One Unexpected Key To a Joyful Marriage

You probably keep score. I’m sure you don’t mean to. You may not even be conscious of it. But there’s a pretty good chance that you do it. You keep score in your marriage.

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You keep score when you tally up the things you do for your spouse and when you tally up the things your spouse fails to do for you. You rarely keep a running total of your own failures or your spouse’s successes. Rather, you maintain records in such a way that you come out ahead. You probably keep the score in your marriage. And I’m sure it makes you unhappy.

Why does it make you unhappy? Because comparison is the thief of joy. Comparison is the thief of joy because it causes you to focus on yourself. Comparison leads inward, to what you desire, to what you long for, to what you are certain you deserve. Yet the path to joy leads outward rather than inward. It leads toward others rather than toward self. There is more joy in loving than in being loved, more satisfaction in doing good to others than in having good done to you. The path to joy in marriage does not lead from your spouse but to your spouse.

Thus, one of the keys to a joyful marriage is to simply stop keeping score—to stop tallying up the good things you’ve done for your husband or wife and the good things he or she has neglected to do for you. Keep no ledger of wrongs and keep no ledger of rights.

That’s a good place to begin, but there’s more to it. Any time you address a sin, weakness, or failure in your life you need to not only put that vice to death but also bring to life the opposite virtue. What is the opposite of this kind of score-keeping? It’s to love freely and lavishly. It’s to love without keeping score, to love even when you feel unloved, to love even when you give much and seem to receive little. It’s to love in such a way that the only hint of competitiveness in your heart is when you ask, “Am I outdoing my spouse in showing honor?”

Of course, there may be times to consider together whether one person is doing all of the household chores while the other is doing none, whether one person is spending a lot of time with the children while the other person is spending little, whether one person is doing all the sexual initiation while the other is consistently being passive, whether one person is wondering if he or she is loved at all. There are times to sit and talk deliberately about desires, wants, concerns, disappointments, and all the rest.

But there is never a time to stop lavishing mercy, grace, and love upon the person God has given you as a husband or wife. There is never a time to withdraw or become resigned, to decide you will only love to the degree you are being loved. There is never a time to stop serving the one God has specially called you to serve.

To that end, why don’t you make it your habit to ask your husband or wife questions like these: How can I serve you today? How can I make your day better? How can I make your evening easier? In what ways can I be a blessing to you today? Is there anything I can get you? Is there anything I can do for you? How can I let you know today that I love you?

And perhaps even better, commit to consistently doing the things you know will serve your spouse, that will make your wife’s day better, that will make your husband’s evening easier. Serve, serve, and serve some more. Act in love even when you don’t feel loved, act with grace even if you don’t feel particularly gracious. Sow extravagant love to the love of your life, and reap the reward of joy. For the path to joy in marriage leads away from you and runs straight to your spouse.