“Dying to self doesn’t mean giving up what’s good for us. It means letting go of what’s not, so that we can accept what is.”
When talking about romantic relationships, especially marriage, how often have we heard or even found ourselves saying that it has to be a 50/50 deal? With this mindset, we attribute the same equal value to what we “get” as to what we “give” (although the degree of giving is often based on how much we feel we’re getting…. here lies the problem). The “issues” begin when our expectations about what we “give” and “get” differ from what our significant other may have in mind…. and so, the battles begin. We start planting flags and claiming territory on the relationship “battleground”. It’s often not even something we’re consciously aware of but it will go something like this…. “Well you didn’t do this for me so I am going to withhold “ ” from you (insert sex, intimacy, conversation, support, help, flexibility, etc.). We stew in our anger and brick by brick, we start to construct our walls….
“He must increase, but I must decrease.” John 3:30
Recently I was talking with a friend who is in the process of going through a divorce from an abusive spouse. She was sharing about how when she was pregnant with their daughter, he refused to speak with her for three weeks because he had wanted a boy…. I was floored. This man was blessed with a lovely family, with a new beautiful baby girl on the way. Instead of celebrating that gift, he allowed the thief in the door. Without him even recognizing it, he had been robbed of the joy and excitement of that season in his life. In turn, it also robbed his wife of feeling cherished, loved and supported…. causing her to feel heartbroken, isolated and alone.
While I would consider the example above to be on the extreme side, in our natural “unchecked” state, we are all selfish…. and before we climb on our own high horse, we need to understand that the potential for this type of behavior lives in all of us.
How can we counteract this? What does Jesus remind us of in Luke 9:23 and John 12:24. Deny yourself….die to self. Over and over again, Jesus reminds us that in order to walk the path of “life” as God intends us to, we must first die. We see this exemplified in the garden of Gethsemane as Jesus, soaked in blood and sweat asks His Father to “remove this cup from me”…. but He finishes His prayer by saying “not my will but YOUR will be done”. (see Luke 22:42) Right there, He buries any potential for selfishness.
In our relationship with our spouse, I believe that the root of many of these issues can often be traced back to the faulty foundation that is found in the 50/50 mindset. At this point, I feel the need to share a disclaimer before we go any further. What I am about to say is not a license for anyone to abuse you in any way. You are not a doormat to be walked on. Let me remind you that you are God’s creation, therefore you are His handiwork…. His masterpiece. He made you with a purpose and has a plan for you in this time and in this place. This is the foundation on which the next idea is built.
I believe that the 50/50 model, by its very nature, is broken. Instead we need to focus on a “100/100” idea. I need to be 100% about my spouse (as my friend and pastor says, “I am preaching to myself here.”) It is on me to learn and understand what makes my spouse feel loved, cherished and appreciated and then implement those ideas in real world ways. If it’s “physical touch” and you’re not a touchy/feely person, it may be unnatural at first but it is your responsibility to get over that hump. If it’s “quality time” or “giving gifts” you need to make those things a priority (I recommend reading “The Five Love Languages” to learn more). Remember that it’s not about what you “feel” like doing. What it is about is “dying to self” and giving 100% to your spouse.
If you happen to be watching “Monday Night Football” and you notice that the kitchen is a mess….and you also see that your spouse has had a draining day with the kiddos, simply pause the game for 20 minutes and go in and clean it for them (without parading around looking for a pat on the back…. I’ve found that you’re more likely to receive a heartfelt thank you if you’re not actually asking for it 😉 ). I need to remove the burdens and clear the obstacles that clutter my spouse’s path as best as I am able to. We (husbands and wives) are the “safe harbor” for our spouse. Yes, God is ultimately our refuge but we have an absolutely crucial role to play in reflecting Christ’s love, grace, understanding and compassion in our relationship.
As partners in a marriage (or those who are seriously dating/courting), this should be our mutual goal and if you haven’t taken the time yet, talk to them about this idea (and even more importantly, please listen). Will things be perfect? Not to burst your bubble but…. of course not. We are still broken people being rebuilt by God. There will be days when either partner (sometimes both at the same time) can be exhausted, sick, frustrated and impatient. What should we do when this is the case? We need to practice, give and receive grace. Men, if we’ve “sinned” against our wife in those moments, we need to man up, recognize it, apologize (and give ourselves some grace…we’re not perfect) and take care of any fallout.
The world is a battleground and there is nothing that the enemy would rather see more than a family slowly being broken down and destroyed by selfishness. When you arrive home, take a breath and before entering that threshold, remember to drop your weapons at the door.