At first, when you read the title of this blog you may be tempted to just move on to the next one thinking “Savior?? Why the heck would I ever consider my spouse my savior?? I’d never do that!” Well, let me ask you this: When your spouse does something that annoys or frustrates you does that ever just ruin your entire day? Or your entire week? Do you ever see a dirty dish left on the counter – the counter you just cleaned – and find yourself ruminating, becoming more and more irritated until you just can’t take it anymore? Or, have you ever come home from a tough day at work and walked through your front door expecting (or at least hoping for) a heartfelt embrace followed by the words, “Thank you so much for all the work you do! Here, sit down for a bit, I’ll grab you something cold to drink” but instead you’re met with, “Hi honey, I am glad you’re home to take care of the kids. I also need you to (fill in the blank) then I need you too (fill in another blank) and then after that…” When your spouse responds in a way like this does it ever do more than just disappoint? Does it ever lead you to just Lose It?!
I experienced this whole scenario recently in my own life. In fact, because I’m married to such an awesome woman I can, every now and again, make my wife, Angie, what some call a “functional savior.” Not too long ago I was feeling pretty overwhelmed. Running our counseling practice (Cornerstone Christian Counseling), supervising our clinicians, working with couples, parents and individuals through the toughest times in their lives, not to mention trying to be a loving husband and an involved father – all this was taking a toll on me. Usually this is a joy for me, and the Lord gives me an ability to dance between the raindrops and find great joy in my work. But for some reason during this time that was not the case, and I got fried. I wanted nothing more than for Angie to give me a backrub and then crawl in bed and sleep till I could sleep no more. So, I asked her, subtly. “Sheesh, honey, I am exhau-a-sted! And my back is killing me!” And then I waited for her to rescue me …but I did not get the response I was expecting. You see, the longer I am away from the house, the longer she has with the kids, which is exhausting for her; not to mention that she is in charge of handling most of the day in, day out tasks that are needed to keep Cornerstone functioning smoothly. The problem is, when I’m feeling exhausted and overwhelmed do you think I keep this in mind? I didn’t that day! Not at all. All I’m thinking is, “Man, I’m tired and exhausted, and I could use some help!” Well, you can see where this is going. Because of her own exhaustion Angie didn’t pick up on my subtle request for help, so I got more overt. “Honey, I could really use a back rub.” And do you know what she said??
“I hate backrubs.”
“WHAT?? Did you just say that?? Do you know how long I’ve been working? Do you know how exhausted I’ve been?” Yep, I kind of lost it. It crushed me. I felt like I was slipping off the edge of a cliff and I reached for her hand and instead of helping me up she pulled it back, letting me fall to my death! I know this sounds pretty melodramatic and I’m kind of embarrassed to be writing this as a man, but if you’ve felt that exhausted, like you’re at the end of yourself, and you reached out for help only to find that it wasn’t there … in fact they might as well given you the final push! …then you know what I’m talking about.
And this feeling didn’t just last that one day. I got stuck on it. I started thinking, “Can I rely on her?” “Will she be there the next time I crash?” …that is, until I brought these questions to our Heavenly Father and asked him for some actual answers. This is what he said: “Can you rely on her? …Sometimes. Will she be there for you the next time you crash? …Maybe. She has Jesus in her heart and she loves you very much, and she will bring you joy in the future, as she has in the past, but don’t rely on her too much, after all, she is only human. And don’t have her take the place of me. I walk beside you. I will give you rest if you come to me. Angie is your wife, your co-parent, your friend. She is not your savior. I am.” And then I was guided to spend more time with Jesus, to remember that he is my savior and to put him in the position of ultimate influence. In doing this (again) I remembered who my true savior was, what my true foundation is and who provides ultimate relief, thus adjusting my expectations for everything else. And this allowed for me to be thankful for the times that Angie is there for me, and have more grace when she is not.
All of us turn to our spouses for relief from time to time. We come to them for help in times of need. Support when we feel weak. And this is not bad; in fact God’s word says, “A friend loves at all times, and a brother is born for a time of adversity” (Proverbs 17:17). And if this is true about friends and siblings then how much truer is it for a spouse? Reaching out for help and receiving it is one of the greatest gifts of marriage. The problem comes in when we start relying upon our spouse as our sole source of relief, satisfaction, purpose, or validation. We might never say that we are putting them in place of our Savior but we can start looking to them as our functional savior. And you know that you may be starting to do this if you start thinking things like, “I just don’t know what I’m going to do if they don’t do ________ for me!” or, “If they don’t change I don’t know how I’m going to go on!” When your whole quality of life is wrapped up in the actions of your spouse then you may have turned them into a functional savior. You have set expectations that they are to fulfill, and if they fulfill them then you’ll be saved, but if they don’t then you’re sunk. For some time this might work for you, especially during your first years of marriages or before having kids, when life is a little simpler. But at some point, usually sooner than later, your spouse is going to fail you (and you are going to fail your spouse for that matter); and if you have put them in the position of Savior you are setting yourself up for more than disappointment. Mis-appointed expectations make us look to our spouse (or other things) for that which God wants us to receive from Him. In other words, we can receive so much from our spouse (love, affection, help, affirmation, encouragement, and more!) but let us not expect from our spouses what God wants us to ultimately expect from him. Though He may at times include them in the process, your spouse is not your savior, Jesus is.
“For I am the LORD, your God, who takes hold of your right hand and says to you, Do not fear; I will help you.” –Isaiah 41:13
 Since then Angie has given me a number of back rubs. She heard how much relief they brought me and so she changed her attitude about them. Like I said, she is pretty amazing.
So good, Sean! Thank you for posting this. Truly one of the keys to a strong healthy relationship of any kind. – Sarah (UPC).