A Game Changer for the Selfishness Problem


Dave & Ann WilsonBy Dave & Ann Wilson

One Saturday several years ago, we flew to Illinois to watch one of our sons play in a college football game. As I (Dave) drove our rental car from the Chicago airport to the stadium, I glanced over at Ann, who was napping. I thought to myself, I am so lucky to be married to this woman. I took note of the cute little lines on her beautiful face and reminisced about all the memories we had shared over the years. In that moment, I was filled with love for her all over again.

And so it only makes sense that after this moving moment of reflection and gratitude I would demonstrate these feelings to her. So how did I behave for the rest of the day with my beloved wife, the love of my life?

Well, in a few words, I was a jerk.

I belittled her for not being the great navigator that we all know the person in the passenger seat is supposed to be. I rolled my eyes at her. Made her feel like she was stupid. And somehow, I was oblivious to the way I was treating her. I thought it was a good day all around—until, that is, we were hurriedly driving back to the airport after the game. She hadn’t said much for most of the day, but that was about to change.

“I just need to say this,” she huffed. “I am so tired of you treating me like I’m the biggest idiot in the world! It’s like I can’t do anything right! You have been a jerk to me all day!”

“What! Are you kidding me? The only jerk in this car is you!”

This is always a great approach to building oneness in your marriage.

How dare she say such a thing to me, especially at the moment I was racing to get us back to the airport on time! “What are you talking about? Look, Mrs. Navigator, can you just pay attention to the GPS and help me out here?”

Ah, the irony—we were going to be speaking together on the topic of marriage at church the next day.

We were both still mad and not really talking to each other as we boarded the plane. There was a young couple sitting across the aisle from us who were all over each other like newlyweds. I saw Ann glance over at them with a look of admiration and a longing for our relationship to be that tender. I looked at them and thought, Obviously they aren’t married yet.

If this conflict had occurred in our first year of marriage, such a fight would have escalated into a screaming match. The conflict would have gone unresolved, and we would have stuffed our bitterness deep inside.

But after more than 30 years of practice, we had learned a lot about how to defuse and then resolve these arguments. One of our most important principles for attaining resolution is found in Matthew 7:3–5 (NIV): “Why do you look at the speck of sawdust in your brother’s eye and pay no attention to the plank in your own eye? How can you say to your brother, ‘Let me take the speck out of your eye,’ when all the time there is a plank in your own eye? You hypocrite, first take the plank out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to remove the speck from your brother’s eye.”

Vertical MarriageTranslation? In any conflict, you’ve got to stop and seek understanding about what you did to spark the problem.

In this case, I eventually settled down and realized I had treated Ann like dirt that day. I was knee-deep in selfishness, which by definition is generally something that one’s self has a hard time recognizing. It’s like when you’re swimming in the ocean and the undertow slowly inches you down the shoreline—you usually don’t realize how far you’ve moved while you’re still in the water. In fact, if your spouse is sitting near you right now, I want you to look over at him or her.

You are currently looking at the second most selfish person on the planet!

It’s almost impossible to identify selfishness in the moment it is first happening. One of the best things about a vertical viewpoint is that it brings Someone into the mix who specializes in the impossible, beckoning us to follow him to places that are humanly impossible. One of those places is into a life lived above and away from the selfishness that resides within each of us.

The apostle Paul demonstrates this invitation into the seemingly impossible in his letter to the Philippians: “Do nothing from selfishness or empty conceit, but with humility of mind regard one another as more important than yourselves; do not merely look out for your own personal interests, but also for the interests of others” (Philippians 2:3–4 NASB).

When we apply this passage to the conflicts we experience with others, its meaning becomes nothing less than profound. For most people, becoming aware of one’s selfishness in the middle of a conflict cannot happen. There is too much anger. Too much emotion. It’s a good thing that when we connect vertically with God and bring him into our relationships, he grants us strength and ability higher than our horizontal humanity. Selfishness can never be conquered on our own. We simply do not have the power. We have to ask Jesus for his resurrection power—he regularly raises dead things to life.

Trust me, our selfishness will kill us and our marriages, so it’s time to ask for some serious divine power.

In the middle of your conflicts, begin listening for the whisper within that reminds you to pull back, examine yourself and not just your spouse (even if they have fault in the matter as well), and come to grips with your own selfishness and conceit. Rather than blaming your spouse, humble yourself and consider your spouse’s needs to be more important than your own. Being willing to lean into the vertical truth of Philippians 2:3–4 will be a game-changer for the selfishness problem.


Vertical MarriageTaken from Vertical Marriage: The One Secret That Will Change Your Marriage by Dave & Ann Wilson. Click here to learn more about this title.

He never saw it coming. It was the night of Dave and Ann’s 10th wedding anniversary and if asked how their marriage was doing, Dave would have said a 9.8 out of 10 and he even guaranteed Ann would say the same. But instead of giving a celebratory kiss, Ann whispered, “I’ve lost my feelings for you.”

Divorce seemed inevitable. But starting that night, God began to reveal to Dave and Ann the most overlooked secret of getting the marriage we are looking for: the horizontal marriage relationship just doesn’t work until the vertical relationship with Christ is first.

As founders of a multi-campus church and marriage coaches with 30 years of experience, Dave and Ann share the hard-earned but easy-to-apply biblical principles that ensure a strong marriage. Written in a funny and highly relate-able dialogue between both husband and wife, Vertical Marriage will guide you toward building a vibrant relationship at every level including communication, conflict, intimacy, and romance—though Dave is still figuring that last one out. Through their unique perspectives, they share an intimate, sometimes hilarious and at times deeply poignant narrative of one couple’s journey to reconnecting with God and discovering the joy and power of a vertical marriage.

For anyone who is married, preparing for marriage, or desperate to save a relationship teetering on the edge of disaster, Dave and Ann offer hope and strategies that really work. Vertical Marriage will give you the insight, applications, and inspiration to reconnect with God together and to transform your marriage to everything you hoped it would be.

Dave and Ann Wilson are co-founders and teaching pastors at Kensington Community Church, a national, multi-campus church that hosts more than 14,000 attendees every weekend. For the past 25 years, they have been featured speakers at FamilyLife’s Weekend to Remember®, and have also hosted their own marriage conferences across the country. They live in the Detroit area, where Dave has served as the Detroit Lions Chaplain for 33 years. They have three grown sons, CJ, Austin, and Cody, three daughters-in-law, and two grandchildren. Learn more at daveandannwilson.com.

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