Listen to the podcast
You may want to read:
Biff is everybody’s friend. He sees friendliness as a good thing, though his wife does not hold his perspective. Biff is an “equitable lover” in that he loves everybody the same. The real truth is that he is a “temporary” equitable lover.
If the saying, “out of sight, out of mind” ever fit anyone, it fits Biff to a tee. If you are not in his sight, you’re just part of the crowd. But if you are in a relationship like marriage, that requires moment by moment care, love, nourishing, and cherishing, that relationship cannot be pressed into the fabric, as though it was just another thread.
This perspective was why Mable struggled so much with Biff. “He does not have my back,” she exclaimed. It was hard for Biff to see this when he first came to counseling.
Biff would say, “What’s wrong with liking everyone?” Or, “Doesn’t the Bible say that we should love our neighbor?” Those were easy to answer, rhetorical questions, and if I allowed him to pose his queries within his worldview, it would be evident as to who had the problem. It would be Mable.
She was the one who needed to get a grip, according to Biff. Mable was just a disquieted nag who needs to mature, by letting Biff be everyone’s friend while she becomes the equivalent to “one of the boys.”
According to Biff’s manipulating questions, Mable was the one who needed to change because Biff was trying to live out the second of the two greatest commandments by loving others (Matthew 22:36-40).
Biff’s unhelpful friends “understood” the problem because he asked the same “spiritualized” questions to them. They affirmed his spin on things and prayed with Biff, for Mable, hoping she would change.
But Biff’s questions were intellectually dishonest. He knew (or needed to understand) that his questions shut down any profitable discourse that could explore all of the issues.
Sometimes a person can ask a question in such a way that there is only one right response, which was the response the person was expecting. Biff’s queries were more staged, measured, and manipulative than authentic.
He designed his questions to lead the biblical novice to a pre-determined logical answer. What Christian would say, “No, you should not like everyone.” Or, “The Bible doesn’t teach that we should love our neighbor.”
It is easy to impress the fifth graders, which was the group that Biff was manipulating. Mable could not confront his “biblical logic.” It was tight, and she was out-numbered. Thus, she 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 so he could maintain his life the way he wanted. His twisted logic placed the burden of change on Mable, which only accelerated the dysfunction in the marriage.
It was hard to discern as to whether Biff was manipulating the situation by asking his questions 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 that 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 was confident his approach was not going to bring biblical resolution. And for the record, Mable had some sins that she needed to address, which she readily acknowledged and wanted help so she could change.
But the burden for change rests 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 in humility, repentance, and holiness. This idea is why I had to re-frame Biff’s argument.
There were deeper issues that nobody was addressing. For example, biblical mandates do not contradict. It is true that we 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 even 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, there was something else going on that was keeping Biff from loving everyone well while loving his wife comprehensively. And I began to explore this with them, with the hope that 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.
Typically in counseling, I will let the couple talk to each other, sometimes for an extended period. This period of “quiet observation” from me can be invaluable from a data gathering perspective. In many instances, I have found it better to let them interact with each other rather than imposing myself between them with my questions.
By letting them interact, I was able to observe how they reacted, interpreted, understood, and experienced each other. This gave me more information than what I would have received if I had asked, “How are you both doing?” So I let them talk, and as they communicated, I began detailing their conversation on this Mind Map.
Yellow branch – Biff has four businesses. He has his main delivery business, which is what 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 some years. It brings in some income. Biff recently started another business with a friend, who has a dream to have 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, who is four years old and there is another son on the way.
Red branch – Biff plays golf with his friends. He also goes fishing with them and enjoys watching NASCAR on television or attending live events. He also has several other hobbies, depending on who’s asking and what the “guys are doing this weekend.”
Biff Likes People – As you see under this section, Biff has a hard time saying, “No.” He likes everyone because he wants to be loved by everyone. Biff is your classic people-pleaser. He is insecure, what the Bible calls the fear of man.
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 response is another instance of intellectual dishonesty.
Biff is not a “bold face liar” because he has somewhat “biblically informed” conscience, though it is 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. He craves acceptance, approval, significance, and honor. People’s opinions matter to him. And the two main ways he garners good favor is by receiving recognition through his business ventures and by 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. He worshipped reputation and having people’s approval more than being a biblical leader in the home.
His “manner of living” (Ephesians 4:22) was in part what escalated the dysfunction of his marriage. 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 nausea.
God opposes the proud person (James 4:6), which made 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 acceptance that the Father extends to individuals because of His Son’s death on the cross.
What is conspicuously absent from this Mind Map? 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.
And they are Christians too. They do “go to church.” They are involved in the various functions of their local church. But being in counseling with the depth of problems that they have was not a good testimony as 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 such a way that would be effectively changing them. But we can’t lay their problems in the lap of the church primarily.
The reason their church life was not affecting them was that Biff was not pursuing God with his whole heart. Biff’s church participation was just another opportunity for others to like him.
Before the 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 and personal kingdom building.
Biff needed to repent to God for worshipping gods of his own making. He needed to see his sin, take his sin seriously, and humbly repent. His pursuit of his gods had stretched his family to the breaking point. It became clear to him when he looked at the Mind Map.
Here are the things that I explored with Biff.