One year into marriage, one piece of marital advice from my bridal shower has stuck with me above all others: always try to out-serve one another.
Marriages work best if each partner thinks they are giving 110 percent.
In the past year I can honestly say that there have been countless moments when my husband has been doing more than his fair share of the serving. Trying to keep my head above water as I worked my full-time job and tackled a graduate school class, I didn’t always feel like I was being a good wife.
Sometimes the only way we could fit in dinner together between meetings and other obligations was if Paul cooked it and had it ready for me when I get home. Sometimes the only way I could justify having people over on a Saturday morning before a football game was if Paul cleaned the house. I often felt guilty knowing he was out-serving me — and doing it with such a joyful heart.
Of course, there will be times in our marriage when the tables are turned, when I’m the one carrying the brunt of the household responsibilities. With the arrival of our newborn daughter, I assume there will never be a shortage of work to do or ways to serve, and finding joy in the mundane is not always the easiest thing to do — especially when it can feel in certain moments like I’m doing it on I’m own. It can be easy to focus on all that I’m doing while Paul is playing video games in the basement and completely gloss over the fact that he also emptied the dishwasher or put a load of laundry in the washing machine just moments earlier.
It may feel like I’m doing more than my share of the work, but that is when I have to remind myself that we are a team, and the only way to help our team to flourish is to focus on giving 110 percent. If I get focused on splitting things 50-50, then I start thinking about what’s fair for me. It’s a selfish impulse, when I should be living out of generosity.
(At the same time, we should also attend to healthy relationship dynamics — a toxic relationship is one that does not share mutuality, where the balance of effort always flows in one direction because of selfishness or dysfunction.)
This same dynamic of service plays out in friendships and work relationships as well. St. Mother Theresa said, “Love does not measure; it only gives.” Sometimes I’m good at giving without measure; and other times I find myself “keeping score,” being frustrated if a friend is not carrying her weight in the friendship. Sometimes I can give it my all at work; other times I can’t help but compare myself to the person in the office next door who just does not seem to be doing his or her share.
I have to remember that everybody has their own battles, that everybody is in a different stage of life and has their own struggles to deal with. How many times have my friends showed me mercy when I was being a crappy friend? Likewise, other people’s jobs can look easy — until I step into their shoes and see all that goes on behind the scenes.
Marriages and friendships are journeys that are dynamic, where the balance ebbs and flows. Sometimes one of us is climbing a mountain while the other is scrubbing floors — literally or metaphorically. That doesn’t mean that moments or months later the positions won’t be flipped.
Jesus was not afraid to get his hands dirty and wash others’ feet. He healed the sick, forgave sinners, and fed the hungry without asking anything in return. He didn’t make sure the scales were balanced before he did any of that — or even when he accepted death on the cross. If my short stint as a spouse has taught me anything, it’s to pray that I may always use Christ’s example as I strive to out-serve my husband and all whom I encounter.