Ten years ago, Ben and I attended a marriage conference as newlyweds, and there was one piece of advice that has stuck with us both after all these years: Don’t go 50/50. It’s marriage advice we’ve revisited again and again- for ourselves, with our small group for newlyweds, and with anybody else who wants to hear anything we have to say about our marriage relationship.
Going 50/50 is just what it sounds like: you do your half, I do mine. Let’s keep it fair, right? I cooked dinner, so you do the dishes. I do the laundry, you take out the trash. But there are a couple problems with the 50/50 mentality. For one, it gives you a reason to hold back. You cleaned the shower last time- now it’s his turn, right? Or, it’s his job to take out the trash, so I’ll leave it, even though it’s overflowing with garbage. There are things you could do to pitch in, but well, it wouldn’t feel even. And no one likes that feeling.
Another problem with this 50/50 mentality is that it encourages you to keep tabs. And we all know that whenever you’re keeping track of stuff like this, it’s going to feel unbalanced. I think this is because we are mostly only aware of what we’re doing. I am aware of it each time I change the toilet paper roll, put away the dishes, or vacuum the floor. When Ben does those things, I rarely take note, and it doesn’t really get accounted for in my mental balance sheet of Let’s Keep Things Even.
So what’s the alternative? Instead of a 50/50 mentality, we should have a 100/100 mentality: I will always give my 100%! Sounds a little cheesy, but the perspective change makes a huge difference! Instead of keeping track or feeling disgruntled at how he’s not pulling his weight, you take the opportunities to do what you can to take care of things. Sure, it’s still fine (and probably wise) to have some sort of division of labor. We do, too. But the difference is that when I cook, I make an extra effort to clean up as I go in the kitchen because I know it will result in less work for Ben after dinner. When Ben sees the basket of unfolded laundry sitting in the corner, he puts it away because he knows it will make me happy! We help each other out because we’re not busy thinking about how the other person isn’t doing their part or pulling their weight- we’re thinking about how we can give 100% of ourselves to love them. And it doesn’t have to be even. That’s not the point. We just keep giving.
It might sound a little crazy or radical, but the best example of love that I know is one of crazy, radical, self-sacrificial love. And Jesus definitely isn’t keeping tabs or trying to make sure things are even between us- if He did, then there is no hope for us. He just gave all of himself for us, and marriage is a great place to practice mirroring that kind of self-giving, self-sacrificial, unconditional love.
This mentality has made a lot of difference for me, as someone who has a tendency to keep tabs and try to keep things even in a relationship. I can imagine a version of myself that would get annoyed about mundane things like filling up on gas, changing the baby’s diaper, or even bringing in the mail. But after years of seeing Ben give and give and give 100% of himself to make our marriage thrive and keep our household running well, it only seems natural to try to do the same.
I’m definitely not perfect, and I still get huffy about things sometimes, but I am often humbled by his humble and servant-hearted response to me that reflects a 100% attitude. It reminds me that it’s not about proving that I do more or work harder- it’s about how we’re both going in 100/100 in our home and marriage! It’s an attitude I really hope to adopt in every relationship, but marriage is a great place to start!
I’ve heard myself talking about this book so much in the last two months that it’s time I talked about it with you. It’s called You and Me Forever: Marriage in Light of Eternity by Francis Chan:
There are plenty of great reviews of the book online, so I’ll let you peruse those here. A major theme in the reviews is that this is not a typical book full of advice to improve your marriage. It’s a book about getting your perspective on life and focus on God straight. A byproduct of that is an improved marriage. For example, if you really lived life with eternity in mind, you probably wouldn’t get as caught up in the petty, selfish details that can run rampant in a marriage.
Really, he says it A LOT better. Because he’s Francis. It’s in the intro. I recommend reading at least that much!
Instead of a general review, I want to talk about one point in particular that stuck with me: humility. As a Christian, I try to be like Jesus. I try to think and do and love like He does. I fail all the time. I mean, Jesus was everything good (and nothing bad). The expectation isn’t that I’ll ever be 100% like Jesus, but that I keep trying. Still, it’s overwhelming. Where do you even start in an effort to love perfectly? In chapter 3, Francis says:
Both Lisa and I believe that more than any other attribute of Jesus, His humility is the key to a healthy marriage. If two people make it their goal to imitate the humility of Christ, everything else will take care of itself. It really is that simple. Arguments escalate when we want to be right more than we want to be Christ. It is easy to get blinded in the heat of disagreements. Soon, all we want is to win, even if victory requires sin. The one who wins the argument is usually the one who acts less like Christ.
“Can we talk about this tomorrow?” he’d say, not even lifting his head off his pillow to face me.
“…Sure,” I’d say, dejected as I flopped my face away from him.
“You really want to talk about this now?”
“It’s fine. Let’s talk.”
I hear him turn his head slightly.
“No. I don’t want to. Night.”
“Are you sure?”
OF COURSE NOT! But I’m not going to be all needy now. Humph.
“Yes. Good night.”
He snores. I simmer and sigh and feel my “love tank” approaching empty.
Well, it’s not like he cares. He’s sleeping.
It’s a lie, I know, but when it’s late at night, those are easy for me to dwell on. This is probably because late at night is not really the best time for anything except sleeping, even for night owls like me.
A couple months after our youngest was born, my mom offered to watch the kids so we could have a date night.
…COOL! DATE NIGHT!
It seemed like a nice idea, so we decided to do it.
Wednesday night found us in the car: baby in the backseat, baggy-eyed parents in the front.
“So I thought we could go on a dessert tour,” Ben began, as he took off his glasses to rub his tired eyes.
That was nice of him. Because I like desserts. He thought of me. Sweet. But I could read his body language loud and clear.
“We don’t have to do this. You should sleep,” I said.
“No, no, it’s okay… it’s DATE NIGHT!” he said, forcing a smile. He had caught a cold and was still recovering, yet was determined to make this happen.
“Really, it’s okay,” I yawned.
“No, let’s go!” he said, squeezing excitement into his voice. So we went.
“How did you know that he was The One?”
I was 20 when I got engaged, and got this question from my college peers on a regular basis. Few people my age had marriage on the mind, and yet here I was, finishing up my senior year with a ring on it, a thesis to write, and a wedding to plan by the end of the school year.
I was never planning or hoping to be one of those ultra conservative, marry-young types. But when the right guy came along and asked the right question at the right time, it just made complete sense. It was one of the best decisions of my life.
When he first asked me to date him, I didn’t see it coming. Friends who knew us well didn’t see it coming. I don’t think he even saw it coming until it was there. Sometimes, that’s just how it is when you walk by faith. But when it was here, it was right, and we were both certain of it.
I’m not sure how he knew I was the one. He’s a man of faith and prayer, and I know the Lord just revealed it to him and made it clear in a way that only Ben could really understand. My journey was a little more complicated, but it came down to one thing in the end: respect.
Our friendship had started long before our romance ever did. He was my brother’s friend from camp; a senior I had often heard other girls giggling about in the cabins, memorably referred to as “eye candy.” So when my older brother introduced me to his cabin mate- this cute, older guy who exuded kpop coolness, it was all I could do to act like I had never heard of him before. That was when I was 13.
“The couple that plays together stays together.”
This quote conjures images of smiling, happy, sunglassed couples hiking green mountains together, biking together, and having adventures together out in nature. I picture my elderly neighbors down the street, who often work out in the front yard gardening together. It’s so cute. I think about my engineer friends with their gamer wives that team up together and regularly play Starcraft or WoW together. (Nerd points for anyone who knows what WoW is!). This quote probably even applies to the couch potatoes who have a routine of vegging together after work, watching Netflix or Hulu or whatever you call TV these days.
Ben and I do few of those things. He enjoys programming. I cannot. I enjoy baking. He… eats baked stuff. He enjoys biking. I love team sports. I enjoy going out, but he’s one of the biggest (extroverted) homebodies I know.
Do your best.
It was a mantra repeated to me again and again throughout my upbringing. Before piano recitals and exams (and I had many), my mom would smile encouragingly and say, “Just do your best!”
I remember asking my mom one time, “What would happen if I got a B on my report card?” I peered over at her with wide eyes, trying to gauge her reaction.
“As long as you did your best, that’s fine,” she said matter of factly.
“Really?! What if I got… a C?!”
“As long as you did your best, that’s fine.”
“So, if I came home with a D, you wouldn’t be mad?” I pushed.
“If you really did your best, then no. But I also know what you’re capable of and it’s usually better than a D, so if that happened then maybe you didn’t do your best.”
I sat, pondering this silently.
I can’t say I’ve always lived it out. By high school, I was the do-what-you-need-to-get-the-A student, and that oftentimes took a lot less than my best. When it came to things I really cared about, though–a basketball game, preparing a presentation in front of peers, leading a club–I gave it my all, my 100%. It was like I didn’t know how to slack off or tone it down when it came to these things, and I often pushed myself long and hard into the night to make sure everything was done in excellence.
I made him cards. They were creative and thoughtful and full of mushy sentiment. I spent a lot of time perfecting the details, and couldn’t wait to hear the love in his voice when he received it.
He hugged me. Fierce and tight, to the point where I had to push him away sometimes, “UUF… too tight!! Whyyy why do you hug me so tightly?!” I said, half-jokingly… half-annoyed.
I planned dates for us. Outings where we could spend time together and make memories and just be together.
He took my car for an oil change and filled the car up with gas.
Although I appreciated the sentiment behind the hugs and the conveniences with the car, I still had complaints. The kind of complaints I kept to myself, because voicing them would make any ensuing response seem less special: Why doesn’t he write me mushy cards? Why doesn’t he plan romantic dates?
Now, nearly a decade later, I know that his methods were “not wrong– just different,” to quote Mr. Eggerichs (whose DVD series on marriage, btw, is FANTASTIC). Ben’s way of communicating love and care to me involved hugs and acts of service, while my sentiments came in the form of encouraging words and quality time. On the surface, these may seem like stereotypical gender differences (which they aren’t), but there’s a lot more to unpack about each one.
I walked in from the garage, groceries weighing down my shoulders. He grabbed the bags and helped put the milk in the fridge while I took out the frozen fruit. We continued putting things away while our baby girl crawled around us until finally, everything was put away. I turned to get some water when I saw him shoot a sidelong glance and something between a smirk and disappointment flashed across his face.
“What?” I said, reaching for the water faucet.
“…Nothing,” he said, turning away from me.
I sighed. After eight years of marriage, I knew exactly what he was looking for.
The holidays are here, and you know what that means? It’s time to get your game face on. The game is called Protect Your Spouse, and the objective is simple: try your best to watch out for your significant other, especially when it comes to family-related issues. You’re on the same team, whether it’s finding a positive, non-blamey way to explain why you can’t make it to the third family get-together, fielding phone calls from your mom, or pulling it together after having a difficult conversation on the car ride to dinner. The goal is to get through the holidays with your marriage not only intact, but stronger despite all the demands that are associated with holidays and family get-togethers.
To be clear: the opponents aren’t your family. They love you and just want to enjoy quality family time together– don’t we all? In our game analogy, think Pandemic: it’s more like us vs. the board. Sometimes you flip the cards and the situation is just not very favorable. It doesn’t do any good to point fingers at each other or the situation, but a lot of good can come out of making strategic and thoughtful choices. Here are a few practical ways you can care for and protect your spouse during the holidays!