The Other Person
A Christian Approach to Marriage Conflict
The Other Person Chapter 10
From the book I’m Mad at My Mate:
By Rick Livingston
God created man with a soul. The soul of man is his uniqueness and awareness of individual identity. Each soul has value and purpose with God. As the physical aspect of man hungers for sustenance, his soul also needs to be fed. The need of man for fellowship with God also extends to others like him.
Many sociological factors in modern society conspire to alienate man from himself, his environment, and others. The fast-pace, mobility, automation, and urbanization have cut men off from many former opportunities for true contact with people. Pressures for success, few moments of meaningful family activity, and materialistic distractions rob the twentieth century man of the resources he formerly had. Stanley Rosner, Ph.D. and Laura Hobe, authors of The Marriage Gap, point out the following: One of the casualties of our fast-paced society is the human-to-human relationship. This is the day of the alienated person who finds it’s safer and less painful to keep his distance from others. Because he is out of touch with his own emotions and needs, he has little desire to contact the emotional core of another human being. Relationships formed on superficial levels are likely to break apart under such stress.
The first and most important relationship that God formed in order to dispel such alienation is the marriage bond. The marriage bond is the only relationship between two human beings that is intended to last a lifetime emotionally, spiritually, and physically. Yet, under stress, the institution is itself in danger of annihilation in terms of present trends as previously noted. The institution of the broken home has emerged from the modern marriage.
In falling short of the Biblical injunction for men to love their wives as Christ did the church and for wives to submit to their husbands as to the Lord, men and women have allowed the seeds of destruction to enter their most significant relationship. If not to love and submit to one another, what has brought people into the marriage bond? Many have come to marriage in order to acquire another - perhaps valuable - yet still another object for their collection of “need fulfillment.” For some, a spouse is merely a sexual partner to reduce a drive, a pay check to provide security, or a status symbol.
The media glorifies the flesh and markets it on television, radio, and magazine in a way similar to a harem slave market. Women are portrayed as bodies first, people second, resulting in sex before friendship, co-habitation before marriage, and marriage without real commitment. Stanley Rosner, Ph.D. and Laura Hobe point out that “many young couples are getting married, not forever, but for as long as it lasts” and is convenient. The promise in sexual union, total involvement, becomes empty in such relationships. Instead, “my needs come first, yours second.” Even the church has bought into that philosophy by spreading the lie
that “we must first love ourselves before we can love others.”
Many husbands and wives have been viewed as objects by their spouses. For example, a husband may merely be a workhorse for his wife. On the other hand, a wife might be viewed only as a performing pet who must amuse and delight her husband. Certainly role fulfillment and sexual attraction have A place in the relationship, but should not have THE place. In a culture where people easily are made into alienated objects, the marriage relationship offers an opportunity to find person hood through contact with another soul. Sheila Kesler, in The American Way of Divorce, observes that “intimacy in past marriages was an accident. Now it is a requirement” for survival.
Webster’s New International Dictionary defines a person as “a being...conscious...(and a) particular individual,” with no regard for male or female. In the beginning, the scriptures present a person as a creation of God, a living soul distinct from the lower animals. God had a personal relationship with his first people and called them by name.
The Jewish philosopher Martin Buber distinguishes two forms of relationships between people: The I-It and the I-Thou. The I-It relationship is both practical and useful in its place. Malcolm Diamond relates the following from Martin Buber’s philosophy:The world of It is set in the context of time and space. The world of Thou is not set in the context of either of these.
Detachment, so necessary in science, reflects the I-It relationship with men as well as natural objects. The problem of I-It comes in its abuse as man “gigantically” swells this perspective into every facet of life, especially in marriage. The perspective of I-It in appropriate moderation advances technology and even helps man understand himself. But “he who lives with It alone is not a man.”
The person who is limited to I-It relationships withholds himself from life, people, and meaningful involvement. Malcolm Diamond relates the following from Martin Buber:The “I” of the I-It differs fundamentally from the “I” of the I-Thou; in the I-It posture, the “I” holds back - measuring, using, and seeking to control the object of its attention - but never, as in the I-Thou relation, affirming the other just as it is in itself.
In marriage; money arguments, sexual complications, child discipline disputes, and even boredom are difficulties that can be overcome. The loss of intimacy, the lack of communion between the two partners, however, requires a regeneration of the entire relationship as well as the individuals. Even mustering up concern for one’s mate for an ulterior motive cannot replace true involvement with his or her life. Malcolm Diamond observes that “Napoleon...drew men unto himself by convincing them that he was concerned with them as persons when in reality he had no real genuine involvement with them.” How long does it take a spouse to discover a Bonaparte?
The basic difference between an I-It and an I-Thou marriage is the difference between programmed thinking and human warmth. The I-Thou relationship confirms the other’s uniqueness. If in an argument, we are more concerned about making a point than demonstrating acceptance of our spouse, then we live in an I-It relationship with that person, undermining the personhood of our spouse. Ironically, marriage presents the greatest amount of time and proximity for nurturing another person, or destroying the person.
In the Gospels, we see Jesus as affirming the person hood of those he encountered as no one else did in history. For example, women were regarded as second class beings at his time, but Jesus approached them in a revolutionary fashion. Women in his life “emerged as persons, for they were treated as persons, often in such contrast with prevailing custom as to astonish onlookers,” notes Vern Bullough. No derogatory remarks toward women were ever recorded of Christ. He held their person hood in as high regard as men. In a day when an
adulteress was held in greater disrepute than an adulterer, Jesus condemned their conduct equally. Women, as well as men, followed and served Jesus. He recognized in women a reservoir of faith and tenderness that exceeded men at times. Jesus had a special ability to look into the hearts of people.
When Jesus approached the woman at the well in Samaria, he overcame many barriers in reaching her soul, more than an average person would need to with his mate. A Jew was not expected to speak to a Samaritan, much less a woman, and certainly not a woman of the streets. But Jesus cut through convention, his own cultural training, his disciples’ prejudice, and even the woman’s protests in order to minister to her soul. He understood and helped her through her deepest needs: her thirst, her entanglement, her doubt, and her hope. The thrill of the woman, expressed in her sharing with her community, may be paraphrased,
“Come, see a man,” who SPOKE TO MY PERSON HOOD, MY VERY BEING.
Another example of Jesus’ love for people as people occurred at a dinner shortly before his death. While the twelve apostles themselves denied the ultimate mission of Christ at the cross, a quiet woman not only recognized it but prepared Jesus and the world for it. Mary of Bethany, in pouring precious ointment over the head and feet of Jesus, overcame security and pride to express her innermost being and love to Jesus. While the disciples saw objects such as ointment, the poor, and the woman, Jesus saw a person’s heart and the eternal message of a LIVING sacrifice. When we know our spouses’ hearts, we will never betray our spouses, but rather will defend them before others. Jesus even found something in an adulteress to protect.
What kind of love is expected of us toward our spouses? Christ’s relationship with the church, paralleled with the relationship of a husband toward his wife, is also analogous to a shepherd and his sheep. A good shepherd treats his sheep like he does nothing else.
Jesus is the good shepherd. In John 10 he expresses two ways that he and, by analogy, the good husband manifests his special relationship with his bride. In verse 14, he states, “I am the good shepherd, and know my sheep and am known of mine.” A wife, as a special person, will be well known to her husband. She will be experienced by her husband, not as a fragment, but a whole. An idealized, romantic view of her will prove to be as tenuous to the relationship as a warped bitter one. A skirt at surface beauty and charm will never replace the redemption of being seen in all facets, and still be loved. On the other hand, the wife, as a
special person, will be allowed to know her husband. The nurturing of this special relationship involves time spent together, planning together, talking through problems, overcoming weaknesses together, and understanding each other. Such a realistic, accepting, and caring perspective should also be demonstrated by the wife. Knowing one another takes both persons beyond the boundaries of their own isolated selves into identifying with and caring for the other as much.
In verse 11, Jesus states, “I am the good shepherd: the good shepherd giveth his life for the sheep.” A man will give his life only to that which he values. A wife, as a special person, will be valued and cherished because she is a part of her husband. He is uplifted in nurturing and supporting her. In laying down his life for his wife, a man supplies her needs: financial, emotional, physical, and spiritual. He takes the burden of providing a home. He helps with the children when they are a strain to her and exercises patience when she is moody. He becomes sensitive to her needs for tenderness, knowing when to move forward and when to
restrain. Finally, a man manifests a special relationship with his wife by taking initiative in her spiritual development, taking the time to share what God is saying to him and listening to the same from her. Likewise, the wife allows herself to be emotionally available to her husband, and receives that which he offers to her. When he is inept or harsh, she does not foster a critical attitude but encourages him to open up, overlooking his weaknesses. Giving up something of value, whether time, pride, effort, or peace enhances the value of the other person.
Person hood in marriage produces a love and loyalty based on more than a promise. Such fidelity comes from an involvement and acceptance of one another in all facets of life and a cherishing of the other as an individual equally important and real as oneself. Ruth involved herself with Naomi’s plans, home, friends, and God. She valued their relationship over all else.
Person hood in marriage also produces healthy, open communication. Open communication doesn’t mean tearing the other person apart or speaking everything on one’s mind. Open communication frees each to speak without fear of judgment or denial of self. When something goes wrong and upsets one or both parties, the matter may be expressed instead of ignored. Open communication also involves speaking to one another without words. James Jauncey notes that “in many cases, when we have cleared away the verbal rubble and revealed what the heart is saying, both have been amazed. When husband and wife recognize that on the other side of the words lies a real living being as unique and important as oneself, true communication begins.
Youth and beauty, brains and brawn, and money and power offer little of lasting value to a marriage. The desire and determination to nourish another soul and to put the other’s needs first will tend to produce loyalty and healthy communication necessary to make it work. From the beginning and throughout our marriages, we should reach out to all aspects of the other person.
From the book I’m Mad at My Mate: A Christian Approach to Marriage Conflict By Rick Livingston