A Marriage that's More than "Fair"

Happily married Eric and Jill climbed out of bed at their normal Saturday morning hour. They had a lot to do around the house, and they were eager to get started. Eric made his side of the bed, and Jill made her side, just as they always did. While Eric mowed and trimmed the front lawn, Jill ran the “lights” through the washer and dryer. Then Eric took charge of the “darks” while Jill mowed and trimmed the back lawn. 

After lunch, Jill plugged in the vacuum cleaner and vacuumed exactly half the flooring in the house—about 750 square feet. She left the vacuum standing in the middle of the living room, where Eric picked up the task and finished it. This is how the couple did all the household chores—dusting the woodwork, cleaning the toilets, and taking out the garbage. Each was careful to do no more and no less than his or her half of the work.

At dinnertime, of course, Eric and Jill split the cooking and cleanup duties equally. Then they watched TV for two hours, each of them taking possession of the remote for exactly one hour. They climbed into bed satisfied that they had lived through another fair and well-balanced day. “I love you, Jill,” Eric said as he switched off his bedside lamp. “I love you too, Eric,” Jill replied, switching off her own lamp—as usual.

In case you haven’t guessed, Eric and Jill don’t really exist. The paragraphs above are pure fiction. But this couple’s approach to marriage certainly does exist in many forms. At our marriage conferences we coach couples on serving love vs. living a life of independence and giving into our tendency to feed our selfishness. It is as if we are living a 50/50 relationship: you do your thing and I will do mine. Husbands and wives in a 50/50 relationship live by an unspoken credo reflected in the following statements:

  • I will pull only my weight; you must pull your own.

  • If you expect me to meet your needs, you must meet mine.

  • I will do my share of the work, if you will do your share.

  • I will go the extra mile for you, if you will go the extra mile for me.

  • If I give up something for you, I expect you to give up something for me.

  • I will love you as long as you love me 

The 50/50 marriage is an arrangement of trade-offs and compromises, with spouses keeping score so one person never gets more or gives more than the other. Serving and submitting to one another are often replaced by a strong emphasis on getting what is rightfully yours. This is part of what the apostle Paul was talking about when he warned, “Don’t just pretend that you love others. Really love them.” The 50/50 marriage is a pretense, a sham, far from the real thing.

It’s easy to slide into a 50/50 arrangement if you’re not careful. Why? Because we all desire to have our own needs met. We all crave the understanding and attention that results when someone cares for us without expecting anything in return. So we are all quick to recognize when we are not receiving what we deeply want. This me-first attitude can get you complaining, for example, that your spouse never spends time with you or that you had to do the dirty work while your spouse was busy with his or her hobbies

At some point, one or both of you start keeping score and “penalizing” the other for rule violations. You may be familiar with these clashes, such as when your spouse blurts out that you don’t meet his or her needs. Or maybe the discontent doesn’t come out into the open. Maybe it just simmers beneath the surface as you quietly oppose each other, undermine each other, or avoid each other.

Someone is missing in this kind of relationship: the person who desires to live right in the middle of your marriage, the one who makes the rules and mediates between your needs and your spouse’s needs. It’s the person of Jesus Christ, who provides not only the example but the power of serving love through the Word of God and the Holy Spirit. When we allow Christ’s power to love through us, we fulfill the biblical command to “Love each other with genuine affection, and take delight in honoring each other.”

We call it the 100/100 marriage. This is no Eric-and-Jill kind of arrangement. Instead, the 100/100 marriage looks more like this:

  • Each spouse is 100 percent sold out to the lordship of Jesus Christ in the marriage.

  • Each spouse is 100 percent sold out to the authority of the Word of God in the marriage.

  • Each spouse is 100 percent sold out to the power of the indwelling Holy Spirit to help him or her love, honor, and cherish the other selflessly.

  • Each spouse is 100 percent sold out to discovering and meeting the other’s needs.

  • Each spouse is 100 percent sold out to preferring and honoring the other above self—with no keeping score!

  • And since no one is 100 percent selfless, each spouse is 100 percent sold out to confessing and forgiving offenses when they happen.

This is why you need Jesus at the very center of your marriage if you hope to meet each other’s needs. You can’t do it on your own. But thankfully, he can do it through you, and he longs to do it through you. The closer each of you gets to Jesus, the closer you will get to one another. The more you humble yourself before Jesus, the better equipped you will be to serve one another. And if you are both lovingly absorbed in the Spirit-empowered ministry of meeting each other’s needs, you will both be the pleased beneficiaries of each other’s need-meeting service.

*For more helpful insights on how to connect with your spouse, check out Renewing Your Love: Devotions for Couples in our online bookstore.

I'm Attracted to Someone Else

Q:  I feel an attraction to a friend of my spouse. What should I do? Do I tell the person? Do I tell my spouse?

A: Guard your heart and run for the nearest exit. Literally.

Photo by Pixabay on Pexels

Photo by Pixabay on Pexels

We often hear about this happening in close friendships or small groups—and Christian small groups are no exception. You’ve got connection, you’ve got relationship, you’ve got some history. But when you find yourself looking forward to seeing that person or you’re getting dressed up special for that person, then put up your red flags and realize the danger. You had better stop in your tracks and deal with the situation before it gets beyond your control. Take a rational look down the road and realize that acting on your attraction will destroy several friendships and families. It’s just not worth it. 

Don’t go to the person you’re attracted to, don’t go to the other person’s spouse. Go to God first, and then to your spouse if needed. Don’t talk to anyone else.  

Consider carefully what’s going on. Ask God to show you why you feel this way. People are attracted for different reasons. Maybe your mate is not meeting a need in your life, say, for spiritual intimacy, and this person talks to you about spiritual things. Or perhaps this person has some of the characteristics you wish your spouse had.

The Bible says, “Guard your heart above all else, for it determines the course of your life” (Proverbs 4:23). How do you guard it? You guard it by protecting it, by staying in a tight relationship with the Lord Jesus. Take that attraction you feel and confess it to him; he already knows about it anyway.

Then, you have to decide what to do. You may need to talk to your spouse about what you sense you need from him or her (and what is attracting you to that other person). You may need to confess to your spouse if the only way to deal with the situation is to break fellowship with that person (your spouse will need to know why). You may be able to deal with it personally through praying, guarding your heart, and acting wisely when that person is around.

Four Guardrails Against Sexual Temptation

1. A strong relationship with God. A vital, growing relationship with God is your strongest guardrail. He knows how you are wired emotionally and sexually. The closer you stay to him, the greater will be your access to his wisdom and counsel for resisting sexual temptation.

2. A cautious relationship with people of the opposite sex. We’re not suggesting that you cut off all contact with the opposite sex. We’re talking about being cautious and alert to temptation and maintaining a margin of physical and emotional distance that will help you resist those temptations.

3. An open relationship with other Christians. You need a small group of trusted friends to encourage you to remain pure, to edify you when you are struggling, and to help restore you if you step over the line in some way.

4. A fulfilling relationship with your spouse. When you are emotionally or sexually thirsty, quench your thirst with your own spouse. When you are fully satisfied in your relationship with your spouse, neither of you will need to look elsewhere for gratification

*For more practical marriage advice, check out The Great Marriage Q&A Book. It's available in our online bookstore!

Money Issues Before the Marriage

Q:  I want to get married but my fiancé(e) and I have very different attitudes about money. Is it possible to work these out?

A: Money is a HUGE issue in many marriages—and disagreements over money lead to many divorces. Listen to Harmony’s story:

“I just put off our wedding because I didn’t think we were ready. My concern is money issues. My fiancé has some debt and he’s not being the most responsible when it comes to paying it off. Our pastor told us that it would be best for us to work on that before we got married. My bigger concern is that I’m having a hard time trusting him when it comes to money and when it comes to decisions that he’s making. I feel like I’ve prayed and prayed and prayed for him and I’m almost to the point that I don’t know what to pray anymore. I’m kind of exhausted in that area. And . . . it really, really scares me.”

Marriage is one of the most important decisions you will ever make in this lifetime. It is not what college you’ll go to. It is not what car you’ll drive. It’s not whether to buy a house or rent an apartment. And it’s certainly not what your college major is. The two biggest decisions you’ll ever make is choosing Jesus as your Lord and then choosing your spouse.

We believe your eternity is secured when you put all of your faith and trust in Jesus Christ. But this side of eternity, your relationship with Christ is going to be very much impacted by whom you choose as your mate. Trust issues are very large, because when it comes to money, it has to do with integrity. You need to clear the air on money issues before you commit to another person for life. Are you being honest with each other? Is there full disclosure of debts? Are you in agreement on how to use the money you earn? A good way to do this is to take the time to work out a simple budget for how you will spend the money you earn each month. It also helps to determine what you can afford when it comes to renting an apartment, eating out, etc.

There are two issues in this situation Harmony described above. On the one hand, it is the money. If you are stepping into marriage where your spouse already has a tremendous amount of debt that creates insecurity for you, then that’s a major issue. Yet the second issue is even more important: What is your future spouse’s attitude toward money? Are you both desiring to be good stewards of what God gives you—being honest, sharing it, being generous with it, being responsible with it? If you’re finding red flags in this area, then you need to be very concerned. You might want to step back for awhile and talk things through. Get advice. Be willing to look far into the future instead of what your heart is telling you today. A broken engagement is far easier than a broken marriage.

Stop the Fight Before it Starts

Do you sometimes feel the frustration simmering below the surface? Can you sense there might be an argument brewing? Let us encourage you: You can sideline a conflict before it even starts! Here’s how: 

Photo by  freestocks.org  from  Pexels

Photo by freestocks.org from Pexels

Say what you mean. Don’t say, “I hate football” if what you really mean is, “I wish we could spend some quality time together on Saturday afternoons, but the game always takes precedence.” Before you speak, think carefully about what really upsets you.

Don’t use generalizations—or words like “always” and “never.” Avoid statements like “You never take out the garbage like you’re supposed to” or “You are always talking to your mother on the phone.” They are usually exaggerations, and they are certainly not helpful.

Use “I” messages. “I sometimes feel ignored and lonely” goes down a lot easier than, “You never pay any attention to me.”

Avoid statements that assign blame. “I” statements encourage discussion; “you” statements shut it down. Start your sentences with “I feel . . .” or “I think . . .” rather than “You are . . .” or “You should . . .”

Focus on your thoughts and feelings rather than harp on your spouse’s failures. Invariably generalizations will lead to a defensive response from your spouse because he or she will feel the need to set the record straight.

Be willing to say, “I’m sorry.” Admitting you were wrong is very important, but you also need to express your sorrow over the hurt your wrong behavior caused: “I was wrong, and I’m so sorry that I hurt you.” By expressing your sorrow, you demonstrate empathy for your hurting spouse.

*For more practical marriage advice, check out The Great Marriage Q&A Book. It's available in our online bookstore!

My Spouse Never Listens!

Q: My spouse never listens to me. How can I get him/her to really hear what I’m saying?

Photo by Vera Arsic on Pexels

Photo by Vera Arsic on Pexels

A: Our red flags go up when we hear the word never. It’s probably isn’t completely true that your spouse never listens to a thing you say. A statement like this usually means that the speaker has some buried resentment and something else is going on. Chances are that your spouse does listen to you, but he or she may not be giving you the feedback that you need. You may be a communicator who needs words, but he or she communicates by action or body language.

Have you thought that perhaps your words are scaring off your spouse? What are you saying that he or she is seemingly not hearing? Are you yelling, nagging, whining, complaining, hurting? Perhaps your spouse is hearing, but just doesn’t know what to say back—or realizes that nothing he or she would say will really make any difference because you won’t listen. (So now you’re not listening either!)

You will be better heard when your words are better communicated, when you speak with warmth, love, and honor. Examine what you’re saying and how you’re saying it. Consider new ways to communicate the same information. Explain (in that same tone and with those carefully chosen words) that you need a response of some kind so that you know you’ve been heard. When you do this, you’ll probably discover that your spouse’s hearing is just fine!

*For more practical marriage advice, check out The Great Marriage Q&A Book. It's available in our online bookstore!