Over the years, we’ve heard many sad stories from people. A lot of these people were on the brink of separation or divorce, or they had already ended their marriages. When we probed about why their marriages didn’t last, most answers we received sounded something like this:
“He was never there for me.”
“She didn’t care about my needs.”
“I always felt like a second-class citizen.”
Marriages that go the distance and thrive are marriages where husband and wife serve each other by putting each other first— after their allegiance to Christ. Serving love means that you place a higher priority on meeting your spouse’s needs than on meeting your own. We don’t want to sound like prophets of doom, but our research and experience have convinced us that if you don’t put your spouse first, it may eventually cost you your marriage. It’s that important.
The success of a marriage—or any relationship, for that matter—really goes back to Paul’s straightforward words in Philippians 2:3: “Be humble, thinking of others as better than yourself.” This doesn’t mean that we must adopt and nurture an inferiority complex. It doesn’t mean thinking less of ourselves than we should as God’s dearly loved and valued creation. Rather, it means seeing ourselves as we really are in Christ and regarding others as even better.
Paul goes on to explain where this attitude comes from: “Your attitude should be the same that Christ Jesus had. Though he was God, he did not demand and cling to his rights as God. He made himself nothing; he took the humble position of a slave and appeared in human form. And in human form he obediently humbled himself even further by dying a criminal’s death on a cross” (Philippians 2:5-8).
Who is greater, you or Jesus? Who deserves more honor and glory, you or Jesus? Who is stronger, more compassionate, more faithful, more wise? Clearly, it’s not you. Jesus is number one in all of creation. And yet he thought of you as better than himself when he became a man and died to meet your need for a Savior.
This is the attitude you are to adopt toward your spouse. The contrast is not as dramatic, of course, since you are not perfect and neither is your spouse. But when you think of your spouse as more important than yourself, you won’t have any trouble putting him or her first in your life. You will lovingly serve your spouse by doing for him or her what you wish others would do for you if you were in the same circumstance.
Here are some practical guidelines for putting your honey first:
Assist your spouse with his or her more menial tasks, such as making the beds, taking out the trash, cleaning, yard work, or whatever. Wherever the task might go smoother or faster with two people working and you are present and able to help, jump right in.
Communicate how important your spouse is when you talk about him or her instead of grabbing the spotlight for yourself. Always speak positively and constructively about your spouse around your children. When you are with other adults, make a point to bring up complimentary tidbits about your spouse. And you should share your positive comments as generously in private—alone with your spouse—as you do in public.
Never berate, demean, or humiliate your spouse in public or private. Such words and actions fairly shout, “You are not important to me!” This doesn’t mean you shouldn’t confront or correct in appropriate ways. On the contrary, such activities—when they are done lovingly—can also convey your spouse’s great importance to you. In effect, you are saying, “I love you too much to let you continue in a wrong or harmful direction.”
Try to outdo your spouse with courtesy and kindness. One couple we know practices this guideline in restaurants, among other places. Josh knows that his wife, Carrie, likes to sit where she can see the people, not where she is staring at a wall. So when they are escorted to a booth, Josh always directs Carrie to the side of the booth with the best “view,” where she is facing the most people, even if that means he can see only a wall beyond her. Carrie occasionally protests, offering Josh her favorite seat. But Josh enjoys treating Carrie to a view seat, and Carrie loves the fact that her husband is so tuned in to her interests.
Make time alone a priority. Nothing says “You are number one in my life” like putting your spouse first with your time. And nothing communicates second-class status (or third or fourth) more than elevating your schedule and activities above time spent with your spouse. We’re not talking about spending every waking moment together, of course. But you are wise to carve out significant portions of your week for one-on-one conversation, where you are focused on one another instead of work, a hobby, the TV, childcare, or even a church function. This may require some practical scheduling on your part, but don’t overlook the spontaneous, such as, “Let’s get a babysitter to watch the kids for a couple of hours and just go for a drive together.” Check out our book 40 Unforgettable Dates with Your Mate for some great date ideas!
If you want your marriage marked by serving love, you can start by putting your spouse first.