No marriage is perfect. I think pretty much everybody gets that. How can it be? After all, it is the union of two imperfect people. Although we might do so reluctantly, I think each of us who are married can admit that we’ve been the bad marriage partner at some point or another. But we should never settle for it.
Let’s take a hard look at some of the kinds of people we don’t want to be, but at times find ourselves mimicking. Oh, and this article is not a lens through which we view another, but a microscope through which to examine ourselves.
1. The Customer
Customers expect to be served; at least I do. Recently I visited Walmart to run an errand for my wife. My mission was to find decorative toothpicks. No problem. In and out, right? Wrong. Walmart employs a bazillion people, but not one who knows where the decorative toothpicks are. I was sent to every department except lawn and garden. Outrageous! Just hold me by the hand, lead me to the aisle, point out the product, and then give me priority status in the checkout line. As it turned out, 45 wasted minutes, 27 scavenged aisles, and 14 grossly misinformed employees later, I found the decorative toothpicks in the party supply section behind some insidiously misplaced birthday napkins!
In our capitalistic society it has become our mantra. The customer is always right, after all. But what plays well in business is disastrous in marriage. Customers always want the best deal. Customers expect prompt service. Customers don’t relinquish rights; they demand them!
Jesus was not a customer. He was the quintessence of servitude. Nobody had greater rights, but He voluntarily relinquished His prerogative to assert them. He took the form of a servant. He wore the towel. He gave His life.
Husbands and wives are called to lives of mutual service and submission. When the “customer” in you comes out, put it on hold until you get to Walmart. Good luck there.
2. The Scorekeeper
I have one biological brother. He’s a great guy, and I don’t know of anyone who doesn’t like him. Except me…40 years ago. We were typical brothers growing up. We fought like cats and dogs, and I was usually the cat. It seemed that everything was a competition. “It’s my turn to get the toy in the bottom of the cereal box! You sat in the front seat of the car on the last trip! How many pieces of pizza did you have? What!? Mom, he had one more piece than I did,” ad nauseam.
My mother developed a series of strategies to keep things fair. For instance, when the soda was running low, she would make one of us pour the remainder into two glasses. Then the other one could choose which cup he wanted. And if I thought he had even an ounce more soda than I did, I couldn’t enjoy the 16 ounces I was drinking! “You pour, I’ll choose” seemed to work for restless boys, but it’s not a good strategy for marriage.
The scorekeeper is the spouse who is always trying to make everything fair. “You bought that new dress, so I’m getting myself a new fishing pole.” Or, “You spent four hours out golfing with your buddies, so I’m having a girl’s night out.”
Don’t get me wrong. I think it’s wise to do separate things every now and then. And it’s certainly not wrong to talk through each other’s schedules. My point is that trying to even the score will only create frustration. A “measurement mindset” will rob you of the kind of freedom marriage should have to celebrate each other’s victories.
Jesus didn’t keep score. Good thing too. Peter took his ball and bat and went home. He didn’t have to earn his spot back on the team though. Nope, just a short and powerful motivational speech did the trick. It had something to do with love, not measuring up.
Anyway, the only way fellow team members can keep score with each other is to compare their individual stats. When you think about it, that’s pretty dumb and selfish. We are better off celebrating team victories and ramping down the scorekeeping in marriage.
If she’s pouring the Dunkin’ Donuts coffee, then I’m choosing both mugs.
3. The Roommate
Over the course of my college career, I had a number of different roommates. Different roommates. But that’s a separate blog post altogether. Roommates subscribe to a sort of unwritten code of conduct with each other. They share a room. They don’t touch each other’s stuff. They don’t borrow without asking. They partner the responsibilities. They coexist.
Sometimes married couples act like roommates. They share a room and some responsibilities, but they retain rigorously their own autonomy. Accountability to each other is little more than the effective management of the household. How sad!
Jesus calls married couples into oneness. More than merely sharing a room, or a bed, or a bank account, they share the grace of life. They’ve inherited it to enjoy together. Theirs is not a “living arrangement,” but rather a God-ordained arrangement to live out His purpose together.
Oh, yeah, and pranks work great on roommates. They do not go over well with wives. I’ve learned that.
4. The Martyr
I’m thankful for the testimony of the martyrs. Their stories of heroism in the face of unspeakable intimidation and torture inspire and convict me. They suffered unimaginably for the cause of Christ. Undoubtedly, a special crown awaits them.
But suffering just for the sake of suffering is another thing altogether. What is remarkable about the martyrs is their devotion to a loving Lord and to a legitimate cause. I have no such respect for the Muslim martyrs of 9/11 who commandeered jet planes into buildings.
Instead of seeking restoration, dealing with bitterness, or extending grace, sometimes a spouse adopts the role of martyr. “I’m pulling the weight in this marriage,” he might think. “I could have made a better choice, but I’ll just put up with him,” she might say.
Do you see the point? It’s almost as if, in some cases, the marriage is merely the stage on which I act the part and say the lines of my unfolding tragedy—all to the approval of the onlooking crowd. Rather than pursuing any real conflict resolution, a spouse embraces this martyr role.
Sadly this victim complex can endure for years. Two lonely people coexist in a relationship devoid of emotional support and often lacking any real intimacy. The one picks the scab and bleeds for another day; the other becomes inured to the whimpering, and his increasing detachment only rubs more salt in the wound of the other.
Please don’t misunderstand me! I am poignantly aware that a spouse can be painfully wounded, and I am not in the least diminishing the legitimacy of the wound or the reality of its pain. In some cases, spouses indeed do bear the weight of an irresponsible partner. But a martyr complex is not the answer; it is merely an additional agitator.
5. The Michelangelo
Visiting Rome is on my bucket list, and I’ll be sure to check out the Sistine Chapel. Few sites are as famous for their artwork as the ceiling of the chapel that Michelangelo painted. I have trouble painting a room in one color with a roller and brush; he painted a masterpiece on the ceiling! It has been said that when he was asked why he gave such painstaking attention to every detail—after all, who would even notice? He replied “I will.” Now there’s a perfectionist on steroids!
Michelangelo is an easy guy to admire, but he was probably a bear to live with. I’ve met some Michelangelo’s in my day. The Michelangelo spouse is the one who is never pleased. Not content with what is or what’s been done, he sees only the flaws and recognizes only what’s missing.
It’s not that Michelangelo spouses are perfect; it’s just that they expect it in others. Perfectionists tend to be compartmental. And, of course, they choose the compartments. Your compartment is not one of them. Often these people are winsome and attractive to others because others don’t have to live with him. The process and the product are always more important than the people. A perfectionist will forego hospitality to save wear and tear on the carpet.
When the perfectionist is the husband, his wife tends to become insecure and her creativity becomes stifled. When the perfectionist is a wife, the husband typically finds a place of retreat or simply stops trying to please her.
To expect excellence in others and to encourage them in the process is wonderful. To expect perfection in others and somehow disapprove of them in the process is hideous.
Sometimes the ceiling is better left unpainted.
6. The “Catch Phrase” Spouse
You know the game I’m talking about, right? The handheld one that is passed from person to person with a secret word or phrase. The object is to get the others on your team to guess the secret word or phrase before the device buzzes in your hand.
It’s actually quite humorous to watch how nervous people become when the device is passed to them! Hyperventilating breathing, nervous twitching, and rapid fire speaking are typical. Pretty funny, actually.
Sometimes a husband or wife can be like that catch phrase game. Anytime they are in proximity of a family member, the dynamic changes. “What mood is she in today?” Or, “I hope he got up on the right side of the bed.” Emotional unpredictability is so dangerous to a relationship, especially when the emotion is anger. And, remember, bitterness is a suppressed form of inner anger.
God’s Word cautions us not to make friendships with angry people. Anger is so volatile that we are cautioned to deal with it expeditiously—don’t let the sun go down upon it. Angry spouses “give place to the devil” and logjam the gentle flow of kind, tenderhearted forgiveness.
Look inward. Are you the person around whom family members must tiptoe? Is it difficult for your spouse to be honest with you because of your tendency to be soon angry and stubbornly defensive? Do people become nervous when you enter the room because of your irrationality and unpredictability? Are you the “Catch Phrase spouse” who’s always ticking and ready to buzz at the next moment?
Anger may seem to give a person the upper hand in the moment because the sarcastic tone or raised voice can be intimidating. In the end though, an angry person is seldom taken seriously. He becomes the pathetic, spoiled brat whom others patronize and quickly dismiss.
Play “Catch Phrase.” It’s fun. But don’t be “Catch Phrase.” That’s no fun for anyone, especially your spouse.
7. The Repeat Offender
Nearly half of the states in our country have some kind of “3 strikes” law. When a person commits the same kind of crime repeatedly, the penalty should become stiffer. That’s the rationale. Most people, including me, agree with this kind of reasoning. It’s pretty logical, if you ask me.
In fact, the “3 strikes” thing is so axiomatic that we often apply it in our marriages too. When a spouse repeatedly exhibits a toxic behavior, the offended partner tends to apply stiffer forms of punishment. Trouble is, punishment is a poor form of behavior adjustment. A vicious cycle develops: the offender repeats and the offended applies punishment. Each becomes frustrated and nothing gets resolved.
If you find yourself in a “repeat offender” situation, it is time to seek the help of a neutral third party who can dispassionately assess and biblically address the cause of such behavior. Habitual sins will continue to bind us until we invite accountability—and exercise the humility to extend such an invitation. Allow a loving and mature Christian to help you apply God’s gracious Word to your situation.
Your marriage is too important not to seek help! Sitting in the jail cell checking off the days on the wall is a poor way to live your married life. Freedom is real, and accessible. Make the phone call. Get the help you need. Refuse to live another day in bondage.
Save “3 strikes” for baseball. Go Red Sox!