Marital Idolatry: Seeing Our Spouse The Way God Sees Them Through Christian Counseling
By Benjamin Deu, MA, LMHC, Seattle Christian Counseling
Taken from “Intimate Allies” by Dan B. Allender and Tremper Longman III
Romance can be kind of a let down once the euphoria wears off. All the things your partner does used to be “So cute!” but now some of them are kind of annoying. You find yourself actually wanting a few moments to yourself. What does this all mean? Just that your relationship is taking the natural course God designed for it.
The golden halo around your beloved is not made to last more than the first two years of your relationship. As Helen Fisher points out in her book “Why We Love,” people can’t sustain that kind of emotional revved-up state for long. Otherwise, they’d never get anything done because they’d be too busy thinking about their beloved. They experience it just long enough for them to grow attached, pair off, and produce offspring.
The first section of Dan B. Allender and Tremper Longman III’s book “Intimate Allies” speaks to spouses who put their partner on a pedestal and whether this behavior is what God intended.
Married to the perfect woman
Allender and Longman illustrate this with the example of a couple who met in college after Jacob was stunned how beautiful Lynn was. At first she enjoyed being treated like a goddess, but it eventually began to irk her that Jacob didn’t seem to view her as a real person with flaws. She felt he pursued her more like he would a meal than a wife.
Of course, it can be difficult to understand why anyone would get tired of some innocent hero-worship. During counseling, Jacob wrestled with the counselor’s criticism of their relationship dynamics.
The counselor told them they’d both turned the other into an idol. Their love was sinful because it wasn’t sincere. They both used the other to validate themselves. Lynn prided herself on her husband’s obsession, and Jacob was more interested in loving the fantasy Lynn he’d created.
Love in the time of corruption
Jacob’s obsessive adoration of Lynn was wrong because he refused to see her as God sees her– a sinful human being in need of redemption. Instead, he idolized her and made excuses for her flaws. As the counselor told him, “You may deeply believe you delight in her, but you don’t delight in her the way God delights in us; God delights in us but also fully sees our sin.” (9)
Marriage is one of the fires through which God refines his children. It’s like an IronMan where you learn to be better people rather than better athletes. “Marriage requires a radical commitment to love our spouses as they are, while longing for them to become what they are not yet. Every marriage moves either toward enhancing one another’s glory or toward degrading one another.” (11)
Relationships aren’t often degraded by the White Witch of Narnia scenario we see with Jacob and Lynn. More often it’s two people who snipe each other into divorce or misery. Which is perhaps what makes Jacob and Lynn’s situation more insidious. During counseling, Lynn admits she feels conflicted for despising Jacob’s adoration. She thinks she should be over the moon to be married to someone who worships her. But she recognizes that his love is not about her so much as it is about him making a spectacle of being enamored with her. “Jacob degraded Lynn by seeing her as near perfect rather than seeing her as lovely, but capable of being even more godly.” (11)
When one spouse refuses to see the other’s flaws, they are robbing them of an opportunity for sanctification. You can’t confront your spouse about their sin and help them eradicate it if you refuse to see it. Which is the whole purpose of marriage. Earthly unions are meant to model the union between Christ and his church– one of confrontation about sin, repentance, and growth. “We all know our marriages have problems. If we are so fooled to think we have escaped problems, then we have an enormous problems.” (12)
Signs you may be idolizing your spouse
• You think everything they do is perfect
• You assume every problem must be your fault
• You don’t ever approach them with character flaws you’d like them to work on
• You derive much of your self-worth of personal satisfaction from having such an “ideal” spouse
Marriage as a crucible of sanctification
In Jacob and Lynn’s situation, Jacob’s idolization of his wife precluded any possibility of he or Lynn bringing attention to the problems in their marriage so they could try to do something about them. Jacob refused to acknowledge any problems at all, and Lynn was convinced the problem must be her because she thought she should feel grateful to be married to someone who worshipped her. You can’t improve anything you think is perfect– an attitude that kept Lynn and Jacob from experiencing the sanctifying benefits of matrimony.
Placing your spouse on a pedestal also forges a separation between you. You have to treat something you worship with reverence, you have to be careful about how you approach it, a proper distance must be observed. This limits intimacy between spouses. (47)
During their counseling, Jacob learned he was using his glorification of Lynn to fill an emptiness inside himself. And Lynn found she hid behind Jacob’s hero-worship to ignore sin in her own life. Both began the arduous task of examining themselves and each other to identify and confront the broken parts of their relationship.
Christian counseling for idolatrous marriages
Addressing marital problems is hard enough without allowing years, or even decades, of unaddressed problems to accumulate. If you or your spouse has fallen into the trap of glorifying one another, thus keeping you from bringing up any problems in your relationship, consider setting up an appointment with your local Christian counselor. A Christian marriage counselor can sit down with you and identify problems in your relationship that keep you from developing your union into something that brings glory to the Lord rather than yourselves.
Images cc: freedigitalphotos.com -“Couple In Bedroom” by marin
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