Tuesday, July 31, 2007

Give and Take?

I've often heard marriage described as a "give and take" relationship. I don't know if I agree with the phrase, even as I understand the purpose behind it. I don't know how "take" is a valid concept in marriage. I think marriage may be better served by the phrase "give and request." Here's why.

If we desire a godly happy marriage, we must be willing to give ourselves in the service of our spouse. And yet there will be times when we desire something that requires our spouse's approval. For instance, let's say I want to take a trip to the Grand Canyon some day before the kids are grown (and I do). Pulling that off will obviously take the agreement of my wife.

Now, if I never make that desire known to her, how can she give her consent? But in making that desire known to her, I am laying a burden upon her. I am putting her in a position where she has to decide whether to indulge my desire, or object to it. I am not actively giving to her at this point, but requesting that she give in to me.

She may have numerous reasons for not wanting to take such a trip. She takes primary responsibility for the kids. I can picture us driving down the road, and I'm admiring the St. Louis arch, and the plains of Wyoming, and the skylines of major cities, and the Rocky Mountains, and the Hummers passing by. She would be answering questions from the kids, and changing diapers, and passing back juicies, and intermediating backseat battles between our five children. I'm calm and content. She's frazzled and frustrated. I think, "Great vacation!" She thinks, "I wonder if we could have just read the book on the Grand Canyon."

I'm not saying that she wouldn't get anything out of the trip, or that she'd complain at all. I'm saying I know she'd be the one to bear all the added pressures a trip like that would take. So the question is whether she says "yes" or "no." If she says, "Yes," then she's giving to me. She's dying to her temporal comfort for my sake. But I have taken nothing. I request. She gives. If she says, "No," then I have still taken nothing, provided I respect her legitimate decision.

Taking would be for me to ignore her pleas not to go on such a long, drawn out trip with five small children in tow. Taking would be for me to put her on a guilt trip for declining my idea. Taking would be to punish her for saying no. "Why should I go to the zoo with you, you don't want to go the Grand Canyon with me." Taking would be to say, "You can stay behind if you want, but I've already arranged our trip." Surely no one would think taking would be justified, if my wife expressed her legitimate concerns with my idea.

So why do we call marriage a "give and take." It's a "give and request" flowing both ways. And out of love for our spouse, we will desire to give in to as many requests as we responsibly can, flowing both ways. The marriage will run smoothest, and be happiest when God's glory is the guiding principle behind the requests. If it's any other way, then conflict will eventually result.

In a give and take scenario, what happens when both spouses are in the mood to take? Who gets? Both get a selfish spouse and a headache. Give and take marriages set each spouse against the other in an adversarial role. "You took last time, it's my turn to take now." "You took money to buy a new dress, so I'm taking money to buy a new putter." "You took Friday night to go out with your friends, so I'm taking next weekend to go fishing."

Do you see the shift from both spouses being prepared to give to both spouses looking for an excuse to take? Give and take marriage sets a couple up for continual trades and manipulations and shaftings. But a give and request marriage sets both spouses up for multiple opportunities to serve their mate by fulfilling the requests. A perpetual rule of reciprocity becomes the norm, and both spouses feel served rather than used.

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