Marriage is NOT a contest so let's stop making it one

5 years ago

I recently read an article (HERE and HERE) highlighting the oldest living married couple, Herbert and Zelmyra Fisher of New Bern, North Carolina, who have been married since May 1, 1924, almost 88 years!!

They were interviewed (HERE) and asked the questions everyone is dying to ask: What made you realize you could spend the rest of your lives together?  How did you know your spouse was the right one? What is your fondest memory?  

But, my favorite question was:

At the end of bad relationship day, what is the most important thing to remind yourselves?   Remember marriage is not a contest – never keep a score. God has put the two of you together on the same team to win.

As well as this one:

You got married very young – how did you both manage to grow as individuals yet not grow apart as a couple?   “Everyone who plants a seed and harvests the crop celebrates together.” We are individuals, but accomplish more together.

And I love those answers, because marriage is hard, and we often make it harder than it has to be.  Marriage shouldn't be a competition.  We shouldn't keep score.

And that has really gotten me thinking. How often do I compete against my husband?  Probably far too much.  Sure we compete when we play sports against each other or a board game or whatever game.  But then there's the who's the better cook? competition, the better driver, cleaner, budgeter, saver, spouse, parent, and Christian competition.  We keep scores of who has changed more diapers, took out the trash last, vacuumed more thoroughly and got up more at night scores.  We complain about things that aren't done to our liking, whether it's how the dishes are loaded in the dishwasher or how our shirts are hung up.

And it's all utterly ridiculous isn't it?

With all the talk in society about fairness and equality between the sexes, sometimes it's easy to play the gender card.  We want to compare the outside-the-home job with the inside-the-home job.  It's easy to want to compare days, one-upping each other with awfulness, hoping to make the other feel sorry for you because you've had an even longer, more stressful day.  The battle of the jobs/sexes has commenced.

I know I do this too often, even though Josh doesn't usually play along.  He more often than not just has to grin and bear my daily dumpings right when he gets home from work.  Welcome home, honey!  Let me tell you about all the awful things I've had to deal with today... Aren't you glad you came home to a chain gang?  Because I do this, Josh says I'm too negative and often repeatedly reminds me to be more positive when writing about things on the blog and while talking to others.  And he's right. (Yup, I said it.)  I focus on the hard aspects of my days at home: all the books chewed, all the hitting and fighting (between my kids), all the messes, all of it.   

And it's all utterly ridiculous isn't it?

While thinking about these things over the last weekend (and since), I found that Elder Larry Y Wilson's talk during General Conference addressed this competitive attitude, calling it "Unrighteous Dominion."  Which is very condemning thought,. even if it's only done to the littlest degree. He said,"

We simply cannot force others to do the right thing. The scriptures make it clear that this is not God’s way. Compulsion builds resentment. It conveys mistrust, and it makes people feel incompetent. Learning opportunities are lost when controlling persons pridefully assume they have all the right answers for others. The scriptures say that “it is the nature and disposition of almost all men” to engage in this “unrighteous dominion,”5 so we should be aware that it’s an easy trap to fall into. Women too may exercise unrighteous dominion, though the scriptures identify the problem especially with men.

Unrighteous dominion is often accompanied by constant criticism and the withholding of approval or love. Those on the receiving end feel they can never please such leaders or parents [or spouses] and that they always fall short.  (emphasis mine).

I don't want to be found guilty of unrighteous anything, especially when it affects my family.  I think too often I do think I am right and that my way of doing things is the best way.  I can be very stubborn and opinionated.  And so can Josh.  And so the battle begins.

And then there was the talk by President Dieter F. Uchdorf talking all about eliminating contention and judgment from our lives.  He said,

I imagine that every person on earth has been affected in some way by the destructive spirit of contention, resentment, and revenge. Perhaps there are even times when we recognize this spirit in ourselves. When we feel hurt, angry, or envious, it is quite easy to judge other people, often assigning dark motives to their actions in order to justify our own feelings of resentment. [. . ].

But when it comes to our own prejudices and grievances, we too often justify our anger as righteous and our judgment as reliable and only appropriate. Though we cannot look into another’s heart, we assume that we know a bad motive or even a bad person when we see one. We make exceptions when it comes to our own bitterness because we feel that, in our case, we have all the information we need to hold someone else in contempt. 

It sounds a little like this:

Instead of thinking about how much more you do for your home and your family than your spouse, why not think about how much more you could do for your family instead?  Thinking about what isn't or could have been is often destructive and builds resentment.  It judges them and condemns them and yourself in the process.  Forgiving and thinking about what can be and should be is productive, righteous, and shows love.

Both Josh and I are doing very important jobs.  He's earning our family's income. I'm raising and maintaining our home We are both fulfilling our team's goals, yes, separately, but by doing so we are accomplishing more together (just like the Fishers said).  When I imagine doing everything that Josh does plus everything I do (i.e. like a single mother), it seems much more monumental than my current feat.  We're winning and yet we too often want to make that winning a very painful process, and it doesn't have to be.

Marriage is NOT a contest or a competition: it's a partnership.  We are on the same team.  Instead of complaining something isn't done to our liking or our spouse is lacking something somewhere, why can't we just cheerfully pick up the slack?  We're serving them and helping ourselves because we're on the same team.  Helping each other means we're winning.  Bickering and nit-picking means we're losing.  We're fighting about nothing of value.  Who cares if I changed every single diaper today, fed the girls every meal, and cleaned up the kitchen?  It's helping the team!  It's meeting some of our goals--a clean home and happy children.

Josh and I started talking about these things a few nights ago and have decided that a good starting point for us would be to write down our family/spousal goals.  What do we really want to accomplish in our marriage, in our family, in our home?  Why?  Which things are most important?  I think doing so will help us keep our priorities straight and help us remember on those long days, when we don't want to do our part or that it is too hard, that we are commenced in a great work, that these sometimes seemingly never-ending baby steps forward are still meeting our goals.

May you join us in treating your spouse better.  He or she is on your side.  Let's love one another more and forgive each other's past mistakes.  God bless you and yours.
*I know these things can be hard when a spouse isn't on board and isn't doing their share.  (Josh is a great husband, for real.  I should be so much nicer to him!)  Their attitude is very destructive to a marriage and a family.  But, often times, making the extra effort yourself, loving a little more and being patient can help them feel motivated themselves to do more.  That's a concept I gleaned from The 5 Love Languages(a book I talked more about HERE) and have used myself and find it to be true.  When I see Josh doing more around the house, I want to do more too, and vice versa.
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