FAMILY AND MARRIAGE: To have a happy marriage, put your ego aside
“It is not a lack of love, but a lack of friendship that makes unhappy marriages.” — Friedrich Nietzsche
“This is my beloved, this is my friend, daughters of Jerusalem.” — Bible
Although John and Jane entered into marriage because they were “in love,” they were more in love with themselves than with their spouse. Their marriage was not covenantal, it was contractual, and the contractual condition was that their own happiness came first. It wasn’t long before the marital road became very bumpy.
John and Jane may not have realized the conditional nature of their marriage, but it soon became evident. Any decision was a win/lose proposition. Sometimes they would compromise, but in that case neither was happy with the decision.
The National Bureau of Economic Research recently published a paper titled “How’s Life at Home? New Evidence on Marriage and the Set Point for Happiness,” authored by Shawn Grover and John F. Helliwell. One of the basic conclusions of the report was that marriages are happiest when husband and wife consider their spouse as their best friend, i.e. “a best friend has your back.”
As Melanie Curtin, a reviewer of the NBER research paper puts it: “A best friend has your back. A best friend supports your dreams. A best friend is someone you can call anytime, anywhere, without feeling like they’ll resent you for it. They’re the person you put as an emergency contact and the first person you think about when something wonderful happens at work.
“They know all your quirks (and love you anyway). They can challenge you in deep ways because they know the ins and outs of your psyche (and love you anyway). They’re the kind of person who’ll make soup and draw you a bath when you’re sick, even if they’re busy, because they genuinely want you to feel better.”
In other words, a best friend and best spouse puts your interests first, “even if they’re busy.”
Another reviewer of the NBER research paper, Barry Brownstein, titles his review “Most Marital Difficulties Stem from One Thing: Ego.”
The message is clear; if you want a happy marriage, your love for your spouse must be unconditional, which ultimately means that you consider their interests first. This doesn’t mean that your interests are of no account. In the ideal marriage each spouse is focusing on the other’s needs and actions, and decisions take the concerns of both into account with both enjoying the results.
There are numerous testimonies from a husband or a wife who loved his/her spouse into a wonderful marriage by showing them this unconditional love, and by giving the needs of their spouse a very high priority.
The best way to accomplish such a marriage is by recognizing and admitting that we aren’t “the be-all and end-all”, God is. That relieves us of the big burden of being perfect. We are not designed to be God; we were created in his image, which means he gives us the ability to love unconditionally – and he gives us the choice to do so or not.
Here are some suggestions from Melanie Curtin to help us adjust our ego.
First, acknowledge where you are. Everyone’s ego is selfish, so you are in good company.
Second, don’t deny your ego patterns; simply observe them.
Third, take 100 percent responsibility for your thinking; yet do not justify your thoughts.
Fourth, ask yourself if you are well served by the ego patterns you observe.
Finally, as you look at yourself, be willing to feel embarrassed by your antics.
Melanie points out how difficult it is to “maintain your ego orientation.” When we get upset, it’s very difficult not to blame someone else and hold it against them. The driving force is to protect our self. Letting go of that driving force is tough.
“Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her … In this same way, husbands ought to love their wives as their own bodies. He who loves his wife loves himself.” (Bible)