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Good Marriage XVII. Wrecking a Marriage: Demanding Human Justice

The judgment of man is one thing; the judgment of God is another thing altogether (St. Dorotheos of Gaza)

We are so prone to view the world through our own eyes. Not only are we inclined by our brokenness (Morelli, 2006b) to expect that others will act they way we want them too, but we are also predisposed to judge and evaluate others in terms of whether or not they meet up with our expectations and demand justice. In a marriage blessed by God, through His Church, this can be especially disastrous. Couples are inclined to judge the other in human terms and not divine terms. They heed not the words of St. Paul to the Romans (10:3): “For, being ignorant of the righteousness that comes from God, and seeking to establish their own, they did not submit to God's righteousness.”

Spouses that are overly judgmental often feel hurt or despondent when finding defects in their partners. They may lash our verbally and become blaming and accusatory in their interaction with their husband, wife or children. Frequently they also forget the words of Christ as recorded by St. Matthew (7:3): Why do you see the speck that is in your brother's eye, but do not notice the log that is in your own eye?” This results in the perception of themselves as blameless and the perception of their spouses as malevolent and villainous. They frequently strike out with angry hurtful accusations and criticisms. Not only does this put a wedge in the marital relationship, but it misses the mark of acting in love and bringing peace in the marital (and parental) relationship. Recall the beatitude: "Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called sons of God.” (Mt 5:9). The spouse who demands human justice, hardly meets this counsel. Furthermore the spouse who is the object of the demand for justice may well want to cry out the words of the psalmist 119: 6-7): “Too long have I had my dwelling among those who hate peace. I am for peace; but when I speak, they are for war!” Spiritually, of course, it behooves all who are engaged in a state of conflict to seek peace, following the words of Christ: “And whenever you stand praying, forgive, if you have anything against any one...” (Mk 11: 25).

A increasing spiraling cycle of judgment and anger blinds them to the irrationality of their demand for justice and it’s spiritually damaging implications. They are inclined to tenaciously hold on to their perception of the lack of fairness and justice in the other’s behavior and persistently hold on to view that their evaluation is the only correct judgment. They are inclined to always make sure all is humanly fair in the marital relationship and they have the right to be enforcers of this ‘fairness’. Couples who hold on to the rigid inflexible stand that all aspects of their marriage be totally fair, go to extremes and demand exactitude in what the other does. Other destructive demanding attitudes and maladaptive behaviors occur, leading to marital discord often accompany the demand for human justice. i

I once had a couple come to me for counseling who, the wife had such a view of her husband’s time. If a softball game lasted a specific amount of time, she demanded it was only fair that she have the exact same amount of “free time” with her girl-friends to go shopping. If he came home from work 10 minutes late, she now also had the right to return from some appointment 10 minutes late herself. Couples with this dysfunctional belief do not see anything unreasonable in holding this attitude. In fact it is “only fair.” The are entrenched in self-righteous vicious and rigid application of human justice.

Cognitive understanding

Cognitive-Behavioral psychological studies have demonstrated that irrational cognitive distortions trigger of strong emotional disturbance (Beck, 1991; Burns, 1980; Ellis, 1962; Morelli 2006a,). Morelli, 2006a lists defines and gives examples of the eight major cognitive distortions. Among those who demand human justice two irrational cognitions are most predominant and can be singled out:

Demanding Expectations: Fairness is an absolute necessity. The individuals who holds such a standard, believes they have a complete and unrestricted “right” for a rigid fairness in social interactions, including their spouse, children family and others.

Overvaluation: If their standard of human justice is not met by their loved ones, they view it as catastrophic, as if to say more than a 100% bad.

Cognitive Intervention: Changing Demands to Preferences

Individuals who maintain these cognitive distortions must first see they are based on a system of self-created rules. There is no guarantee or universal law that the world will be fair and just and that their husband and/or wife, children and others will act in accordance with their own determination of what is justice. Frequently those who are entrapped with demanding human justice will point to an external rule that states, for example that some “statute” of law must be obeyed. They fail to realize that there is no self-rule, or statute of government or of God, that is externally compelling that is to say, forcing the individual into compliance.ii This is not to say righteous societal or Godly laws should be disobeyed or condone disobedience. In fact both government and society imposes consequences and sanctions for breaking rules. Moreover it behooves us to follow Godly rules for social order and conform to God’s will to love Him and others for our salvation. This is only to say it is still our choice, mankind has free will and by cognitively restructuring our expectations from demands to preferences we are more likely to be emotionally stable and act in a godly manner.

Taking the Perspective of the Other

Cognitive-behavior clinicians also attempt to show their patients to take the “perspective of the other.” That is to say, to help them to see, that others may be following a different set of rules, that makes sense according to the other’s perspective. As has been explained by Morelli 2007a, demands can be replaced by preferences in terms of the behaviors they would like from their spouse or children It is important for the couple to communicate what their perspectives are to each other and if appropriate “agree to disagree.”iii

Synergia: Spiritual Counsel and Cognitive Restructuring

In fact spiritual understanding of how God created us can aid in challenging and restructuring this self-created justice rule system. We are made in God’s image and called to be like Him. An essential component of being made in God’s image is we having ‘free-will.’ St. Antony the Great, the spiritual father of monasticism tells us (Philokalia I p. 343) : “ …God is not the cause of evil. He has given men knowledge and understanding, the power of discriminating between good and evil and free will [my emphasis]. Our Lord, God and Savior Jesus Christ Himself, respected the free will of His creatures. Consider the Our Lord, giving advice to the Rich Young Man, who inquired of Him, what he had to do to attain eternal life. “Jesus said to him, "If you would be perfect, go, sell what you possess and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; and come, follow me." When the young man heard this he went away sorrowful; for he had great possessions” (Mt 19: 21-22). Jesus made no demands, He did not coerce the young man.

The parable of the parable of the workers in the Vineyard (Matthew 20: 1-16) is an outstanding example of Our Lord Himself patently rejecting human justice:

For the kingdom of heaven is like a householder who went out early in the morning to hire laborers for his vineyard. After agreeing with the laborers for a denarius a day, he sent them into his vineyard. And going out about the third hour he saw others standing idle in the market place; and to them he said, “You go into the vineyard too, and whatever is right I will give you.” So they went. Going out again about the sixth hour and the ninth hour, he did the same. And about the eleventh hour he went out and found others standing; and he said to them, “Why do you stand here idle all day?” They said to him, “Because no one has hired us.” He said to them, “You go into the vineyard too.” And when evening came, the owner of the vineyard said to his steward, “Call the laborers and pay them their wages, beginning with the last, up to the first.” And when those hired about the eleventh hour came, each of them received a denarius. Now when the first came, they thought they would receive more; but each of them also received a denarius. And on receiving it they grumbled at the householder, saying, “These last worked only one hour, and you have made them equal to us who have borne the burden of the day and the scorching heat.” But he replied to one of them, “Friend, I am doing you no wrong; did you not agree with me for a denarius? Take what belongs to you, and go; I choose to give to this last as I give to you. Am I not allowed to do what I choose with what belongs to me? Or do you begrudge my generosity?” So the last will be first, and the first last.

The rejection of human justice in this parable is easy to see. By human standards it is “unfair.” It violates human sensibility and law. Why should someone who worked only one hour be paid the same as one who labored all day and bore the scorching heat? Regulations and rules should be the same for all. So if this is the parable Jesus used to tell us how we should approach consequences of each and others work (or behavior) what is the lesson for couples in a blessed marriage and leaders of their families in their domestic churches (Morelli, 2007b).

The lesson is this is not how God operates. Starting with the incarnation itself, we merit nothing. God, “ineffable, inconceivable, invisible, incomprehensible, ever existing and eternally the same,”iv emptied Himself for our salvation. Recall St. Paul’s words to the Philippians (2:6): “…who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped ..” Grace is freely given. No one has a right to anything. By trust in God, and conforming our minds and hearts to His, by adopting the Mind of Christ and the Church we trust based on His Love and Mercy that we will be deified and be one with Him not only on earth, but in eternal life. Thus this is the spiritual basis of how married couples should relate to each other and their children.

In the earthly ministry of Jesus, He never intervened to impose either human or divine justice. In fact, Jesus was dealt the greatest injustice of all from a human or a divine viewpoint. He was the one “who endured spittings and scourgings, the cross and death for the salvation of the world.”v to forgive our sins and conquer death . When challenged, that if He were truly God He would call down His legions and have Himself freed. Recall the account of the event from St. Matthew (27: 39-43): “And those who passed by derided him, wagging their heads and saying, "You who would destroy the temple and build it in three days, save yourself! If you are the Son of God, come down from the cross." So also the chief priests, with the scribes and elders, mocked him, saying, "He saved others; he cannot save himself. He is the King of Israel; let him come down now from the cross, and we will believe in him. He trusts in God; let God deliver him now, if he desires him; for he said, 'I am the Son of God.'" In deference and in respect of the free will He gave to His creatures, Jesus did not respond to these taunts and challenge. He allowed His Death to occur in selfless emptying of His Godhead. If this is what God, Himself did, for us and as Christ Himself told us: “Truly, truly, I say to you, a servant is not greater than his master” … (Jn 13:16) can any spouse require, demand rigid, inflexible justice from their partner? I pray all who read will respond, hardly.

Spiritual Intervention

Spiritually we can be reminded of the counsel of St. Diadochos of Photiki: “The reason why we have both good and wicked thoughts together is not, as some suppose, because the Holy Spirit and the devil dwell together in our intellect, but because we have not yet consciously experienced the goodness of the Lord” (Philokalia I, p 285). Our help in overcoming the imposition of our human justice standards on spouses and children and all, is to act in imitation of Christ Himself. To experience His goodness, we work at overcoming our self-centeredness, that is to say our pride. Once again, this not to advise or condone wrongdoing by others, but simply to recommend how we change our perception of the way we anticipate and require others to behave. Following the direction of St. Anthony the Great: “The cause of all evils is delusion, self deception and ignorance of God.” (Philokalia I p. 333), we work at overcoming our cognitive distortions (delusions) and learn to be more like God in our own attitudes, emotions and behaviors. Doing this will help us fulfill another counsel of our Holy Desert Father Anthony: “When talking with others all harshness should be avoided; for modesty and self-restraint adorn an intelligent person …..” (Phil I p 333).

When then in total, sincere, commitmentvi and union with Christ’s Body, the Church, in receiving the Holy Mysteries,vii we overcome the inclination to impose our righteousness (cf. Rm 10:3), rather “(b)ut thanks be to God, that you who were once slaves of sin have become obedient from the heart to the standard of teaching to which you were committed, and, having been set free from sin, have become slaves of righteousness” (Rm 6: 17-18). This righteousness is not of man, but of God. Although in this life see dimly, as St. Paul told the Corinthians (1 Cor 13:12): “For now we see in a mirror dimly, but then face to face…”, we trust that in eternal life, God will establish His divine justice, based on His love., This will supplant our blinded human justice, when as He told us in eternal life: "Behold, I make all things new.” (Rev. 21:5).

REFERENCES

Beck, A.T. (1991). Cognitive Therapy: A 30-year Retrospective. American Psychologist, 46, 368-365.

Burns, D. D. (1980). Feeling Good: The New Mood Therapy Revised and Updated. Avon Books: New York.

Ellis, A. (1962). Reason and Emotion in Psychotherapy : A Comprehensive Method of Treating Human Disturbances : Revised and Updated" rel="external">Reason and Emotion in Psychotherapy. Secaucus NJ: Lyle Stuart.

Frankl, V. (1959). Man's Search for Meaning. NY: Simon & Schuster.

Morelli, G. (2006a, March 6). Asceticism and Psychology in the Modern World. http://www.orthodoxytoday.org/articles6/MorelliMonasticism.php.

Morelli, G. (2006b, July 29). Dealing With Brokenness in the World: Psychological Optimism and the Virtue of Hope. http://www.orthodoxytoday.org/articles6/MorelliBrokenness.php.

Morelli, G. (2007a, June 5). Good Marriage IV: The "Preference Scale" - A tool for Communication, Negotiation and Collaboration. http://www.orthodoxytoday.org/articles7/MorelliSmartMarriageIV.php.

Morelli, G. (2007b, August 28). Smart Parenting VI: Talking to Your Children About Sex. http://www.orthodoxytoday.org/articles7/MorelliSmartParentingVI.php

Wheeler, E.P. (1977). (ed., trans.), Dorotheos of Gaza: Discourses and Sayings (Cistercian Studies Series, No 33). Kalamazoo, MI: Cistercian Publications.

NOTES

i For examples, see the series on Good Marriage at this website: http://www.orthodoxytoday.org/Indexes/Morellix.php

ii This would not hold true in a tyrannical dictatorship. But even in such a system of government, the individual maintains a measure of freedom. Viktor Frankl (1959), while incarcerated in a Nazi Concentration death camp and rising out of the depths of despair, had the insight that his captors could control his body, but not his soul. Frankl could find meaning in life, that man can make a choice, a will to meaning, “to live and even to die for the sake of his ideals and values.” Frankl points out: “A thought transfixed me: for the first time in my life ... The truth that love is the ultimate and the highest goal to which man can aspire ... The salvation of man is through love and in love … a man who has nothing left in this world still may know bliss, be it only for a brief moment…For the first time in my life I was able to understand the meaning of the words, ‘The angels are lost in perpetual contemplation of an infinite glory.’” For a committed Christian, meaning in life has to rise above the mere human level and be enlivened by Christ. (From: Viktor Frankl, "Man's Search for Meaning."

iii This does not apply to situations involving physical, sexual, emotional or negligence abuse. In such cases, state reporting law should be followed and seeking out mental health clinical and pastoral intervention should be initiated.

iv From the Liturgy of St. John Chrysostom, Anaphora Prayer.

v From the Orthros of Great Friday (Passion Gospels) Dismissal.

vi The Domestic Church, the Little Family in the Home, in family and personal daily prayer, scripture reading and study, family attendance of all Sunday and Feast Church Services and modeling Christ-like behavior by all to all.

vii Baptism, Chrismation, The Holy Eucharist (the very and true Body, Blood, Soul and Divinity of Christ), Holy Penance, Holy Unction (and for those called: Holy Matrimony [the Blessed Union of male and female to become one Flesh] and Holy Orders [males called to the diaconate, priesthood and/or episcopacy].

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Fr. George Morelli
Antiochian Department of Chaplain and Pastoral Ministry

V. Rev. Fr. George Morelli Ph.D. is a licensed Clinical Psychologist and Marriage and Family Therapist.

He is the Coordinator of the Chaplaincy and Pastoral Counseling Ministry of the Antiochian Orthodox Christian Archdiocese and Religion Coordinator (and Antiochian Archdiocesan Liaison) of the Orthodox Christian Association of Medicine, Psychology and Religion.

Fr. Morelli is also Assistant Pastor of St. George's Antiochian Orthodox Church, San Diego, California.

Fr. Morelli is the author of:

Healing – Volume 1
Orthodox Christianity
and Scientific Psychology

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Eastern Christian Publications
$15.00
Healing – Volume 2
Reflections for Clergy
Chaplains, and Counselors

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Eastern Christian Publications
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Published: June 11, 2009

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