May 072014 4 Responses

The Lowest Bar for Marital Success

It’s not a high bar. I would hope you have higher expectations for yourself and your marriage. But is a bar. It is a way to see if you are treating your spouse fairly.

Here it is:

Do you treat your spouse with at least the same amount of respect and dignity which you show to others?

That shouldn’t be the bar to which we compare our actions within marriage. The goal should be much higher. Yet it amazes me how often even this low bar isn’t met. (See: How to Stay Married in the Tough Times)

One of the most interesting aspects of the pastorate is how some people act differently around me than they do others. On multiple occasions I have interacted with a wedding coordinator or mother-of-the-bride in very cordial terms only to overhear them speak in very rude terms to someone on staff at the church, especially the custodial staff. They speak to others in a way they would never speak to me.

With me they show respect, kindness, and restraint, but with others they are rude, vile, and demanding. It’s an ugly hypocrisy.

Far too many people are this way. Yet what is shocking is that for many who would never be rude or demanding of a stranger, they have no problem being that way to their spouse. (See: Respect–a Necessary Ingredient for a Successful Marriage)

This is the lowest bar for marital success: never treat your spouse in a way you would not treat a stranger.

Of course, a willingness to be rude to a stranger does not give you an excuse to be rude to your spouse. Rudeness should be avoided with all people, but especially at home.

Yet this basic concept does give us a level of expectation when it comes to how we communicate and live.

If you are kind and courteous to every person you meet, shouldn’t you be that way with your spouse?

If you are overly helpful in every situation in your life, shouldn’t you be that way at home?

If you are deeply thoughtful and compassionate to the pain of others, shouldn’t your husband or wife feel known and cared for?

If you would never raise your voice to a stranger, should you ever raise your voice to your spouse?

Of course we can’t be perfect. Everyone will make mistakes. Marriage should be the ultimate place in which grace and mercy are both received and given. (See: How to Handle Friction in Marriage)

Yet my wife has every right to assume that she will get the best of me. If I care for others, I will care for her more. If I speak kindly to others, I will speak kindly to her. If I would never yell at a co-worker or demean a friend or be rude to a cashier, then I will never yell, demean, or be rude to her. And if I am, I will recognize it, apologize, and change my action.

However, in many relationships, instead of giving the best of ourselves to one another, we give the worst.

People say and do things to their spouse which they would never say or do to me or a friend or a co-worker or a waitress or someone they had just met. It can be so drastic that it is often hard to believe. When one spouse describes the other spouse’s behavior, we have no reference point for it because we have never seen anything like it.

Those marriages are not even leaping over the lowest bar of marital expectation. (See: The Number One Cause for Divorce)

Consider yourself for a moment. If you treated your spouse while you were dating the way you treat them now, would they have ever agreed to marry you? Who thinks you are a better man–your wife or a waitress? Who respects you more–your husband or a co-worker?

We often use the phrase “common courtesy.” It is a general understanding of how people deserve to be treated no matter who they are, what they are doing, or how you happen to interact with them.

Common courtesy begins at home. It begins with a basic level of respect, dignity, restraint, and trust. Without it, we are doomed to fail. With it, we can begin to build a relationship which lasts.

For more, see:

Playfulness: One Sign of a Healthy Marriage

5 Books Every Married Couple Should Read


4 Responses to The Lowest Bar for Marital Success
  1. […] No matter how out of sync we might get in the moment, we both know we will re-align the next time we...

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