When Kayla and I got engaged, one of the most important things for both of us was that we go through pre-marital counseling with a pastor at our church. Wanting to build a relationship with faith as the foundation, we both valued the time we spent and work we did through that counseling.
Our amazing pastor, Bart Scharrer, talked about a lot of things that were helpful in preparing us to make vows to each other on that day. But, there was one thing that Bart said that has stuck with me over the years more than anything else: Marriage cannot be 50-50.
This blew my mind! I felt like I had always heard that the best relationships are 50-50. He went on to explain that a great marriage has to be 100-0. As Kayla’s husband, I need to aim to serve her wholeheartedly in a way that has no ego or competition and is not dependent on her reciprocation.
How does this work?
Always serve your wife, no matter what
Not even one month after our twins came home from the hospital, a nasty stomach flu made its way into our house the way it always does–through our two-year-old son. We did everything in our power to keep everyone else healthy, especially our newborn preemie twins, but despite our efforts it hit my wife hard.
When one of us gets sick, all of the house chores and “child duties” fall to the healthy parent. So when my wife came down with the stomach flu, I quarantined her in our basement bedroom and told her not to worry because I had everything under control. I’m not sure I even believed that myself, but I made sure she believed it.
In a business transaction, there is an exchange of money, goods, or services that is agreed upon by both parties. If one side does not live up to their end of the deal, there are negative repercussions that can lead to a deal falling apart, an end to the relationship, or even legal ramifications. Fortunately for all of us, marriage does not work like this. I know my wife could make a long list of the ways that I have let her down or didn’t serve her the way I should (Kayla is way too kind and forgiving to ever do that, but I could come up with a pretty lengthy list myself!). Unlike the business deal, we continue to serve each other regardless of what we’re getting in return.
Don’t for get the “un-” in “unconditional love”
We survived the stomach flu. And, to be honest, the feeling of taking care of all three kids for a few days on my own was a real confidence boost. For me, the part I struggled with most was not taking care of the kids and serving my wife in that way, but it was expecting nothing in return. When life had returned to normal, it was very hard for me not to feel a sense of “you owe me one”.
When this happened, I had to go back to why I serve my wife. I serve her not because she returns the favor or because I’m building a bank account of good deeds to draw upon later, but because I love her. That’s it. I love her.
Have healthy conversations about how to get better
As humans, we will inevitably fall short of the 100-0 goal that we aim for.
This is where grace is necessary and should be extended, both to our spouse and to ourselves. We usually know where we fall short and could have done better, so we don’t start with the airing of grievances, Seinfeld-style. When Kayla and I have these talks, I make sure not to tell her how she let me down, and vice versa. But we do agree to be honest with our feelings, understand the other person’s perspective, and challenge each other when needed. We also usually don’t have a tough conversation if there is negativity fresh in our minds. Sometimes, time is needed in certain situations.
Most of what we talk about is not a complete surprise to the other person, since we (and people in general) are pretty good at spotting their own faults. But, we always walk away with a few new insights about the other person and our relationship.
Remind yourself that progress, not perfection, is the goal
If at the end of each day, I can say that I grew in the area of serving my wife, then I have succeeded. As Darren Hardy said in his book, The Compound Effect:
“You only need to take a series of tiny steps, consistently, over time, to radically improve your life.”
Insert “relationship” in place of “life” and you’ve got a pretty good recipe for marriage success.
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