Several years ago, I used to meet with a group of Christian men each Tuesday for breakfast. I remember one breakfast in particular on an occasion when I was angry with my wife. I had come to the group that morning with a burning need to get my frustrations off my chest, so I began sharing with them “what a great husband I was” and “what a bad wife she was. ” I know now that my perspective was totally distorted, but at the time, I was buying everything that the Enemy was selling.
I think I went ten minutes without taking a breath, and when I finally finished, my friends voiced their support and shared ideas about how I could improve things. We prayed together for God to help me with my anger, and we all headed out to work.
The next day, I got an e-mail from one of the men, who had been uncharacteristically quiet during my rant the previous morning. This was a man I had a great deal of respect for because of the character and wisdom he had shown during the previous year as he watched his wife die of cancer. God had done incredible things in his marriage during their ordeal, and though he eventually lost his beloved wife to the disease, he was never bitter. He and his wife both regularly spoke of the “blessings of cancer,” because they had grown so much closer to each other and to God through the struggle.
I trusted this friend to give it to me straight, and he did. His e-mail hit me directly between the eyes.
“I can hear in your complaints a feeling that your wife isn’t doing her job in your marriage, that she isn’t pulling her share of the load.“
“BINGO!” I thought. That was exactly how I felt! Then he asked me a question that felt a bit unfriendly.
“Do you know what your problem is?”
This seemed like a breech of trust. He was supposed to commiserate with me – not point out my flaws. He continued…
“You think that your marriage is a 50/50 deal. If your wife does her 50% of the chores and the parenting and meeting your needs, you’ll give your 50%. But you’ve got it all wrong. Marriage isn’t 50/50. It’s 100/0.”
I have to admit….at this point, he lost me. I couldn’t even conceive of what he was talking about. How could it ever be 100% / 0%? And even if it could be, that wasn’t fair….or practical.
“The Bible says that we are to love our wives as Christ loved the Church. So, ask yourself…how did Christ love the Church?
“Unconditionally. No strings attached. He gave everything to us, and His only expectation was that we receive it – that we accept the gift of His death on the cross to pay our sin debt. In the Greek, it’s called “agape” love. It’s completely unselfish. It gives without expecting anything in return. It even gives when the one it’s given to refuses to receive it.”
That was it. No pep talk. No softening of the message. Just the hard truth.
I wasn’t ready to receive it, and I was a little angry with my friend for his flippant way of dismissing my wife’s responsibility in the marriage. Why should I have to do everything? Wasn’t it reasonable to expect that she contribute and meet my needs, too?
But like a time-release capsule, the truth of my friend’s message slowly worked on me. The more I wrestled with it, the more I had to accept it. It occurred to me that the expectations I placed on my wife actually had the power to enslave me. The longer she took to meet them, the angrier I would get. While I waited for her to act according to my standards, I would stew in my own acid. Ironically, I would typically find out later that she wasn’t even aware of the yardstick I was using to measure her.
If, on the other hand, I placed no expectation on my wife…if I loved her unconditionally and required nothing in return…I was free! My emotions wouldn’t be tied to her action or inaction, and my reasons for loving her and serving her wouldn’t be linked to some ulterior motive. If she treated me badly or indifferently, it would be no less than my expectation. However, if she treated me with love and kindness, it would be a bonus and a delight.
Once I began trying to practice 100/0, an odd thing happened. I started to notice things my wife was doing and sacrifices she was making that hadn’t registered on my radar before. My perspective started to clear, and I could see how I was contributing to the problems we were having. The biggest paradigm shift came when I realized that my unrealistic expectations were actually making it more difficult for my wife to show me grace. Because they were so high, I didn’t acknowledge the positive things she was doing or the changes she was trying to make. Nothing would satisfy, because I was practicing selective perception (meaning that I was only looking for evidence that agreed with what I already thought to be true – that I was selfless victim in our marriage).
The beauty of 100/0 is that it’s remarkably effective at producing in the other person a desire to reciprocate. It’s difficult to withstand true grace for long. Unconditional love generates goodwill and frees the recipient to respond in his or her own time and in his or her own way. Not everyone will respond in kind, but this approach works much better than the more traditional manipulation tactics, which tend to create resentment and hard feelings. Of course, if you practice 100/0 in order to get the other person to reciprocate, it won’t work. The zero must be a true zero.
But even if 100/0 didn’t work out logically, it would still be the right thing to do. God called us to follow His example – to love our spouses even when they are acting unlovable. We’ve got the wrong idea about God’s purposes for marriage. It’s not intended to guarantee us happiness or lifelong fulfillment. Rather, in the words of Emerson Eggerich, it’s a tool and a test. A tool that shapes us more like Christ, and a test that reveals where our heart is.
The tool will continue to carve away anything that doesn’t look like our Savior, and the test will continue to be administered throughout our marriages. If God passed out our grades today, I’m afraid most of us would be retaking the course. On this test, you want to make both a 100 and a 0.