In November 2018, Alasdair Groves from Christian Counseling and Education Foundation spoke at our Marriage Seminar. At first, he shared God’s agenda for marriage. It was a challenge to see how conflicts are ordinary opportunities to learn more about our spouse and in turn seek to love our spouse deeper. In this session, Alasdair talked how each and every one of us is guilty of manipulation in marriage. Ouch that hurt.

“Manipulation is when I want something from you, and I do something in order to get you to give it to me.” If we’re honest, we must admit that we do such things often. It’s part of our sinful nature to be selfish. It’s ingrained in our heart’s desires. And our desires get voiced to our spouse in our communication (verbal and non-verbal, active and passive). The problem is that we don’t just voice our desires in a friendly sharing of information (which we will get to in a moment). Our communication can easily overtly or covertly pressure our spouse to provide what we want. Manipulation in the end never leaves your spouse with a genuinely free choice. It doesn’t let them decide to do it out of love. And we’ve all been there. “I want you to do this or that but I want you do to it because you want to. I don’t want you do to it because I said something. I just want you to know what I want and do it.” However, since they don’t do what we want when we want it, our frustration can be voiced through exaggerated comments and minimizing remarks. Our voice doesn’t build up, but tears down. This is the punitive side of manipulation. Alasdair said it’s like carrying “sticks” to fight with our spouse.

There is also a reward side of manipulation. The reward type says “I’ll treat you nice to get what I want from you.” Alasdair compared this type to dangling a carrot in front of a horse to get them to move. Our aim is not to bless our spouse out of love, but to give so we can get. Again, it pressures our spouse to respond to our desires. It’s a form of deceit. At the heart of the matter is a matter of our heart. Our heart is not to help God’s servant to serve God.  Actually, quite the opposite. We treat them as an object as we “rebel against God by taking His servant to serve us.” Our manipulation has a spiritual component because all our actions and thoughts have a spiritual component. We voice out of a godly heart or we voice while covering up and pushing God aside.

The answer to this manipulation problem is honor. Honor places a high value on the other person so that they are more important than yourself. It takes an intentional act of your will to focus on the other person out of pure love. The Bible speaks a lot about love. Jesus Christ Himself modeled love to us as “He gave Himself up” not because we deserved it, but because He wanted to express His love and mend the relationship. Alsadiar pointed to Romans 12:9-18 on some ways love is expressed. Love clings to what is good. Love shows affection. Love hunts for the good of your spouse. Love competes in showing love to each other. Love is persistent. Love rejoices in a better future. Love is patient during affliction. Love shares in meeting and accommodating their needs. Love blesses even when attacked. Love enters their spouse’s world resulting in knowing and responding to their “highs” and “lows” appropriately.

In order to love like that there must be open and honest communication of our desires. Honor leads to honesty. It’s not about stuffing away those desires. It communicates our desires but gives free choices to our spouse on how to respond with such knowledge. Honor seeks the right time to have such conversations. Honor expresses our desires and allow our spouse to express theirs. Honor expresses our desires without yelling, name calling, belittling, and manipulation because honor flows from love that is not selfish, is not provoked, and does not keep a record of wrongs. It bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, and endures all things (1 Corinthians 13). It’s quite a challenge to live like this every day. With God’s grace and help, it is possible. We’ll talk about that hope next time.

Here are some great questions from this session:

  1. What kinds of manipulation are most tempting for you? Do you tend toward carrots or sticks?
  2. What are some good things you see in your spouse?
  3. Recall an instance, apart from your marriage, when you were used by someone or treated like an object. How did it feel? Why?