As someone whose pride rears its head in the form of people pleasing, I will confess that my marriage has been an idol for me. As a way to receive the approval I craved, I adopted husbandhood (just learned that was a word) as a significant component of my identity.
Problem is, this leads to a relationship that is not based on love of the other – it is based on love of self. Always looking for what the other person can do for you. Sure I would invest in my own relationship, but there was always the expectation on a return on the investment. My identity needed to be validated.
That is the trouble when a role becomes an identity. In my marriage, my wife not accepting my opinion was seen as a commentary on my value. Because my identity was not being affirmed, it diminished my sense of acceptance.
Unmet expectations caused me to feel insecure and inadequate in the relationship. Wasn’t I good enough? What was I doing wrong? So I would try harder to do the things on my end that would get my expectations met. I was working to build up my identity. My worth as a person hung in the balance.
Vulnerability, because it is an invitation for possible rejection, was almost impossible because my sense of self needed to be guarded. Unless, of course, it was an opportunity to reveal a need.
Worst of all, I needed my wife to be happy so that I could be happy. Her happiness was an affirmation of my identity as a husband. The result was me adopting passivity as my methodology (just like Adam). I didn’t want to get in the way of her happiness or have something I wanted interfere with what she wanted. “Where do you want to go to dinner? Anywhere you want baby.”
All of this was a way to have my value, my sense of self, reflected back to me. I was building my identity. (And, by the way, putting my wife in a position that God never intended for her, as my source of worthiness, significance and wholeness.)
When it is a matter of identity, that is why it is so easy to say “I love you” when your spouse does something nice for you or to you. Because your self has been validated. Are you loving the person or the action?
Sadly, this is the bent of the overwhelming majority of marriage resources. Determining how you can validate the other’s self so that, in turn, you will receive what your false identity needs. It is manipulation.
But what would happen if your spouse became incapable of validating your identity? What happens when your “love bucket” is not being filled for a season? You are not having your needs met? Would you still love the person? Are needs all there is to a relationship?
While it is a difficult path to walk, identity rooted in Christ allows husbandhood to be a ministry role. I do not do this perfectly, which a part of being sanctified. Two steps forward in developing identity in Christ, one step back in failing to shed layers of the false self.
As a role, my wife’s actions can still hurt, but they are not a challenge to my acceptance or value. Those questions are answered in Christ. Now true love is possible in the relationship because I do not need a return on investment to support my sense of who I am.
I can take the mask off and be vulnerable, not to manipulate, but as a way to draw her close and strengthen our emotional and spiritual bonds. My own vulnerability elicits the same from her, giving me the change to demonstrate compassion and build trust. I want to handle her heart well.
That is the picture of masculine strength, giving her femininity something to which to respond.