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Case 1: You have watery eyes and runny nose. That’s a problem so you take medicine to fix it.

Wait! If you read the packaging of the medication it lists “watery eyes and runny nose” as symptoms. So is your excess fluid production a problem or a symptom? Well, both, but…

If you only treat the symptoms you may never fix the problem. If you fix the problem the symptoms disappear.

Let’s say your overflowing eyes and nose are the result of a cat allergy, aggravated by your new cube mate at the office who happens to moonlight as a pet therapist in her free time. Every square inch of every piece of clothing she owns is covered in feline fur. Now you’ve discovered the problem, you move to another cube, with a fellow parakeet lover, and your runny nose woes are over. No medication needed.

Case 2: You’re tired all the time? Problem or symptom? Well of course, that’s a problem, but what’s causing this lethargy? Could it be too little sleep? Too little exercise?

In today’s society you aren’t encouraged to ask such questions. Your problem may be a symptom, but either way medication is the answer and suddenly you’re increasing your intake of caffeine.

Now you’re more energetic overall, but finding that you are having a difficult time falling asleep at night. Problem or symptom? No time to ask questions! Take a sleep aid!

Now you’re out like a light at 11 PM and then up and at ‘em by 6 AM (after your Starbucks double-shot espresso). Problem solved again.

Only now you’re just feeling down overall. You can’t quite put your finger on it, but you think you might be depressed. Problem or symptom? (Are all these questions really necessary when there are so many prescriptions to choose from?)

What if the root problem all along was too little sleep? What if just one extra hour of rest every night could have fixed the “sleepy” problem, which would have done away with the need for caffeine, which could have eliminated the insomnia? Then with a healthy sleeping pattern and less caffeine, your body and mind are able to function at a higher level eliminating the diagnosis of mild depression.

Too easy? Actually, it’s too hard. Sleeping an extra hour might cost you your favorite TV show or cut out Facebook time. It’s really far easier to drink some coffee and take a couple pills.

Or is it?

I’ve always known I have a temper problem. By God’s grace, I’ve never used physical force in my marriage, but I have yelled at Julie quite a bit. (And this guy’s writing a marriage book?!?!) Problem or symptom?

Well it’s definitely a problem, but not nearly as much as it used to be since I figured out that my temper is a symptom of my pride. You see, I’ve made fairly good choices in life; never rebelled; always been very responsible – to a fault. I like to plan things out in advance and budget time and resources wisely. But even after all that work, sometimes things go awry! And I fly off the handle.

I lose my cool because I think I’m so cool! I’ve planned, I’ve budgeted, I’ve lived right, I’ve held up my end of the bargain and what do I get? Some unforeseen complications. UNFAIR! DO OVER!

Maybe you can you relate to that (or maybe you’re thinking, “Who invited Mr. Anal to this party?”)

Bottom line, I discovered my continual frustration is the result of sky-high expectations, and my expectations are so high because I think so highly of myself and what I deserve. Recognizing the real problem, I have begun to work on it. I’ve still got a long way to go. In fact, even though I may hold my cool more often now, it doesn’t change the fact that inside I’m still battling the thought, “I deserve better!”

Now you, like me, can make these discoveries in marriage (and you will), but what if I had gotten a head start back when I was still single? What if Julie knew before she married me, “This guy has a pride problem which feeds his temper when things don’t go his way, but he’s working on it.”? Wouldn’t that be better than just wondering why I flew off the handle so easily?

Now you have the chance to think ahead.

You’re not going to be perfect when you get married, but you don’t have to live in a pill-bottle-bubble land, where every problem is treated with a new regimen of self-medication either.

Learn how to discern the difference between problems and symptoms now!

[If this post touched your heart like a “scalpel of  salvation,” you need to know something. God has more to tell you! This is but a taste of the first book in our discipleship series: Beyond Sex & Salvation. It presents three critical life lessons for relational success; lessons best learned BEFORE you fall in love. Find out more or purchase the e-book book at this link.] [originally published: Nov 29, 2012]