Have you ever found yourself keeping a list in your head of the wrongs (big and small) that your spouse has committed in your marriage? It’s so easy to hold onto memories of hurtful comments and selfish actions, or to keep a running tally of our spouse’s personal flaws.
Well, according to 1 Corinthians 13:5, love is not self-seeking and keeps no record of wrongs. It’s not biblical or beneficial to keep score in marriage by tracking the negative aspects and actions of our spouse.
However, the highly happy couples I interviewed for my book, Surprising Secrets of Highly Happy Marriages, taught me that the best marriages actually do keep score—but in a very different way!
The couples who became the happiest—including many who had at one time been miserable—told me that subconsciously they were always keeping track of what their spouses were giving. As a result, one spouse was constantly aware of what they owed the other, and that helped them to let go and not keep a record of their spouses’ wrongs.
Happy couples recognize how much their spouse does for them.
These couples see how much their mate does for them and make an effort to compensate in some way. This was particularly relevant during seasons when one spouse was going through a particularly difficult time at work, with the kids, or in another key area of life. It was almost a feeling of “Wow, he has been logging so many hours on the construction site, and these new project managers are causing him so much stress! How can I make things easier for him for the next two weeks until the project is done? Maybe I’ll bring him a dinner onsite every few days, so he doesn’t have to worry about getting home for dinner and can relax a bit.”
Happy marriages require give and take.
As a result of keeping score of what their spouse is giving, those “I’ll bring him dinner” types of actions were coming from the heart rather than out of a sense of duty. And they certainly didn’t come with the attitude of “aren’t I doing something so wonderful for him?” Because they originated from a sincere awareness of how much the other person was giving during that time.
A friend of mine refers to this give-and-take as the Canoe Theory of Marriage. Picture a husband and wife paddling across a lake. When one paddler is paddling so hard it tips the canoe to the right, the other paddler compensates by tipping more to the left . . . so they don’t tip over. They partner together by balancing effort for the other spouse when it’s needed—not out of obligation, but out of love.
Make your marriage happier by keeping score and giving back.
Unfortunately, there are some spouses who are just 100% lazy and selfish, but they are by far the minority. In almost every marriage, there are things each partner is doing that are worth noticing which will make you want to “give back”—once you do notice it! It turns out that keeping score in that way and paying your spouse’s generosity forward will keep this healthy cycle going indefinitely.
So pay attention! Look for the sacrifices (big and small) that your spouse makes for you and for the family. Then find ways to give back by easing their burden and making life a bit sweeter for them. It might take some practice, but that’s OK. It’s worth it—for the well-being of your partner and for the happiness of your marriage. You (and your spouse) will be grateful you did!
Find Christ-focused wonder in the midst of everyday life no matter what your situation might be. Pick up a copy of Shaunti’s latest devotional, Find Joy, available in major bookstores.
Check out Shaunti’s latest book and Discussion Guide (co-authored with her husband, Jeff), Thriving in Love and Money. Because you need a better relationship, not just a better budget.
This article was first published at Patheos.
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