The three parts of this post have now been compiled into a single free ebook, available in a wide variety of formats.
This is an issue that I have greatly struggled with – it is possibly the single biggest issue that I have struggled to understand regarding marriage over the years (or it may be joint first, tied with the question of “how do I know my husband will remain excellent?” ). No-one will ever persuade me that it is wrong to be aware of my own needs in marriage – this blog is built entirely on that premise that it is good and right for me to consider my own needs. This is because, struggling with the question for so long, but not knowing the answer, I have erred “safely” on the side of my own self-concern.
Now I feel as if I have a valid and powerful answer to the issue. I wonder what changes I would make if I went back and reassessed my existing posts from this new understanding?
Believe it or not, in many of my relationships and friendships I can actually be quite selfless. However, marriage has always been the big exception to this. In my mind I have always looked upon marriage as a time of meeting my own needs, whenever I feel a yearning for intimacy, or deep heartfelt conversations, or warm, strong hugs, I always think “When I get married!”, looking forward to this time as the time when I can finally get a very, very long list of needs met.
I have always struggled with that tension between being selfless in marriage, and getting my own needs met. I cannot even begin to pretend that I will be getting married and tying myself to someone else out of a purely selfless desire to serve this same someone else for the rest of my life. Obviously I want and need to get something out of it too!
On the other hand, common sense dictates that if we, my husband and I, are both grabbing as much from the marriage as we possibly can, as fast as we can, without putting anything back, then the tank, or bank of our marriage will soon run dry.
Because I am generally considerate and caring in my friendships and yet have always thought of marriage as a place in which to get my own needs fulfilled, a future husband might notice a shocking change in me once we get married. Someone who used to be so accommodating and kind is suddenly making lots of insistent demands! This will not be because I was pretending in any way before marriage, or because I was not genuinely as kind as I seemed. I was, and I am. It is simply because this is my view of marriage – my time – finally!
I have always been a little fearful about the idea of unconditional love.
What if I give everything, and my husband gives nothing back – in that case I will have lost out, and I will find myself empty-handed in exchange for all my effort!
While it may be unrealistic to suggest that one spouse will give absolutely nothing, (while the other gives everything), in many marriages problems seem to occur when one party feels as if they are unfairly giving more than the other to the marriage. Some people will give a certain amount, and then when their spouse fails to reciprocate adequately, then they will scale back their own contribution to the marriage, or even stop it altogether. In this way the marriage can enter a “tit for tat” stage, first you do something, then I will do something, then you do something, then I will do something…. and if one of us fails at any time to make our contribution, then the thing grinds to a halt.
Here is a way that has occurred to me to square this circle. Imagine if, rather than taking as much as we can from the marriage, both of us will instead be giving as much as we can, as fast as we can – imagine the atmosphere in that kind of marriage!
Yes, I have valid and legitimate needs, and yes, it is appropriate for me to expect that those needs will be met in marriage. However, my husband will obviously also have his own needs, and might also equally have dreamt of marriage as a time when his own needs will finally get met!
How about this – if I make up my mind to concentrate on fulfilling my husband’s needs, not forgetting my own requirements, but rather looking up to God, rather than my hubby, to meet them? This means that I don’t need to wait for hubby to reciprocate but I can rather just continue pouring into my marriage as much love, beauty, tenderness and kindness as I can. This means that when I am feeling frustrated that what I need is not happening, I do not need to “take it out” on my husband, or hold back from fulfilling his own needs, until he finally “gets it” and reciprocates adequately. What I can do is go to God, and complain to Him, pour out my heart etc – and trust that He will act. Why after all, why would I complain to a mere man, when I can complain to a whole God?!
This means that I can take the same selflessness demonstrated in our friendship state right into our marriage, without having to undergo any change which the eventual Monsieur Le Huggie-Wuggie might find shocking.
This also means that for me as I am now, single, when interacting with various guys who could each potentially be my husband, I do not have to alter my behaviour based on whether someone could eventually be my husband or not. In a way I don’t have to worry about this at all. All I have to do is concentrate on being a genuine friend, and walk in obedience with God, trusting Him that He God will meet my needs. That is, when as a single person, I find myself being overtaken by thoughts of hugs and holding hands, I do not have to look around to assess which of my friends could fully meet these needs. Rather I can turn these yearnings over to God, and make sure that they are not in any way sitting in my mind when I am interacting with my friends
From this, part of ensuring that I will get my legitimate needs met is to obey God to make sure I marry the right guy in the first place.
Also imagine if both parties in a marriage are doing this, each giving all they can in love and friendship to one another, not holding back or allowing their expressions of love and considerate care to become restricted to a tit-for-tat routine, not making angry demands of one another, but each being individually committed to continue pouring out love, no matter what. This is what unconditional love means.
This is the attitude that I now wish to cultivate towards my husband: It is not your responsibility to meet my needs, rather it is God’s responsibility. It is my responsibility to be used by God to meet your needs!
Now that this has occurred to me I am so excited at the prospect of being able to work to create a marriage like this! I am so eager for him to show up now, so that I could enthusiastically pour out all I possibly can of love, grace, kindness and generosity straight onto his head!
1 Corinthians 13v4:
4 Love suffers long and is kind; love does not envy; love does not parade itself, is not puffed up;
There is now a Part 2 to this post, available here
Part 3 is available here
Red heart and hands image by Petr Kratochvil at http://www.publicdomainpictures.net