Out of curiosity my wife and I watched the first episode of The Marriage Ref last week. The tagline to the show is: in marriage everyone needs a ref. And so real couples bring an issue they've been fighting about and a panel of experts like Jerry Seinfeld, Tina Fey, and Eva Longoria Parker decide which one is right (this week's experts include Madonna!). I liked one writer's take on the show, "It's like a marital boxing match without the gloves [where] one of the spouses is declared the winner." Now I admit, the show is pretty entertaining. I laughed several times. And yet at the same time, I think it's potentially devastating to how we deal with conflict in marriage. We don't need a marriage ref who can help us decide who is right and who is wrong. We don't need a celebrity telling us who won the argument. What we need is someone to look at us right in the eye and say that the biggest problem in our marriage is us. Otherwise, we'll just keep playing the blame-game and never get anywhere.
John Gottman, a respected author and marriage researcher, says that the four greatest predictors of divorce are: criticism, defensiveness, contempt, and stone-walling (the silent treatment). Seems obvious, but how many of us really know how to deal with conflict in our marriage? We probably won't turn to celebrity experts like Seinfeld and Madonna to tell us what to do, but are we willing to look at ourselves in the mirror and get to the heart of the problem?
Paul Tripp, in his helpful marriage study called, What Did You Expect? says, "The greatest source of our marriage conflicts is not outside of us, but inside of us. Relationship problems are heart problems." This is so important. We must start with heart. So Tripp encourages couples to ask themselves questions like: What am I allowing to rule my heart? Why am I responding in anger? And in the midst of conflict am I seeking reconciliation (I'm with you) or retaliation (I'm against you)?
In the end, we don't need a marriage ref. We need a Savior! We need Jesus. And may I add, sometimes a good, gospel-centered counselor. After all, as my pastor says, "Every few years we go and get a thorough check-up on our car, shouldn't we do the same in our marriages?"