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Wednesday, July 20, 2011
It was unbearably hot this morning as I sat on the beach. The strong shore breeze brought no relief from the oppressive heat. Then the wind shifted slightly to a sea breeze, the air sweeping across the cool waters of the Atlantic bringing with it a refreshing ten or fifteen degree drop in temperature. Ahhhhh. Marvelous relief.

Isn’t it that way in marriage too? Sometimes just a slight shift can bring dramatic changes. It may only take a tiny adjustment to change something from having a negative influence on your marriage to having a positive one. Likewise, a small change can turn something good into something not so good.

Case in Point: Self

Any discussion of a Surrendered Marriage inevitably leads to the question of self. From my recent post “What Is a Surrendered Marriage?
A surrendered marriage calls us to surrender self. It means living selflessly and self-sacrificing instead of living self-centered and self-satisfying. It means living against our human nature, because our natural path is the path of self. Rather than focusing on the question of “what are my rights?” and “what do I get out of this marriage?” the bridal paradigm call us to focus instead on “what can I give to benefit and bless my spouse?” and “What can I do to strengthen our marriage?”
I’ve been hammering home this point lately with posts encouraging you to give way more than the minimum to your spouse and on being a student of your spouse in order to learn how to delight him or her. I believe that selfless love is the core strength of every surrendered marriage, because I believe that is the way Jesus loves the church.


On the other side of the self question, I have also read several posts recently that mention the importance of self-care. The idea is that you have to take care of your own physical needs (rest, diet, exercise) and emotional needs (boundary setting, healthy friendships) in order to survive and thrive and to be in a position to benefit your marriage. Alisa at Project Happily Ever After said the following in a recent post on selfishness:
Sometimes it’s selfless to be selfish. If you completely neglect your own needs and drain yourself dry, there will be no you left to focus on the needs of others. It is selfless to make sure you get enough rest, for instance. It’s easier to be selfless when you are rested, healthy, fit and well fed.
But there’s a pretty thin line between attending to self-care by ensuring your own physical, mental and emotional health, and being self-centered, where you become self-protecting, self-obsessed, and just plain old selfish. As with my experience on the beach today, it doesn’t take a very large change in the prevailing winds of self to go from the right amount of self-care to the kind of selfishness that starts to do damage to your marriage.


I’d like to suggest a possible alternative to the idea of self-care: spouse-care. Actually, it's more of an augmentation to self-care.  At first it might seem a bit counter-intuitive. I mean, after all, isn’t the idea of self-care to take care of yourself?

What I’m suggesting is that in a one-flesh, surrendered marriage, where you are both operating with the understanding that the two of you really are one, it totally makes sense for you to help ensure your husband’s or wife’s mental and physical well-being. What helps him or her actually helps you too! The Apostle Paul alludes to this in his Ephesians five instructions on marriage.
In this same way, husbands ought to love their wives as their own bodies. He who loves his wife loves himself. After all, no one ever hated his own body, but he feeds and cares for it, just as Christ does the church
Ephesians 5:28-29 (NIV)
In the NLT it is even plainer, “a man is actually loving himself when he loves his wife.” The same is true for a woman toward her husband, because, as Paul explains a few verses later”
As the Scriptures say, "A man leaves his father and mother and is joined to his wife, and the two are united into one."
What Is Spouse-Care?

Spouse-care really comes down to looking out for one another’s wellbeing: spirit, soul (mind, will and emotions) and body. The questions and issues of spouse-care aren’t any different than the ones in self-care, except that you are asking them on behalf of your partner.
  1. Are they getting enough sleep and rest?
  2. Are they eating healthy?
  3. How is their energy level?
  4. Do they regularly get exercise?
  5. What damaging or unhealthy relationships need to be minimized or cut off?
  6. How are they managing the stress level in their life?
  7. Are they staying well-connected to the Lord through spiritual disciplines like prayer, Bible reading, and worship?
  8. Are there prevailing negative emotions such as anxiety, anger or depression that need to be dealt with?
Of course, answering these questions on behalf of another isn’t always easy, because your definitions of things like “enough sleep” and “healthy eating” may differ. This is also another reason why becoming a student of your spouse, as I explained in my previous post, is so important. What’s right for them might differ from what is right for you.

You Are Still Responsible for You

Now, I'm not advocating that you abdicate taking personal responsibility for your own well-being. You are still in charge of your own personal development, health and life.  But having another who loves you deeply also share that concern, can be a huge help! Chances are that you do a better job attending to some areas of your mental and physical health than in some others. That’s why it’s helpful to have another looking out for you. And that is the spirit behind spouse-care: to help, to cover, to protect and to support. I am not suggesting you try to browbeat or arm-twist your spouse.

For example, I’ve never in my life made space for any kind of regular exercise. My lovely wife has started suggesting recently that I really ought to start doing so. Her input on this has been both gentle and respectful, and I am able to receive it in the manner it is intended. I’m over 50 and she is concerned for my overall health. And I can easily acknowledge that she is right to do so. (In all honesty, I’m still trying to figure out how to make time in my insane schedule for regular exercise, but I am at least giving it some thought and attention, whereas before I pretty much dismissed the notion).

What I like about the spouse-care idea is that it is less susceptible to the subtle winds of self. By looking out for each other’s wellbeing, neither of you has to assert or demand their own “rights” to self-care.

What do you think of my idea of spouse-care? Do you think it would work in your marriage? Would you be willing to sit down with your spouse and actually invite them into your self-care by having the help look out for your physical, spiritual and emotional well-being?

PS  After composing this I read a great related post by Paul Byerly at The Generous Husband about the importance of choosing to fight our self-centered human natures. Check it out here



Debi Walter said...

Excellent post! Yes, we believe we are living this way - spouse-care is a great alternative to self-care and much more biblical! I have had the privilege of having a husband who practices this without even thinking about it. It is in his nature - God given, of course - to love me and tend to my best interest. I can attest that this works, and it glorifies God because it accurately reflects His image.
Thank you!
Debi Walter

Tracey said...

Great encouraging words and much truth...selflessness is countercultural but so vital in marriage. Blessings to you!

Scott said...

Thanks Debi and Tracey for your comments.

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