It is entitlement.
There are a lot of books and seminars out there on how to improve your marriage (some of them very good). But if one of them actually worked in a once-and-for-all fashion, couldn’t books and seminars like these stop being made?
My wife and I were both virgins when we got married. I was told by my church upbringing and by Christian sexual purity books I read in college that if I saved myself sexually until marriage, God would bless my marriage. (Another way of saying “bless” would be: “everything you desire,” a la Psalm 37:4)
A deal was struck with God: I do my part. He does his.
This is entitlement. The feeling that I deserve something; that I’ve earned something.
This view was compounded by the marriage books His Needs, Her Needs and The Five Love Languages, which taught that if you show love to your spouse in the way they want you to, you are entitled to a kickback from them in the way you want to receive love. I scratch your back and you scratch mine, and everyone is happy…as long as the scoreboard is even.
What these books actually did is reinforced my sense of entitlement. I was doing what the books said, but my wife wasn’t. I’m the good spouse, my wife isn’t. Ever felt that way? Most all of us have.
It’s called entitlement.
The irony of this is that the foundational step to receiving the gospel of Jesus is to admit that I deserve nothing. In fact, to be more precise, I deserve hell. Apart from Jesus’ saving work on my behalf, I am a rebellious sinner who deserves to be in hell this very moment.
This is a far cry from feeling like I deserve or am entitled to an easy and happy marriage because I was “good enough” to earn it. It’s a far cry from setting up expectations for my wife based on my own perceived merited behavior.
At the root of almost all marriage problems is unmet expectations. When expectations go unmet, we have two options: One is to try to figure out what we need to do to get our spouse to meet these expectations. The other option is we can realize the truth that we have no right to expect anything from anybody, which includes our spouse, as well as God himself, and that anything that is given to us is an undeserved gift of mercy from God.
One of these options leads to a lifetime of disappointment, disillusionment and frustration. The other leads to freedom, peace and gratitude.
When we choose to embrace all God has given us, instead of longing for what he hasn’t, we are then able to appreciate the thousands of mercies we could never see before. Our spouse, and all of their good qualities, being one of the major ones.
The path of marriage is not a path of self-seeking pleasure.
Our purpose in marriage is not to be loved.
It is not to make our spouse into a god, expecting them to make us whole in a way only God can.
It is not to make ourselves a god, expecting our spouse to serve our every need.
The path of marriage is a path of worship of the only one worthy of our worship: Jesus himself.
Consider Romans 12:1 and Colossians 3:23-24:
Therefore, I urge you, brothers and sisters, in view of God’s mercy, to offer your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and pleasing to God—this is your true and proper worship.
Whatever you do, work at it with all your heart, as working for the Lord, not for human masters, since you know that you will receive an inheritance from the Lord as a reward. It is the Lord Christ you are serving.
The most powerful way you can worship is not by singing a song in church, it is by obeying God’s commands out of love for him. And the most practical, in your face, moment by moment way you can worship God in this way is by showing love to your spouse. Not with the expectation of an entitled kickback, but with the joy, awe and reverence that comes from knowing who God is and offering him our sacrificial, spiritual act of worship, as an overflow of thanksgiving for all of the mercy He has shown us.