As an attorney who handles divorces, I see a lot of broken marriages. While a number of things cause such breakdowns, such as alcohol and finances, my experience is that selfishness is the root of most problems. First, we all have a sin problem. The sin problem only grows when two sinners marry each other and live together. Second, there is an expectation that marriage is going to make me happy and I will be happy when my spouse meets all of my needs.
Recently, I saw tremendous selfishness in a couple as they are going through a divorce. The husband and wife have a custody agreement in which the kids live with the wife and they visit the father every other weekend. While the agreement says the husband will pick up the children after work, no specific time is stated in the written agreement. The husband usually gets off work early to get them. Conflict arose when the husband realized he was going to have to work late and could not get them until later. The wife, instead of trying to resolve the issue with her husband, called her lawyer to make the husband pick up the children early because her babysitter could not watch the kids that late. The lawyer then sent me a letter demanding that the husband comply with the custody agreement and pick the children up at the usual time. Instead of being unselfish and trying to accommodate the husband's schedule, she ran to her attorney, asserting her rights.
I contacted the husband to work something out. He correctly pointed out that the agreement does not specify a time for him to pick up the kids; rather it requires him to pick them up after work. On this particular Friday, he planned to get them after work, as required, but the time would be later because he was required to work late. He refused to accommodate his wife in any way, even though her babysitter could not watch the kids that late. His selfishness is evident in his final words, "It is her problem, not mine."
Timothy Keller in his book The Meaning of Marriage says, "Self-centeredness is a havoc-wreaking problem in many marriages, and it is the ever-present enemy of every marriage." Based upon Philippians 2, he explains that all Christians are "to consider and count the interests of others as more important than our own." He continues, "now we are like servants - but to one another." And "a servant puts someone else's needs ahead of his or her own."
I have heard Pastor Mark Driscoll say that studies show it takes the parties in a marriage 9 years to stop being selfish. While I don't know how a study can determine this, it sounds good. As people wait longer to get married, it seems to me that selfishness will only increase. The longer someone lives single, I think they will become more selfish because they have spent a greater amount of time only thinking of himself or herself.
According to Keller, a marriage thrives only when both spouses serve each other with joy. Ideally, both spouses are trying to serve the other. While my wife and I have plenty of faults, we recently experienced a moment when our desires to serve the other ran into each other. On a Sunday afternoon, I knew that Sandy had something to do, but she could not if she was watching the foster children. So, I wanted to watch the children and let her do her thing. At the same time, Sandy knew I wanted to do something, but I could not do it if I was watching the foster children. So, Sandy wanted to watch the kids so I could do my thing. We actually had competing desires to serve each other. We worked it out; I quickly did my thing and then watched the kids so she could do her thing. On this occasion, we were doing a good job of serving each other.
One of the many things I love about my wife is how much she loves me and shows it by serving me and trying to make me happy. I wish I was that good at serving her. I will keep trying to serve her better. While we have a great marriage, I know that as we continue to serve each other, our marriage will continue to get better.