My last post dealt with religious tensions in marriage, especially when one spouse in an originally LDS marriage decides to fall away from the Church. In response, one anonymous commenter asked what to do when a spouse announces that they are on a higher spiritual plane (Zion Airlines, perhaps?). I’d like to discuss this briefly as a separate topic.
If your spouse ever tells you that you are spiritually inferior or that he or she is somehow on a higher spiritual plane, recognize that this is a red flag pointing to a serious problem. It indicates a huge gap in the marriage that needs to be resolved. Mutual respect and courtesy may be lacking and one or both parties may have a problem that needs attention. The recipient of this unkind statement will naturally feel that it is the self-professed more spiritual one that has the real problem here: arrogance, self-righteousness, unkindness, a tendency to nag and belittle, lack of respect, etc., etc. However, the real path to recovery at this point must begin with the response of Peter and the other Apostles when Christ announced that one of them would be betray him: “Lord, is it I?” (Matthew 26:22). There’s a problem here: it it me?
We men instinctively know that the problems in marriage are the fault of the wife. But for some crazy reason, pointing to her flaws doesn’t seem to help (I’m speaking hypothetically here, drawing upon the experience of others, since I married a nearly perfect woman). In fact, the more we try to help by pointing out her weaknesses and giving wise husbandly tips for her improvement, the worse marriage gets and the worse her apparent flaws become. When men do the counter-intuitive step of focusing on their own weaknesses (dig deep–surely there’s some little flaw you can find?) and strive to become kinder, more loving, more self-sacrificing, and, above all, LESS CRITICAL at the very moment when all our male instincts are saying it’s time to step up the critique of that very flawed other being who is obviously causing all the problems, then the most unexpected thing happens: her flaws start to become less severe, more tolerable, and maybe almost invisible, and marriage becomes more joyous and fun, almost as if the problem the whole time was with us and not her. Go figure! It’s crazy stuff–we can’t change them unless we only try to change ourselves–maybe that’s why they say women are from a different planet. Actually, don’t try to figure it out.
So if you have a highly flawed spouse who insults you by claiming to be on a higher spiritual plane (and it certainly does sound insulting and, like I said, a huge red flag pointing to a deep divide), the appropriate response is to recognize that there is a serious problem. While the problem may be 100% hers (or his), the course to recovery may well begin with a 100% focus on you.
In cases where the wife says something of this nature to a non-believing husband, it may sound like she’s saying she wants him to convert and become some kind of saint, but she might really be saying that she wishes he would drop some offensive behavior or come to church with her occasionally. I would suggest to the husband in that case that he strive to become kinder, less critical, take the garbage out, get his socks off the floor, stop complaining, cook something nice for her, go to church with her occasionally or as much as he can stand, watch General Conference with her, and focus on what he can do and what he can change–and then perhaps he’ll see the magic happen and find that all the work he did to change himself has actually changed her. He may find that his terribly flawed, arrogant, self-righteous wife has been transformed into someone closer to the perfect woman than he ever imagined possible.
This is just my seven cents (two cents in 1980 dollars). Again, I speak purely from a theoretical, hypothetical perspective, having only been married to a nearly perfect woman who has never had any need of stating the obvious: that she’s on a higher spiritual plane than me. Which is why, I’m afraid, I sometimes still leave my socks on the floor. Be grateful for the opportunity before you!