One of the best gifts you can give your spouse is enthusiasm; not just accepting each other’s differences, but celebrating those differences, admiring those differences, and being thankful that your life together will be that much richer and more well-rounded because the two of you are different.
Let me give you an example from my own marriage.
Lisa and I look at food through two radically different lenses. I eat primarily because I hate being hungry, but food isn’t something I get all that excited about. It’s a means to an end for me. Lisa, on the other hand, likes being hungry because that means she gets to eat. So when we travel, she researches the restaurants and then wants to discuss where I’d like to eat before we go. (She’s very into healthy, organic food, which takes a little more effort to find.)
The problem is, I have to work at making myself care. I don’t have much natural interest in restaurant reviews or menus and the fact that it’s “local” doesn’t mean hardly anything to me, but if I tell Lisa “Just choose whatever sounds best to you,” I spoil her fun. She wants me to at least try to sound excited, to show a little enthusiasm (and even to care that the food is sourced locally).
So, loving my wife means listening to her reading the reviews, looking at menus, and trying to be as enthusiastic as possible. When I ran the Houston marathon recently, I ran past a place advertising “Organic, locally raised, grass-fed beef.” I made a mental note and made sure to mention it to Lisa later that day.
I think this same principle of showing enthusiasm holds true for some couples in regards to sex. For some people, sex is a wonderful, sensual, fulfilling, and thrilling experience. For others, it occasionally may feel like a need, but why all the bother? Let’s just do it, get it over with, and move on.
When you’re married, if your spouse enjoys sex like my spouse enjoys food, and you’re more like me when it comes to choosing a restaurant, it’s simply a matter of kindness to play along and add a little enthusiasm.
Maybe your spouse knows something you don’t. I’m not proud of my attitude toward food, and you shouldn’t necessarily be proud of your attitude toward sex. I could easily make my lack of interest sound spiritual—eating is often called a sensual desire, it’s setting our heart on transient things, Jesus even warns about giving what we eat too much attention—and you could make those exact same arguments against too much focus on sex.
But here’s the thing: Lisa actually serves our marriage by making us care a little more about food and menus than I do. She just about fell into despair when she found out that while I was on a solo speaking trip to a very small town I ate at a Wendy’s three days in a row (“I like the chili,” I explained, “and it was close to my hotel”). And perhaps your spouse is serving your marriage by trying to make the sexual relationship more of a “gourmet” experience than you would otherwise enjoy.
Look, it’s not healthy for me to eat at a Wendy’s three days in a row just because it’s convenient and meets the need. And, sexually speaking, you don’t want “fast food” three times in a row either. So maybe you need a reminder. It would thrill Lisa if I took the initiative occasionally and researched a great restaurant, surprising her and delighting her that for once, she didn’t have to do all the work. And it might thrill your spouse if you put a little forethought into an intimate encounter that required a little preparation and effort.
When you discover these differences, remind yourself that having someone who values arriving on-time and someone who is more spontaneous and struggles with being late balances each other out. If one is too serious and one is too “fun;” if one is meticulously clean and the other thinks life is too short to spend time cleaning; realize you’ll never fully come over to your spouse’s side but you can appreciate, learn from and respect your spouse’s side. The messy person shouldn’t resent his/her spouse’s request to clean up a little better. Accept it. Even better, celebrate it and praise it. You know in your heart of hearts being neat and clean is a good thing, right? Maybe your future spouse takes it too seriously, but do you take it seriously enough?
Do you see how this works?
What I love about this is that serving my wife means caring about something that doesn’t naturally have all that much appeal to me. Choosing enthusiasm thus creates humility, generosity, kindness, and the spirit of service. These are good things. Isn’t this the kind of person you want to become?
And what do we foster when we choose not to care and not to be enthusiastic? Apathy. Self-centeredness. Stinginess. Close-mindedness.
If you’re a young couple, learning to be enthusiastic about something you’re not naturally all that excited about will serve you very well as a parent with your children (who may end up being very different from you and enjoying different things). It will help you in social situations with strangers. It will assist you as your parents get older and want to talk about their days.
Want a serviceable definition of “marital humility?” Instead of always trying to make your spouse become more like you, consider trying to become a little more like him or her.
A Marriage Prayer
Heavenly Father, thank you for making each one of us different than the other. Help us to see your joy in bringing different people together to learn from each other, support each other, and balance each other out. Save me from the pride that wants to re-make my spouse in my own image. Help me to appreciate him or her just as they are. In Jesus’ name, amen.