on both our parts, Dalia and I have nearly always had what most people would characterize as a good marriage. We have achieved significant academic success. We have successfully launched two wonderful adult children. We have established a solid middle-upper class lifestyle for ourselves. And, we have been active in many facets of church and para-church ministry for decades. Yes, in the midst of all these successes was an incessant struggle to breakthrough to the next level for us.

For years, it was hard to put my finger exactly on why we struggled to breakthrough to the next level. We both just knew that we were off a bit—moving forward but falling way short of the best version of ourselves. More importantly, we did not treat one another with the love and respect to which God calls us. We tiptoed around difficult subjects to avoid what felt like an inevitable impasse.  But, it has become increasingly clear to me over the past two years the source of our muted potential. It was mostly my big ego.

  • Big ego is selfish and prone to manipulate circumstances to get my way.

  • Big ego pushes the rational over the relational, caring more about being right with facts than being right with God.

  • Big ego always sees the faults and blame in others before sensing one’s own culpability.

Big ego is disobedient to God’s command to love my wife as He loves the church. As such, big ego is sin—no matter how you spin it. And, it took me far too long to understand that I was losing the spiritual battle inside my own heart. It’s not something that I’m proud to admit. But, I definitely earned Dalia's feelings of dislike towards me—because I was a cheater. No, I did not cheat with another woman. But,I cheated her from the husband that God had intended for her. And, the 'cheater' label is very sobering for me.

As the old adage goes, ‘it isn’t how many times you fall down but how many times you get up’. As I listened to my wife’s words, “I adore my husband”, I knew that I had gotten up. It was a miracle. My miracle is a beautiful before-after picture from a husband burdened with a big ego to a husband striving for what mindfulness gurus dub a ‘quiet ego’. My efforts to quiet my ego have transformed my marriage from good to great. Dalia has always been a wonderful wife. But, today she is a wonderful partner because we both commit to quieting our egos and listening for the best in each other.

I initially planned to come up with a three-step framework to explain how to move from big ego to quiet ego in marriage. But, my spirit is telling me to distill it down to its simplest essence. I assure you that you can shift your marriage from good to great. Even if your spouse doesn’t like you, you can become an adored spouse by one simple (but not easy) act: Release your need to be right.

This is the ultimate ego check because your ego will always assert itself. Why do you and I have that need? For most of us, it goes back to our childhood—so the need feels strong. But, you have the choice to override it by saying ’No, I don’t have to be right’. Yes, there will be situations where you may be right in your opinion. But, strive to relinquish the need to be so. 

I’m working on this daily practice. Yes, I want to be understood. But, I work each day, to suppress those verbal and non-verbal expressions that assert my need to be right. Here is the irony. By relinquishing my right to be right, I have a wife who now adores me and also is giving up her right to be right. Those areas that used to be difficult, if not impossible, to traverse have become so much easier. And, we are thanking God for what feels like a new and deeper season in our marriage.

The message is clear. We each must die to the current version of ourself if we ever want to become the better version. Quiet your ego and stop cheating your spouse out of the person who God purposed them to marry. You can have everything you want in marriage if you and your spouse daily give up your right to be right.

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