Brian and I’s Sunday School class is doing a six week seminar on marriage. Sometimes it really boggles my mind how the same advice has to be rehashed, re told, re adorned, beautified, prettied, dirtied, grittied-whatever is the current shocker of choice-to get through to people. And then sometimes I ruefully acknowledge that it isn’t whether I KNOW what needs to be done, it’s the DOING it that trips me up. So let me lay it out simply the massive, underlying principle of application for a happy relationship, in my humble experience and understanding. Without any cheesy “10 things your man really wants” or “8 ways to please your lady” or even “5 Scriptures to Solidify your Marriage”
Stop with the scorecards.
My mother used to admonish us over and over again as kids, “AH AHT, you are NOT your sister. Stop keeping score!” And she was right. Keeping scorecards is what undermines human relationships across the board-be it parent/child, siblings, friends, spouses, even in our walks with Christ. How many of us, honestly, have made some sort of bargaining prayer? Oh, we may not word it out loud, or even give it coherency in our thoughts, but in our hearts how many of us have plead something to the familiar tune of, “I promise I’l do this, this and this, if you do this Lord.” or “If you do this for me, God, I’ll do this and this.” Or even just thought in disgruntlement, “Well, since this didn’t work out God must not want me to do this so I wont do that. So THERE!” As a little girl I used to pray fervently every Sunday that God would show me where my missing shoe was (I was ALWAYS missing one) and I’d promise everything from never losing my shoes again (which obviously didn’t happen) to forgiving my older brother for being mean (which would last all of three seconds) to swearing everlasting obedience to my parents (which they can verify also fell through). We’re essentially trying to keep a scorecard with God, and it doesn’t work that way, it’s not MEANT to work that way!
But that’s ok, says conventional Christian wisdom, God knows you’re a sinner and weak. So He’ll forgive you your score keeping, He’ll love you despite your ridiculous broken promises that miss the point of His grace, He’ll bless you despite your failure to truly rely on His timing and wisdom. It is only through His strength and love that your relationship with Him abides at all. And that’s true. Because He’s God. But what about when the other participant in the relationship is ALSO a fallen, sinful human?
I’ve enjoyed this marriage series, I’ve really enjoyed how everything is founded in scripture. Good points were made about differences between men and women in general, and healthy relationship do’s and don’t’s, and all of it was good, and true, and helpful….and honestly, most of us have probably heard all of the advice in one form or another many, many times. The problem lies in application.
It is so, so, SO easy to score keep. It creeps up slowly, it sneaks in as logic, it masquerades as justice, and it completely undermines any relationship you have. “Admire and respect your husband.” Ok, makes sense. But he’s supposed to, “Love and know his wife.” …..so who goes first? Well, I admired him yesterday, but then he blew me off when I was upset over him forgetting to get milk on his way home and until he apologizes since he should KNOW better I’m not admiring him anymore. It’s IMPORTANT to me that he listens, he acted like it was no big deal and it really bothers me, it’s like he doesn’t really love me at all. And this isn’t the first time this has happened…
Excuse me, hold the bus. This is not a competition. You don’t get to score a point (I admired him yesterday) and then withhold any further scoring until he “catches up.” Nor do you get to keep track of all his transgressions so that he has to make up his DEBT before he’s scoring in the black again. Unh uh, that’s not how this works.
After a long day of wrangling Cade, preparing his meals, doing the laundry, the dishes, pretending enthusiasm for the billionth leaf he proudly hands me to hold for him, and feeling like I’ve kept my IQ barely in the double digits, I am TIRED when my husband gets home at 5pm. I understand those first 30 minutes where he needs to veg out, change clothes, just relax for a little-he’s undoubtedly had a long day, too. But then the time stretches….and stretches… and streeeettcchhess…..I’ve got a whiny toddler clinging to my legs making it impossible for me to move because he’s hungry, but I can’t fix him any food because he won’t let go and he doesn’t understand the concept of patience because he’s only 13 months old but boy does mommy need some at this point…and Brian boots up the Xbox.
I am thinking murder at this point. Something subtle. If I could get to the frying pan and whack him upside the head, that might work.
But wait a minute- Cade gets clingy every time he’s hungry. Every. time. I deal with this multiple times a day, and sometimes it just makes me laugh at his dramatic pouty face. LAUGH! Why am I so cranky in this instance? Because I’m immediately comparing myself to Brian. I’m keeping score. “I’ve had a long day, too. I want some time to just do whatever I want. How come he gets to relax while I’m still “working”?”
It doesn’t matter. It is none of my business.
I signed up for this mommy and wife gig. I LOVE being a mom and a wife. Which means I’ve got to concentrate on being a good mom and wife even when both the men (soon to be three) in my life, for whatever reason, are trying my patience. That’s MY job. As soon as I start going, “Well, Brian should do this. Brian should notice this. I do this, why doesn’t Brian do that. That isn’t FAIR!” I’m keeping score. And all that scorecard will do is feed bitterness and resentment, fueling revenge, harboring anger that leaks into the relationship and poisons happiness. You will never win if you keep score.
This doesn’t mean I shouldn’t point out when things Brian does (or doesn’t do) bother me, but it DOES mean when I point out those things I should be mindful and open to Brian’s response as Brian. His temperament is not the same as mine, his needs are not the same as mine, his way of viewing the world-also, not the same as mine. What I see as blatant selfish behavior may not even be registering on his radar. THEN-key point here-I need to DROP IT. That’s right. Keeping score means once I have made myself clear on the issue (lovingly, people, not with frying pans) it is my job to leave it be.
But what if he does it again?
He might. But it is only MY response that I can change, and my responsibility to change it. Yeah, it sucks, and it will sometimes be unfair. Sometimes when I’m feeling super misunderstood in a relationship-ANY relationship-I just can’t seem to bear it. That’s where Christ comes in-if I let Him. If instead of keeping scorecards I ask for Him to give me patience, strength, peace, and the ability to continue to forgive-He will, and things are more bearable even if the other person never changes their behavior.
You see, I am NOT a perfect wife to Brian. For example, my husband is a far neater, more organized individual than I. He’d probably really appreciate a clean, better homes and garden-esque house. So today, when Cade napped, I could have cleaned the kitchen, finished the dishes, scrubbed a toilet even. But I didn’t-I read a book. And here is where score keeping sneaks in again. My automatic defense is: “Well I need time for ME too! So it’s completely justified that instead of cleaning the house (meeting Brian’s needs) I take some time to meet my own!” And that’s true. I DO need me time, even when there are other things for my spouse I could be doing.
Rewind (do people even know what that means anymore?) to Cade clinging to my knees wailing and Brian playing the xbox. Now. Does he have any less of a right to “him time” then I? Do I have any right to judge what is enough “him time” without inviting the same censure on “me time”? No. Keeping scorecards perpetuates judgement. No one ever wins.
What about keeping track of the good things? Be careful, it is a tricky sneaky simple thing for this to turn right back into score keeping. What starts out as a wonderful compilation of how fantastic your spouse treats you can turn into unease and misgivings if he forgets to do one of those things he’d done before. You start keeping track of how frequently he does all those great things. Suddenly, you have a scorecard, and you’re feeling undervalued, unappreciated, and resentful…and you take it out on your relationship.
Here is the underlying premise, which runs counter to our current culture. I made a commitment to be Brian’s wife and Cade and Zane’s mom. I am responsible for my behavior before the Lord. My commitment to these relationships means I focus on MY end of things: to be the best wife and mother I can be, by the Grace of God, regardless of the behavior of my husband and sons.
The beauty of it is, Brian is just as committed. So while he strives to be the best husband and father he is capable of, and I strive to be the best wife and mother I am capable of, and both of us rely on Christ to fill in the many gaps of our human imperfections-we have an incredibly rich, blessed, peaceful, joyful family! My husband does so many intuitive, unasked for things in our relationship that make me feel like the most precious person in his life. Neither of us are perfect, and if we focus on keeping track of each other’s imperfections (real and resentfully imagined) our marriage will crash and burn under the strain. Instead, we try to follow the commandments and precepts God gave for marriage and focus on how we can serve the other, how we can give to the other of ourselves…and we BOTH win. And I’ll tell you a secret, if I keep my score keeping in check, everything else falls into place. It becomes effortless to love, respect, and admire Brian, to enjoy him, to serve him, to try and anticipate his wants and needs. I love this man. Keeping scorecards does nothing but prevent me from enjoying being in love with the companion God has blessed (so undeservedly blessed!) me.
That’s it, folks. All that great marriage advice, stop trying to apply it to your spouse and apply it to YOURSELF. Stop keeping scorecards, or you will lose.
***Somewhat ironically I suppose, in light of this post, it is Brian and I’s 6 Year Anniversary today. So Happy Anniversary to the man who knows me well enough to know a card and chocolates don’t do jack diddly for me, but finishing up the dishes two nights in a row makes me feel like a Queen. You’re the best. :)****