1 thing you must stop to make your marriage thrive

1 Thing You Must Stop to Make Your Marriage Thrive5 min read

By Jon Beaty

February 4, 2016

love, marriage, christian, relationships

There were times in my marriage when I kept a mental checklist. I used the checklist to keep score. Keeping score was a way to keep the marriage “fair.”

You know what I mean?

Everything 50/50.

But a fair marriage isn’t a thriving marriage.

To help my marriage thrive, I realized I needed to throw away the checklist and stop keeping score.

Childish Behavior from Married Adults

There are times when husbands and wives act more like children than adults.

I’ve been there.

The times when you see your children acting out your worst behavior–that’s what I’m talking about.

Children have a way of keeping score that’s at least learned, if not inherited.

  • “It’s not my turn!”
  • “I did it last time!”
  • “Mom, he/she did it to me again!”

Many married couples follow a similar pattern, but with a more “adult” flavor.

It’s like this:

  • “I work hard all day, it’s my turn to relax.”
  • “I’ve been dealing with problems all day; you deal with the children.”
  • “There you go again! You never listen to what I’m saying.”

I keep score much less than I did earlier in my marriage. But it still springs up from time to time. It’s a behavior that’s so natural, that if I don’t reign it in, it’ll develop into a bad habit.

It needs to stop.

Ditch the”Fair” Marriage Myth

A marriage can’t thrive if the husband and wife insist on splitting everything 50/50. That attitude leaves a split in the relationship. Love can’t live where there’s a ledger tallying its return on investment.

While marriage partners need to have mutually agreed upon roles and responsibilities for a healthy relationship, a flourishing marriage depends on the ability of each spouse to give generously to the other..without keeping score.

A marriage flourishes when both husband and wife voluntarily commit themselves to giving 100% to the relationship.

It’s not reasonable for a husband to expect his wife to feel fulfilled while barricading himself behind unreasonable expectations like these:

  • She owes me.
  • It’s her duty to serve me.
  • I’ll do this for her, once she does that for me.

A wife who holds her husband hostage to unreasonable demands shouldn’t expect her husband to be happy to come home. Demands like these:

  • If he really loved me, he’d buy that for me.
  • If he cared, he’d want to hear the whole story.
  • He should know how I feel.

Cultivating a Thriving Marriage

A thriving marriage grows. Its partners draw closer together in their interests and love for each other.

Imagine a gardener who says, “I won’t care for this plant until it produces good fruit.” He probably won’t be a gardener for long, and if he is, he won’t be a happy gardener. If he gets any fruit, the quality will be poor. His plant will shrivel up and die before its time.

A plant must be nurtured before it will bear fruit. The quality of the fruit depends heavily on the quality of the care it receives.

A marriage must be cultivated to thrive. A marriage that doesn’t need cultivating is dead.

Someone might be ask, “Why should a husband or wife take the initiative to cultivate their marriage if their spouse isn’t giving back? What if the marriage never ‘bears fruit’?”

Maybe it’s you asking.

My answer to the question is another question: “What’s the alternative?”

If you refuse to cultivate your marriage, it has no chance of bearing fruit.

Most marriages pass through periods where one spouse will not–or cannot–give to the marriage. This sometimes happens after events like these:

  • a major disappointment
  • a miscarriage
  • the death of a child
  • an illness
  • a lost job
  • an affair

Those periods where a spouse won’t or can’t give may last hours, weeks, or years.

Sometimes a garden struggles under harsh conditions. A hot and dry summer. Disease. Pests. These are times when the gardener is needed most, and not the time when a gardener should walk away.

There is a risk that the garden will die. If the gardener walks away, it will die for sure.

Jesus knows what it’s like to love, and to risk not receiving love in return.

For thousands of years Jesus pursued His people (1 Corinthians 10:1-4). Many times they rejected His love. He rescued them from slavery, and they longed to go back. They refused His love and pursued strange gods. They handed Him over to the Romans who crucified Him. Yet, Jesus persisted–and persists–in His love for them.

If He walked away, we’d die an eternal death.

What if God had refused to give His Son because His chosen people, and most of the world would reject His gift?

The apostle Paul described the attitude husbands and wives should take toward each other. He called them to submit to each other out of reverence to Christ. He called wives to submit to their husbands as to Jesus. He called husbands to love their wives as Jesus loves His church, giving His life for His bride–His people (Ephesians 5:21-25).

Love doesn’t keep score. Love doesn’t guarantee a return on investment. Love is a risky venture.

“To love is to risk, not being loved in return. To hope is to risk pain. to try is to risk failure. But risk must be taken because the greatest hazard in my life is to risk nothing.” – Leo Buscaglia

This is the kind of love spouses are called to have for each other.

Have you struggled to avoid or to stop keeping score in your marriage? What formulas for success have you found? Please share your thoughts below.


About the author

I help Christian leaders apply the ways and words of Jesus to:
- Overcome limiting beliefs, habits, and traits.
- Build stronger connections with the people they live and work with.
- Clarify and achieve their personal goals and life mission.

  • Such excellent wisdom! God’s grace isn’t fair, amongst the many other areas where life is unfair in my favor too. Being blessed with three–soon to be four–amazing daughters isn’t fair. I did nothing to deserve or earn this–but it is certinally very, very good. Life is often unfair in my favor & I have the privledge of passing on this positive, unfair advantage to others. Of course, whom better to share this with than our spouse.

    I for one, am incredibly lucky that Jenny isn’t keeping score 🙂 I think being married to Jenny is another way I’m benefiting from the unfairness of life, and I’m grateful for it! Thank you for the reminder of how blessed I am & the importance of not keeping score.

    Wishing you & your family a blessed week!

  • Your message takes away all my excuses.

    One question – I’m an all or nothing kind of guy. I see things pretty much black and white- my wife is all grace no discipline regarding the kids – she is also very outspoken. I am quiet and reserved. This has had a huge detrimental effect on our 6 kids. Our 4 boys play video games at least 6 hours per day. I want to take the games away but she says she is cutting them back little by little. I dont see any change. One of my boys said “whats the purpose of living if you take away the only thing I like to do? Please Help. I feel helpless – Thanks

    • Jonathan,

      I’m glad you reached out. This kind of problem often takes a commitment by both spouses to make time where they can talk for extended lengths of time. It’s not likely to be solved over breakfast or dinner, or in the few minutes before bedtime.

      If your wife is willing to have a discussion, start by agreeing to put some guardrails on your discussion to keep your relationship out of the ditch. Read these two short articles together and discuss how you might adapt my recommendations to your situation.

      Why You Should Use Time-Outs to Save Your Marriage-disagree-with-your-spouse-and-win/” target=”_blank”>How to Disagree with Your Spouse and Win!

      For more instruction on these two topics and more, I recommend in this directory.blank”>The Seven Principles for Making Marriage Work, based on over 30 years of research on thousands of couples.

      In my experience, a well-trained, understanding marriage counselor can also be helpful. I can confidently recommend any therapist you find in this directory.

      Let me know how it goes.

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