by Gary Chapman
Few people will run away from a spouse who serves them.
Before marriage, I dreamed about how happy I would be after Karolyn and I began life together. I had visions of all the wonderful things she would do for me — sausage and eggs together in the morning, candlelit dinners at night, holding hands all day long, and sex every night. I assumed Karolyn had the same visions.
However, after marriage I discovered that my wife didn’t do mornings; so much for the sausage and eggs. She anticipated that I would take her out to romantic restaurants for dinner, not as a prelude to sex, but simply because I loved her. I expressed my disappointment with her, and she expressed her disappointment with me. We succeeded in being miserable.
Over the past 35 years as a marriage counselor, I’ve discovered that thousands of other couples have experienced the same disappointment and frustration we experienced. Our marriage didn’t turn around overnight, but it did turn around. And so can yours.
A Profound Thought
For me, the journey to a good marriage began with an academic exercise and ended with spiritual renewal. I was a graduate student in seminary, studying to be a pastor and saying to God, This is not going to work. There’s no way I can be this miserable in my marriage and preach hope to people! Then I thought: What if I did an in-depth study of the teachings of Jesus and then sought to apply them to my marriage? In retrospect, it was one of the most profound thoughts I’ve ever had.
The life and teachings of Jesus focus on sacrificial service to others. Peter said of Him, “He went about doing good” (Acts 10:38). Jesus once said about Himself, “[I] did not come to be served but to serve” (Matthew 20:28). Service is a theme that all great men and women affirm. Life’s greatest meaning is not found in getting, but in giving.
A Few Good Questions
In the early years of my marriage, my focus had been on what Karolyn should do for me. Since she didn’t live up to my expectations, I blamed her for our poor marriage. In my studies, I encountered another teaching of Jesus: “Why do you look at the speck in your brother’s eye but don’t notice the log in your own eye?” (Matthew 7:3). It hit me like a ton of bricks because I knew that my approach to our marriage was filled with blaming her instead of asking, Where am I failing in my marriage?
When I was willing to pray: Lord, please show me where I’m failing in my marriage, God immediately answered my prayer: You don’t have the attitude of Christ toward Karolyn. You’re not seeking to serve her; you’re asking her to serve you.
Then I prayed, Lord, please give me the attitude of Christ toward Karolyn and show me how I can serve her. God answered that prayer too. He gave me a sincere desire to serve my wife. When I began to ask the question, “What can I do to help you?” Karolyn was fully willing to give me an answer. She taught me how I could serve her in meaningful ways. A second question I learned to ask was, “How can I make your life easier?” — and later, “How can I be a better husband to you?” Her answers to these three questions gave me the information I needed to express the attitude of Christ toward her.
Gary’s Tip of the Month Are you willing to pray this prayer?
Lord, please give me the attitude of Christ toward my spouse.
Within three months, Karolyn began to ask me those same three questions. We both learned “it is more blessed to give than to receive” (Acts 20:35b), which is another of the teachings of Jesus. Romantic feelings were reborn. We were no longer enemies preaching at each other; we had become allies who were sensitive to each other’s desires. We had discovered the royal road of serving others. In counseling with couples through the years, I’ve observed that few people will run away from a spouse who serves them.
Are you willing to pray this prayer? Lord, please give me the attitude of Christ toward my spouse. It’s a prayer God will answer. When your heart is changed, you can honestly say, “I’m not in this marriage to be served. I’m in this marriage to serve.” When that attitude is lived out on a daily basis, your marriage is on the road to becoming what God intended it to be. To love is to serve. •
Gary Chapman hosts two national radio programs: Building Relationships and A Love Language Minute — both are on the Moody Broadcasting network and can be downloaded at fivelovelanguages.com. Gary is an author and marriage conference leader and serves on the staff of Calvary Baptist Church in Winston-Salem, N.C. He and his wife, Karolyn, have two grown children.
This article originally appeared in the February 2011 issue of HomeLife. To subscribe, click here or on the magazine cover.