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.