Forfeiting the Marriage Contest

Let me ask you a question about your marriage, and try to answer it as honestly as you can.  Are you silently “keeping score?”  In other words, do you tally your spouse’s faults and weaknesses while only taking note of your own good deeds?  And once you’re ahead, do you leverage your scorecard to bully your spouse or get your own way?   If so, you’ve turned your marriage into a contest, not a mutually-sacrificing partnership.  And in this game, both of you lose unless you choose to forfeit the contest.

Many of us initiate the contest without even realizing it. It begins innocently enough. You start to notice your spouse’s minor offenses—maybe he left the lights on, forgot to lower the toilet seat, or missed a scheduled event. However, as time passes, the list of grievances grows and the offenses may worsen in severity—perhaps your wife calls you a hurtful name or lashes out in explosive anger. In your mind, these bigger offenses tip the contest heavily in your favor.  Your growing resentment of your spouse accompanies an inability to see your own faults, and together they seem to justify any and every choice you make (however selfish it may actually be).

In this destructive contest, you slowly learn to ignore your spouse’s positive virtues.  After all, giving your wife credit for her thoughtfulness only makes it more difficult to “one-up” her on the scorecard, right?  By the same logic, forgiveness goes out the window—after all, has any team ever won a Super Bowl by allowing the opposing team to undo a mistake?

So what initiates this contest?  Pride.  It’s the sin beneath all sins. Nowhere does your pride make itself more obvious than in your most intimate relationship, marriage. We cling to our self-image and our need to be right.  As a result, we become judgmental, condescending, angry, and hard-hearted.  Our pride calls us to superiority, and we end up destroying anyone or anything that stands in the way.

If we are to have a marriage that bears the fruit God intended, we must look beyond ourselves. Like Jesus, we must lay down our lives until it hurts. Not occasionally but moment to moment, in every encounter. Paul’s admonishment to “honor one another above yourselves” is no less of a challenge—and no less important—now than when he wrote it.

No one knows how destructive a “marriage contest” can be better than my wife and me.  Like any competition, the stakes increased as time passed. As years rolled by, the exchanges between us became increasingly volatile.  What was once a contest became a full-blown war.

For us, the escalating war of our marriage included police responses to domestic dispute calls, infidelity, alcoholism, and jail time for a DUI arrest. Instead of only pointing the fingers at each other, we invited judges, lawyers, and police officers to help us make our accusations. Our ever-increasing selfishness and self-righteousness brought our marriage and family to the brink of destruction.

Only with God’s intervention was our marriage spared. Now we follow His lead a day at a time and admittedly, some days better than others. The choice not to re-engage in scorekeeping requires deliberate effort.  But we now have hope where we once had none.

Don’t wait as long as we did to forfeit the marriage contest!  The only real way to win in your marriage is to lose.  Lose the scorecard.  Lose the resentment.  Lose your pride. Lose your selfishness.  Surrender your life and your marriage to Jesus Christ, and you’ll find contentment and joy far beyond any competition can offer.

By Joe Barruso with Scott Hancock

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