One of the oldest living married couples, Herbert and Zelmyra Fisher of New Bern, North Carolina, married May 1, 1924, celebrated 86 years of marriage together in 2009 at the ages of 101 and 105!
My husband and I’s mere 2.5 years together clearly doesn’t measure up when compared to theirs! Like millions of others, we want to ask them: What made you realize you could spend the rest of your lives together? How did you know your spouse was the right one? What is your fondest memory?
In an interview with them, an even more important question was asked:
At the end of bad relationship day, what is the most important thing to remind yourselves?
“Remember marriage is not a contest – never keep a score. God has put the two of you together on the same team to win.”
Their advice got me thinking: how often do I compete against my husband?
Sure we compete when we play sports or board games against each other, but that’s healthy.
Sometimes, I believe subconsciously, unintentionally, we compete in other things, thinks like who’s the better cook? the better driver? cleaner? saver? Especially worrisome are the who’s the better spouse? date planner? gift giver? nurturing parent? and even who’s the better Christian? competitions.
When kids come along we keep score of who changed more diapers, took out the trash last, vacuumed more thoroughly and got up more at night. We complain about things that aren’t done to our liking, whether it’s how the dishes are loaded in the dishwasher or how our shirts are hung up.
Comparing Jobs and Responsibilities
With all the talk in society about fairness and equality between the sexes, it’s easy to play the gender role card.
We compare the outside-the-home job with the inside-the-home job.
Our need to feel valued in our separate roles urges us to compare days, one-up each other’s awful days, hoping to make the other feel sorry for us (and make ourselves seem superior in the process) because we suffered the longer, more stressful day.
The pity party of the jobs/sexes has commenced.
Or at least in our home. Because I totally do this, even though my husband doesn’t usually play along. He more often than not grins and bears my daily dumpings immediately upon his arrival home from work.
Welcome home, honey! Let me tell you about all the awful things I dealt with today… Aren’t you glad you came home to a chain gang?
Because I do this, my husband says I’m too negative and repeatedly reminds me to look for the positive when writing on the blog and talking to others.
And he’s right. (Yes, I said it!)
Competition or Unrighteous Dominion?
While thinking about these things over, I read Elder Larry Y Wilson’s talk that addressed this competitive attitude, calling it by a much scarier term: Unrighteous Dominion. He said:
We simply cannot force others to do the right thing. The scriptures make it clear that this is not God’s way. Compulsion builds resentment. It conveys mistrust, and it makes people feel incompetent. Learning opportunities are lost when controlling persons pridefully assume they have all the right answers for others. The scriptures say that “it is the nature and disposition of almost all men” to engage in this “unrighteous dominion,”so we should be aware that it’s an easy trap to fall into. Women too may exercise unrighteous dominion, though the scriptures identify the problem especially with men.
Unrighteous dominion is often accompanied by constant criticism and the withholding of approval or love. Those on the receiving end feel they can never please such leaders or parents [or spouses] and that they always fall short. (emphasis mine)
I don’t wanna be guilty of unrighteous anything, especially in connection to my family. Too often I do think I am right and that my way of doing things is the best way. I’m often very stubborn and opinionated, and so is my husband. And so our battle of superiority begins.
The Spirit of Contention
President Dieter F. Uchdorf talked about eliminating contention and judgment from our lives. He said,
I imagine that every person on earth has been affected in some way by the destructive spirit of contention, resentment, and revenge. Perhaps there are even times when we recognize this spirit in ourselves. When we feel hurt, angry, or envious, it is quite easy to judge other people, often assigning dark motives to their actions in order to justify our own feelings of resentment. [. . ].
But when it comes to our own prejudices and grievances, we too often justify our anger as righteous and our judgment as reliable and only appropriate. Though we cannot look into another’s heart, we assume that we know a bad motive or even a bad person when we see one. We make exceptions when it comes to our own bitterness because we feel that, in our case, we have all the information we need to hold someone else in contempt.
Stop Thinking About Yourself
Thinking about what isn’t or could have been is destructive and builds resentment. It judges and condemns others and yourself in the process. Forgiving and thinking about what can be and should be is productive, righteous, and shows love.
Both my husband and I do very important jobs. He’s earning our family’s income. I’m raising kids and maintaining our home. We are both fulfilling our team’s goals, yes, separately, individually, but by doing so we are accomplishing more together. When I imagine doing everything my husband does plus everything I do (i.e. like a single mother), handling life seems more challenging than my current feat.
I know what needs to happen: instead of thinking about how much more I do for my home and my family than my spouse, I need to think about how much more I could do for my family instead.
Marriage is a Partnership
Marriage is intended to be a partnership, a team effort.
Instead of complaining something isn’t done to our liking or our spouse is lacking something somewhere, why can’t we just cheerfully pick up the slack?
We win when our goals our met, yet winning often proves a very painful process. We bicker and nit-pick. We fight about nothing of value. Those things hold us back from marital happiness and growth. They cause our team to lose, slowly, but surely, even if various things are crossed off the to-do list.
Doing my duties, happily, cheerfully, helps the team. It accomplishes our goals of a clean home and happy, fed children. Helping each other means we’re winning.
How to Be a More Unified Marital Team
My husband and I talked about these things a few nights ago and decided to write down our family and marital goals. How can we win if we don’t even know what we’re trying to achieve?
We discussed what we want to accomplish in our marriage, in our family, and in our home and why. We discussed what things really mattered to each other (he may not care that the bed is made every day, and I may not care that the front door is locked at all time, but the other does). Knowing what is and isn’t actually important to our homes, kids, work, and spouses keeps our priorities straight.
Knowing and remembering our immediate and end goals after a long day of work or of parenting, when we don’t want to do our part, or it feels too hard, we understand the why. We see the forest through trees. As parents we are commenced in a great work. We need to know that our seemingly never-ending baby steps forward are still meeting our marital and eternal goals.
May we all take Herbert and Zelmyra Fisher’s 86 years of marriage advice to heart and treat our spouses better. He or she is on your side. Let’s love one another more and forgive each other’s past mistakes. God bless you and yours.
How do you work towards being on the same team as a couple? How do you remind yourself that marriage is not a competition?
*P.S. If you are looking for a program to help your marriage, check out The Dating Diva’s Reclaim Your Marriage 10-Week Program. Be sure to check out their FREE Webinar first for a sampling of what you can expect in this amazing course. It’s more affordable than counseling!