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Biff likes to say that he is everybody’s friend. Everyone he meets receives a warm smile and handshake. He is one of the most likable people you’d ever want to meet, though his wife does not hold that perspective. Mable sees Biff as a part-time, superficial friend. If the saying, “out of sight, out of mind,” ever fits anyone, it fits Biff to a tee.
The problem is that a marriage is not a part-time relationship. It requires ongoing care, love, nourishing, and cherishing. Couples should not press their marriages into the fabric of other relationships, as though it was just another thread. But Biff tries to do this, and Mable struggles with their marriage. She says, “He does not have my back,” among a few other noncomplementary cliches.
It was hard for Biff to see this when they first came to counseling. Biff would say, “What’s wrong with liking everyone; doesn’t the Bible say that we should love our neighbor?” Those are easy to answer, rhetorical questions, and if I allowed him to maintain his passive, manipulative worldview, the weight of his marriage would continue to crack at its foundations.
Biff sees Mable as a disquieted nag who needs to mature by letting him be everyone’s friend, which relegates her to “one of the boys” status. According to Biff’s manipulating perspective, Mable is the one who needs to change because he’s attempting to live out the second greatest commandment (Matthew 22:36-40). Props to the “God card,” right?
Biff’s unhelpful friends “understand” the problem because he set up the scenario to lead them to his prearranged conclusion. They affirmed his spin on things and prayed with Biff, asking God to change Mable. But Biff’s questions were intellectually dishonest. Sometimes a person can ask a question so that there is only one right response, which was the response the person was expecting as he was guiding his superficial friends to his conclusion.
Biff’s queries were more staged, measured, and manipulative than authentic. He designed them to lead the biblical novice to a pre-determined logical answer. He knew his questions shut down any reasonable discourse that could explore all of the issues. It is easy to impress the fifth graders, which is the group that Biff was manipulating—and his preferred companions. Mable could not confront his “biblical logic.” It was tight, and Biff had her outnumbered.
Mable would go away frustrated, always knowing that something was not right. She was correct: something was not right. Either Biff was immature and self-deceived or, worse, he was manipulating the marriage to maintain his life the way he wanted. His twisted logic placed the burden of change on Mable, which only accelerated the dysfunction in the union.
It was hard to discern whether Biff was manipulating the situation by asking his questions the way he did or whether he was self-deceived. While I hoped it was unwitting ignorance, I’m aware that none of us are as dumb as we sometimes can present ourselves to be. I hoped that the Spirit of God would illuminate Biff and that he would submit to the conviction so heart transformation would happen, and he would come alongside his wife to help restore the marriage.
Though I was unsure of his motives, I believed he was telling the truth according to the dictates of his heart. It was the dictates of his heart that flummoxed me. However, I was confident his approach would not bring biblical resolution. And for the record, Mable had her sins that she needed to address, which she readily acknowledged and wanted help to change. But the burden for change rested on Biff first because he is God’s leader in the family. The husband is the one who sets the example and leads the charge with his humility, repentance, and holiness.
Thus, we had to address the deeper issues that nobody was addressing. For example, biblical mandates do not contradict. We indeed are to love everyone. It is also true that the Bible teaches we should love our neighbor. And the Bible instructs how Biff is to love his wife, which he was not doing:
Husbands, love your wives, as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her, that he might sanctify her, having cleansed her by the washing of water with the word (Ephesians 5:25-26).
Biff would agree that he was not fulfilling the Ephesian’s mandate, but he would also say Mable was hard to love because of her unrelenting demands that she get something more than his “equitable love model.” Because the Bible does not contradict, something else was going on that left Biff loving everyone superficially but not loving his wife comprehensively. I began to explore this with them, hoping he would see these issues.
Biff did not understand biblical priorities. It was hard for him to come to terms with how to love Mable differently from his friends. This problem led the discussion down a different path, which finally got to the heart of the matter. Of course, I let Biff talk to get down that path—a wise approach that usually leads a person to where you want them to go.
Typically in counseling, I will let a couple talk to each other, sometimes for an extended period. This time of “quiet observation” can be invaluable from a data-gathering perspective. In many instances, I have found it better to let them interact rather than impose myself between them with my questions.
I observe how they react, interpret, understand, and experience each other by letting them chat each other up. This gives me more information than I would have received if I had asked questions that let them off the hook of deeper revelations, e.g., “How are you both doing?” So I let them talk, and as they communicated, I began detailing their conversation into a mindmap.
Yellow Branch – Biff has four businesses. He has his main delivery business, which primarily feeds his family. It is growing, and he is moderately successful. Biff also has another side venture that he has been “poking at” for years. It brings in some income. Biff recently started another business with a friend who dreams of having a company. In addition to these things, Biff owns some properties, which are low maintenance and somewhat profitable.
Green Branch – Biff and Mable and their son belong to a local church.
Purple Branch – Mable works part-time for Biff, part-time at a flower shop, and runs the affairs of the home.
Blue Branch – Mable has one son, four years old, and another son is on the way.
Red Branch – Biff plays golf with his friends. He also goes fishing with them and enjoys watching NASCAR or attending live events. He has several other hobbies, depending on who’s asking and what the “guys are doing this weekend.”
Biff Likes People – Biff has a hard time saying, “No.” He is insecure—what the Bible calls the fear of man. He likes everyone because he wants them to love him. Biff is your classic people-pleaser.
The fear of man lays a snare, but whoever trusts in the Lord is safe (Proverbs 29:25).
Biff is an insecure man who wants to be rich and famous. He will tell you that he works so much to provide for his family. This cliche is another instance of intellectual dishonesty. Biff is not a “boldface liar” because he has a somewhat “biblically informed” conscience, though slightly hardened. He only twists the truth to soothe his inner voice, to get what he wants, which usually leaves his wife without an argument.
Yes, he works hard to provide for his family. But he also works because he wants others to like him. People’s opinions matter to him. He craves acceptance, approval, significance, and honor. And the two main ways he garners good favor are by receiving recognition through his business ventures and being everybody’s friend.
Biff agreed with my assessment but quickly added, “I do love Mable.” While I do not doubt that he loves Mable to a degree, he loves himself and his reputation more, and that was the rub. The problem was not necessarily that Biff had friends or had various business ventures. The problem was that his friends and his ventures were idols to him.
His “manner of living” (Ephesians 4:22) was in part what escalated the dysfunction of his marriage. He worshipped reputation and having people’s approval more than being a biblical leader in the home. Ironically, the one person he could not gain approval from was his wife. She was not stroking his approval idol, which made him angry, which made her more disapproving, which made him more upset, which made her more disapproving, ad nauseam.
God opposes the proud person (James 4:6), which makes Biff’s problem not so much about his wife as it was between him and God. It was God who was opposing him more than Mable. Biff was in a snare of his own making: he worshiped the approval and the acceptance of others more than he lived in the favor that the Father extends to individuals because of His Son’s death on the cross.
Do you see what is conspicuously absent from this mindmap? Do you see what I don’t see? It’s God. It’s a God-centered, gospel-shaped way of living that permits logic and order into their lives rather than lust-filled cravings, crowded calendars, and exhausted combatants. Oh, and they are Christians too. They do “go to church.” They are involved in the various functions of their local church.
Being in counseling with the depth of problems that they have was not a good testimony to the effectiveness of their local church experience. If Biff and Mable’s church life were sufficient, they would be able to engage God and each other in a way that would effectively change them. But we can’t lay their problems in the lap of the church, at least not primarily.
Their church life was not affecting them because Biff was not pursuing God with his whole heart. Biff’s church participation was just another opportunity for others to like him. Before their marriage could change, Biff had to come to terms with the “idolatry of his heart.” He was not pursuing God honestly.
He spends most of his time being everyone’s friend while building his kingdom. Biff needs to repent to God for worshipping gods of his own making. He needs to see his sin, take his sin seriously, and humbly repent. His pursuit of his gods had stretched his family to the breaking point. I hoped it would become apparent as he looked at the mindmap. Below are a few follow-up questions that I asked Biff.
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