by Steven Gledhill for FREEdom from MEdom Project
Ever wonder why it seems someone usually has the upper hand in a relationship? Between spouses? Between friends? Between teacher and student, employer and employee? Between parents and their children? Who has the upper hand in a relationship with God?
Before there is a debate about who has the power in the relationship (You know, the false humility discussion when he says, “You’re the one in control, babe” and she says, “Come on, really, it’s totally you, dear”) let’s ask and answer the question. Who has the power… the control? Who typically concedes their position in a heated discussion or conflict? Who usually apologizes first? Who relinquishes power over the remote control when both are watching television? This is the one conceding the power and control to the one with the power and control. Who usually gets their way when push comes to shove? The one with the power and control.
It still might not be an open and shut case. It might seem that the power in the relationship gets handed over, depending on the time, the place, and the issue at hand. So let’s get into it.
First of all, love really isn’t fair, is it? But that is the thing about sincere love. Sincere love does not seek to have the advantage. Sincere love doesn’t have to be right. It doesn’t keep score. Sincere love declares that, “I love you and you will know it because my love for you is an action that does not require an equal reaction.”
Unfortunately, in most if not all relationships, “I love you because of how I feel loving you.” Really what that means is, “I love me and I love you for what you do for me.” Therefore, my love for you is conditional on the satisfaction I experience in the relationship. When you do not meet my actions and expressions of love with equal or greater actions and expressions of love, I am disappointed. Maybe I am angry and/or hurt. Perhaps I feel betrayed and/or rejected.
Please allow me to say it again: I love me and I love you for what you do for me. I love from a sense of entitlement; deserving of reciprocation and gratification. Love is naturally corrupted by selfishness. So I need the love of God coursing through my being in order to sincerely love someone. Then I can be genuinely compassionate. Then my extension of mercy and grace to another is authentic. So long as I am selfish and not holding every thought captive unto obedience to God in my relationship with Christ, I will continue to want and pursue my own way, which will naturally promote power struggles angling for leverage in my relationships; not excluding my relationship with God.
The Power of the Least Interested Party principle suggests that the person in the relationship who is even a little bit less interested or invested has the leverage (at least the majority of the leverage) in the relationship. The theory suggests that both parties are interested and both even highly invested, but that the one just a little bit less invested ultimately has the power and the leverage in the relationship; and there is the sense that someone tends to be in control, is usually considered to be right since the one most interested tends to give in, accommodate, placate, and so on, to the one in charge of things.
Think about it like this: A noticeably effective employee may in actuality have leverage against their employer because it is clear that, “You need me more than I need you.” The talented star employee can take their services anywhere and be effective. The problem with “marrying up” to someone who is soooooo good lookin’ or who possesses the lion’s share of the resources and wealth is that they tend to know it and understand it and use it to their advantage even though it would still break their heart to lose you. However, the context of the relationship is such that the principle of the power of the least interested party is at work as long as it is allowed to be. It typically is not done consciously or with malicious intent, rather it’s something that just is, like the law of gravity just is. You don’t see it or really think about it but you live subject to it, unable to defy it.
The person that tends to have the leverage in the relationship is typically identified as stronger and more assertive, and then the most interested party will trend toward yielding control and be identified as the weaker partner and passive. Not wanting to rock the boat and spoil the peace, in order to avoid the escalation of anxiety and tension in the relationship, the more emotionally invested party will passively take it, and take it, and take it some more, until what… until he or she cannot take it anymore and then… kaboom! What was passive behavior becomes, not just assertive reactive behavior, but it becomes aggressive. It is as though it becomes not unlike a competition of sorts as though the aggressive behavior is compensating for all of the passivity preceding it. The term for it is passive-aggressive, which you have likely heard of.
This pattern of passive-aggressive behavior in relationship is unhealthy and proves to be most dysfunctional. Passive-aggressive behavior is played out by both partners and if unchanged is a relationship killer. The relationship takes on a life of its own whether it is healthy or quite sick. The passive-aggressive relationship needs help in order to heal. Counseling can be good and it needs to be redirected toward and centered on Christ and godly principles to get right again.
I suppose one exception of the Power of the Least Interested Party principle might be a parent’s love for the child. The love a parent has for her child is usually unconditional and sacrificial. We love our children no matter what. But what happens as our children grow older, think more critically and independently, develop a mind of their own, and not necessarily sharing every value of the parent? Who becomes the least interested party in the relationship? Well, the growing up child is less interested, recognizing that he or she has seized emotional leverage from the parent, and wittingly uses this leverage to the utmost advantage. I suppose kids can be cruel that way, though usually not mature enough to comprehend it as cruel.
(Of course, there are exceptions. There are self-absorbed parents that are neglectful, abusive, and many who do not seem to be aware that their children even exist and have lives with individual needs and dreams. This is especially cruel and, dare I say, evil. Alcoholic and drug-addicted parents that have yielded control over to their drink and drug of choice wouldn’t say that they have emotional leverage over their children. In those cases the addiction has the leverage and needs to be eradicated before these families can begin to recover from severe dysfunction.)
An example of a grown-up child asserting a sense of power in relationship with his parent is the story of the prodigal son’s relationship with his father in Luke chapter 15, and it is the story of Father God’s love for you and me. Yet, in both of these relationships, while the love of the Father is unconditional, the relationship is absolutely conditional. Conditional on what? While the prodigal son and a sinner like me have both been afforded the option of leaving the relationship to do our own thing our own way, the loving Father exercises His option to let me go. While authentic healthy love is unconditional and forgiving, authentic healthy relationship, while forgiving and much to my chagrin, is conditional.
Should my children leave the security of my care into a willfully destructive lifestyle, I can enable them by continually rescuing them, or I can allow them to fall, even crash land, if you will, hoping they will be motivated to change. That is really tough and difficult since they might die or suffer irreparable harm. But like the father of the prodigal son, my Heavenly Father allows me to leave. He allows me to fall, even crash land onto something hard. He even allowed His begotten Son to leave. Jesus left heaven and suffered and died. Not because He rebelled against His Father—after all, He is God. But because I rebelled against the Father. It can be said that as he suffered on the cross, and for three days anguished in condemnation for my selfish disobedient recklessness, his Father let him go. And should I choose to reject being in relationship with my Heavenly Father, He will let me go; not at all out of spite or because He doesn’t love me, but because He respects my ability to choose according to my will.
“There are only two kinds of people in the end: those who say to God, “Thy will be done,” and those to whom God says, in the end, “Thy will be done.” All that are in hell, choose it.” —C.S. Lewis
While this theory about leverage and control in relationships is in fact alive and kicking, it is not love as God intended it for us.
If I understood all of God’s secret plans and possessed all knowledge, and if I had such faith that I could move mountains, but didn’t love others, I would be nothing. If I gave everything I have to the poor and even sacrificed my body, I could boast about it; but if I didn’t love others, I would have gained nothing.
Love is patient and kind. Love is not jealous or boastful or proud or rude. It does not demand its own way. It is not irritable, and it keeps no record of being wronged. It does not rejoice about injustice but rejoices whenever the truth wins out. Love never gives up, never loses faith, is always hopeful, and endures through every circumstance.
Three things will last forever—faith, hope, and love—and the greatest of these is love. 1 Corinthians 13:2-7, 13 (NLT)
We are given this precept from the Word of God about authentic sincere love. “It does not rejoice about injustice but rejoices whenever truth wins out.” Love is interested in truth. What is truth? Truth is that right is right and good is good. When the father of the returning prodigal son showed him compassion and generosity from a heart of love it was right and good. When Joseph showed his brothers (who had committed him to years of slavery out of hearts bitter with jealousy) mercy and providence from a heart of love it was right and good. When this love is at work in relationship there is nothing to fear. This love is an invitation. It is embracing and engaging. It is compassionate and compelling. It is genuinely affectionate and attractive.
God in his infinite power, bounty, wisdom, and authority should be the least interested party in relationship with me but love isn’t fair. He has it all and I have nothing, despite my lies to myself to the contrary. God owns it all. He is the creator of it all. He gives it all life and purpose, yet…
Are you ready for it?
I have the power in the relationship. Though I am an invisible speck in the universe, I have the power – the leverage – in this relationship between God and me. I am the least interested party in this relationship. God has invested everything including His Son. How is it possible that I am less interested when I on my own have nothing and He has everything? Even Jesus recognized this truth. He surrendered to my will when He fell on his sword for me and surrendered His very life.
I would not stop sinning. I could not stop sinning on my own. Jesus yielded to my will, in that sense, by turning over His will and life to save me from myself. He surrendered His will. Now the choice is mine in this relationship between Him and me. It is up to me, clearly the least interested party in this relationship, to willingly surrender my will into the life and purpose of the relationship between myself and God.
Jesus said emphatically,
“I can do nothing on my own. I judge as God tells me. Therefore, my judgment is just, because I carry out the will of the one who sent me, not my own will.” John 5:30 (NLT)
Substitute the word ‘love’ for the words ‘judge’ and ‘judgment’ and you really get a sense for the heart of God and of Christ in His love for us, as well as His purpose for us. It would go like this: “I can do nothing on my own. I love as God tells me. Therefore, my love is just, because I carry out the will of the one who sent me, not my own will.”
Wow! What if I could love like that?
So why is it that I can be the least interested party in this relationship that is a matter of life and death? It is my life at stake, yet I care less in the relationship than He does. It is less important to me. It must be. God has put everything into the relationship; all of Himself. He gave His life for me. Why am I so unwilling to invest all of me into the relationship? Why? Perhaps because I am like Thomas and the disciples of Jesus before their eyes were fully open about what they were witnessing in the resurrected Savior. I do not fully believe since I have not fully seen with eyes half shut the full and complete truth about God, who is Jesus, and His relationship with me. If I saw and understood God fully it would change everything. I wouldn’t be able to do anything but fall to my knees in worship to the King of kings and Lord of lords. (Measured Faith: Belief Enough speaks to this problem; this condition)
If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness. 1 John 1:9 (NLT)
From my perspective on life and the world, God’s love for me certainly isn’t fair, to Him that is. And yet, He declares profoundly that it is faithful and just to reconcile Himself back into relationship with me. My love for Him is selfish. I am so entitled in my flesh. My love for Him is conditional, if I am really honest about it. I have committed adultery against God time and time again. I worship idols in my world daily… hourly, serving my own interests. God’s love for me is pure. His love for me is unconditional. His love for me is sacrificial. God’s love for me is precious to Him and treasured by Him every second of every day. His Word says that He is jealous for me in hot pursuit of me, standing at the door of every room of my heart and pounding on it. I cannot not even begin to comprehend that from God’s perspective His love for me, and for you, is fair and just since His love for me and for you is the love of God coursing through His being. As the song says, “Amazing love, how can it be?”
What do I do with that? What do you do with it? Accept it and rejoice. Today is the day the Lord has made. Rejoice and be glad in it.
“The Christian gospel is that I am so flawed that Jesus had to die for me, yet I am so loved that Jesus was glad to die for me. This leads to deep humility and deep confidence at the same time. It undermines both swaggering and sniveling. I cannot feel superior to anyone, and yet I have nothing to prove to anyone. I do not think more of myself nor less of myself. Instead, I think of myself less. I don’t need to notice myself… so often.” —Timothy Keller, The Reason for God
All who confess that Jesus is the Son of God have God living in them. We know how much God loves us, and we have put our trust in his love. God is love, and all who live in love live in God, and God lives in them. And as we live in God, our love grows more perfect. So we will not be afraid on the day of judgment, but we can face him with confidence because we live like Jesus here in this world. Such love has no fear, because perfect love expels all fear. If we are afraid, it is for fear of punishment, and this shows that we have not fully experienced his perfect love. We love each other because he loved us first. 1 John 4:15-19 (NLT)
So how do I apply this truth in my recovery when it comes to relationships, especially in my marriage and family?
Imitate God, therefore, in everything you do, because you are his dear children. Live a life filled with love, following the example of Christ. He loved us and offered himself as a sacrifice for us, a pleasing aroma to God. Let there be no sexual immorality, impurity, or greed among you. Such sins have no place among God’s people. Obscene stories, foolish talk, and coarse jokes—these are not for you. Instead, let there be thankfulness to God. You can be sure that no immoral, impure, or greedy person will inherit the Kingdom of Christ and of God. For a greedy person is an idolater, worshiping the things of this world. Ephesians 5:1-5 (NLT)
Remember, the problem of selfish love goes like this: “I love me and I love you for what you can do for me.” God has assessed the problem and determined that the solution goes something like this:
In view of God’s mercy, offer your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and pleasing to God—this is your true and proper worship. Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is—his good, pleasing and perfect will… Do not think of yourself more highly than you ought, but rather think of yourself with sober judgment, in accordance with the faith God has distributed to each of you. Romans 12:1-3 (NLT)
Easier said than done, right? If I understand the problem, and, I have the solution to solve the problem, why haven’t I solved it? What’s the problem?
It is within the nature to be selfishly ambitious and jealous, the central issues in the principle of the power of the least interested party. In seemingly healthy functional relationships it may be below the surface: that the one with the leverage is primarily ambitious, and the one continually struggling to seize the control is primarily jealous of the other. Both are selfish. The relationship can drift into serious dysfunction before the problem is realized.
For wherever there is jealousy and selfish ambition, there you will find disorder and evil of every kind. James 3:16 (NLT)
Here comes the “I guess we have to go there” moment. The solution in any relationship, whether it be in marriage, with children, with friends and relatives, and even professional relationships, is submission. There is no getting around it. However, it is not submission to each other in these relationships, it is submission unto God in relationship with Jesus Christ. My attitude in relationship with each another will reflect my posture of submission in my relationship with God.
Ephesians 5:15 So be careful how you live. Don’t live like fools, but like those who are wise. 16 Make the most of every opportunity in these evil days. 17 Don’t act thoughtlessly, but understand what the Lord wants you to do. 18 Don’t be drunk with wine, because that will ruin your life. Instead, be filled with the Holy Spirit, 19 singing psalms and hymns and spiritual songs among yourselves, and making music to the Lord in your hearts. 20 And give thanks for everything to God the Father in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ.
21 And further, submit to one another out of reverence for Christ.
22 For wives, this means submit to your husbands as to the Lord. 23 For a husband is the head of his wife as Christ is the head of the church. He is the Savior of his body, the church. 24 As the church submits to Christ, so you wives should submit to your husbands in everything.
25 For husbands, this means love your wives, just as Christ loved the church. He gave up his life for her 26 to make her holy and clean, washed by the cleansing of God’s word. 27 He did this to present her to himself as a glorious church without a spot or wrinkle or any other blemish. Instead, she will be holy and without fault. 28 In the same way, husbands ought to love their wives as they love their own bodies. For a man who loves his wife actually shows love for himself. 29 No one hates his own body but feeds and cares for it, just as Christ cares for the church. 30 And we are members of his body.
31 As the Scriptures say, “A man leaves his father and mother and is joined to his wife, and the two are united into one.” 32 This is a great mystery, but it is an illustration of the way Christ and the church are one. 33 So again I say, each man must love his wife as he loves himself, and the wife must respect her husband.
Ephesians 6:1 Children, obey your parents because you belong to the Lord, for this is the right thing to do. 2 “Honor your father and mother.” This is the first commandment with a promise: 3 If you honor your father and mother, “things will go well for you, and you will have a long life on the earth.”
4 Fathers, do not provoke your children to anger by the way you treat them. Rather, bring them up with the discipline and instruction that comes from the Lord. Ephesians 5:15-32, 6:1-4 (NLT)
These are the principles of The Power of the Submitted Parties in Relationship. The true power in relationship is most fully realized in the attitude of submission. Imagine how much more children would get from their parents if they submitted to them in obedience. Imagine how much more obedience parents would get from their children if they submitted their undivided attention to their children and made the effort early on to teach these principles modeled in their marriage. Imagine the possibilities.
We know what real love is because Jesus gave up his life for us. So we also ought to give up our lives for our brothers and sisters. If someone has enough money to live well and sees a brother or sister in need but shows no compassion—how can God’s love be in that person? Dear children, let’s not merely say that we love each other; let us show the truth by our actions. Our actions will show that we belong to the truth, so we will be confident when we stand before God. 1 John 3:16-19 (NLT)
The power, control, leverage… whatever you want to call it… is in the hands of the least interested person in any relationship. It is a fact. It’s a law. It is natural as long as we our selfish living in our capacity to sin. Attempting to defy this law is most definitely a climb. However, this climb will never see the peak… unless… unless you are willing to surrender control as well as surrender your right to control, especially if you ain’t got it. Let it go through the principle of submission as unto the Lord in your relationship with Him. While you may not be able to defy gravity, you can surrender your right to control gravity by taking the stairs, or the elevator, or a helium balloon, or a rocket. Utilize the tools God has given you to experience freedom in relationships. Get this: YOU DON’T HAVE TO BE RIGHT!
Be free in your relationships. Celebrate them. Be about recovery in relationships. In this case, it is recovery from entitlement and control and the obsession with being right. Even if this principle of submission in relationship as unto the Lord is rarely if ever reciprocated, you will experience a release into freedom. It’s pretty cool. Try it. If you’re not satisfied, return it, and go back to your way of continually angling for leverage.
If you’re reading this and you are aware that you tend to have the leverage in your relationships, please take a long hard look at how that affects others and the struggles you might have with those in relationship with you because you’ve grown tired of their insecurities, and apparent lack of self-confidence. What can you you do to, through submission as unto the Lord, build them up?
Always be humble and gentle. Be patient with each other, making allowance for each other’s faults because of your love. Ephesians 4:2
Don’t be selfish; don’t try to impress others. Be humble, thinking of others as better than yourselves. Philippians 2:3
But he gives us even more grace to stand against such evil desires. As the Scriptures say, “God opposes the proud but favors the humble.” James 4:6
Focus on your relationship with Christ and surrender all control and leverage unto Him. He yearns desperately for you to give in to Him completely and trust Him.
Or do you think that the Scripture says in vain, “The Spirit who dwells in us yearns jealously”? James 4:5 (NKJV)
It is in Christ that you are beautiful. It is in Christ that you are intelligent. It is in Christ that you are wise. It is in Christ that you are strong. It is in Christ that you prosper.
It is in Christ that you experience joy. It is in Christ that you have peace. It is in Christ that you are free.
Submit all unto Him and rejoice in your freedom!
The companion article to this one is “And Justice for All… When Love Isn’t Fair”.