Sitting on our big front porch (our favorite place), decompressing after a long day, Holly and I chat and watch little bugs lazily float in the sunlight, and friendly neighbors walk their dogs. Boy, our lawn needs to be mowed. I think. Maybe one of the boys could do that? I turn to Holly, “I saw a video online of a couple in ministry talking about marriage today. And it got me thinking, what would we say we’ve learned about marriage? I mean, aside from how easy it is being married to me.” Ha, ha.
“Oh, you mean, how easy it is being married to an 8?!?” In the Enneagram personality test, an 8 is nicknamed The Challenger. Touche. But, Holly and I have been married almost 17 years. Surely, we’ve learned one or two important lessons?? After a thoughtful pause, she says, “You can either be a servant to your spouse, or you can be selfish. That’s the biggest thing I’ve learned. You can’t have it both ways. You have to choose the mentality of a servant—but it’s so hard!”
“That’s interesting!” I respond. “I was thinking of something along those lines, too, but I was imagining myself as more like a customer service rep. Like, ‘Welcome to your marriage…how can I help?‘”
Huh. That’s a new picture. Now obviously, Holly isn’t my customer—but what if we thought of ourselves as personally responsible for the quality of our spouse’s experience in marriage? What if we saw it as our job to actively look for ways to help our spouse and our marriage get better? Wouldn’t that make a huge difference? Not just in the quality of our relationship but our love, joy, and peace as well?
After observing a LOT of couples as a pastor, I think the bar for the quality of the typical marriage relationship is way too low. The relational standard for the average marriage is basically ALCAP (As Little Conflict As Possible). But is that really the definition of a quality relationship? NOT fighting? I would say it’s neutral at best. That doesn’t speak at all to what a relationship is supposed to be in a positive sense. But I get it. Married couples are two imperfect, sometimes downright evil individuals. Little character cracks or quirks that are readily overlooked or are even endearing while dating can become infuriating in marriage. Marriage is tough. It’s a daily struggle to love your spouse well. And—shockingly—your spouse is having just as tough a time loving you as well!
So, how do customer service reps serve their customers?
1. They fight to listen.
They ask questions, they study surveys, they’re always gathering data. It’s hard to hear anyone in today’s chaotic world. So we can’t be passive in listening to our spouse—we need to fight to listen. How are they doing? How was their day…really? How did that conversation go? What are the areas in your relationship that could be better? When was the last time they really felt loved? Husbands, how/when do you fight to listen to your wives?
2. They empathize.
They understand that people are wired very differently than they are, so they will undoubtedly see the world in a different way. They try to understand where their customers are coming from, feel what their customers are feeling, and find common ground to build relational trust. This is Relationship 101. It takes time, honesty, and empathy to build trust. Wives, do you see the differences in your husband as differences or as flaws? How are you seeking to understand him?
3. They work to solve problems.
When do people call customer service lines? Not usually to praise the company for making excellent products or providing marvelous services. Usually, it’s when something is wrong! Marriage is hard. Even when things are going relatively well, it takes a lot of work to stay healthy, much less to grow. Few couples go into marriage understanding the amount of relational work that will be in their future. But it’s not drudgery! The work of listening, empathizing, and working on problems and growth areas is some of the most fulfilling work you could imagine. You might not receive a salary for this work, but you’ll see a great return on your investment. Maybe not every day, but month by month and year after year, you’ll see a rough sketch of a human being, come into focus in the likeness of Christ. Over time, you’ll have the opportunity to see the God-given potential of your spouse and experience a deeply satisfying relationship with someone sharing a journey of growth.
Christians have the best motivation for adopting this customer service mindset. In the gospel, the servant-based love we’ve received from God in Christ is the atomic power source of love for everyone else. “We love because he first loved us.” (1Jn 4:19) This is why the Apostle Paul encouraged husbands to “…love your wives, just as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her,” (Eph 5:25). The gospel empowers and directs joyful, sacrificial love for our spouse. Will the gospel change our selfish mentality overnight? Nope. But given some time, and the mighty grace of God, we will more readily choose to be a servant to our spouse, and we just might see them flourish. Wouldn’t that be worth it? Let’s get to work!