The Tit-For-Tat Marriage

The Tit-For-Tat Marriage

Written By Ken

We live very much in a Tit-for-Tat world and this same mentality now permeates our churches. Although nothing could be further from the heart of the gospel of Christ than conditional love and behaviors, still far too many “Christian” couples are playing the tit-for-tat game trying to ensure “fairness” in their marriages. If you are all about ensuring that everything is fair for others, I get it and am with you to some extent. But if you are all about trying to make sure that you are treated the way you think you should be in your marriage, even putting on a frown, pout, and harsh words to even up the score, you are outside of living the Christian life.

I was speaking to a wonderful Christian man today and told him about how the Christian feminists hate what Lori teaches. She teaches God’s Word as it is plainly delivered by the apostles yet too many modern-day Christians want to neutralize parts of it as being culturally irrelevant for the modern Church. But one of the most subtle ways of debasing God’s Word is found with well-meaning Christians and pastors who want to qualify what God is teaching us about love by teaching a Tit-for-Tat gospel.

My friend responded, “Yes, the Bible teaches submission but there must be a loving husband.”

I did not challenge him on it much, only to say that “I didn’t know that our obedience to God’s Word is conditional” before we moved on to the work at hard.

As I started thinking about it more, I realized that one of the greatest harms to a marriage’s love and intimacy is this idea that I will do my part ONLY if you do yours. The egalitarian Christian marriage is far too based off of this false notion of Christianity that God only wants me to fulfill His commands and admonitions so long as I have equal say, equal rights, and most of all, you treat me the way I believe I am supposed to be treated. Certainly Egalitarians would not say it this way, but watch what happens when they feel mistreated.

I wonder where my marriage would be now if in those many years of living in an somewhat difficult marriage, I had decided that because my wife was not loving me as I think she should, I did not have to “live with her in an understanding way”? What if I had just thrown out God’s command and determined that my love was to be conditioned not just on what my wife was actually doing, or saying, or not doing for me, but based on what I felt I deserved from my wife and marriage? Is this not what gets marriages into the greatest of trouble when one spouse or the other, often both, decide that their love and behaviors will be conditional? Then set themselves up as judge and jury as to what is fair?

Fortunately, I was taught well and correctly that my love was never to be conditioned upon my feelings or the behaviors of others. That love is a choice.

“Love means to choose the best interest of another in good times and in bad.”

Can you imagine Christ conditioning His love and sacrifice of the cross based on how he was treated and loved by mankind?

Do we condition our love for God based on how well we feel He is providing for our needs? In times of plenty, we love Him lots, and times of trials and sacrifice, we are not so close anymore? Isn’t the reality actually opposite in our Christian walk? That our love and intimacy with God tends to grow exponentially during the hard times, yet in the good times we too often hardly have time to seek His face in a regular quiet time? No, our love for God must never be conditional if we are to follow the model Christ has set for us. Neither can it be in marriage if we are to be obedient to God’s command to “Love one another.”

How many times can we read or listen to the great Love Passage of 1st Corinthians 13 and still not accept it as our own?

“Love suffers long, and is kind, love envies not; love is not proud and does not seek its own, is not provoked, does not take account of evil, rejoices not in unrighteousness; bears al things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things. Love never fails” (1 Corinthians 13:4-8).

If these verses on Christian love are conditional for you, and you are only willing to apply them if and when your spouse treats you right, then you are robbing yourself and your marriage of any true chance at love and great intimacy. You are doing the exact opposite of what God tells us to do:

“…not suffering, not being kind, being proud and self-seeking. You are too easily provoked, keeping a record of the wrongs done to you in the past, and rejoicing in pay-back. You refuse to bear all things, believe all things, hope all things and endure all things. Your love has failed.”

Tit-for-Tat may be great for egalitarian marriages where each side keeps score on the big things to even them up, but in reality, things are never equal in any marriage because our roles and giftings are so different. And the real problem comes because it is no longer God who keeps score but you keep score, all the while failing to recognize the many good things your spouse brings to you and the marriage.

Many women have sought Lori in despair over what they perceive is a husband’s lack of love and contribution in their marriage only to be asked to name all of his good qualities. Within minutes many of them have blurted out, “I am married to a really good man, aren’t I?” “Yes, you are,” comes the reply, “so let’s start with that and build your marriage around it instead of looking at all things you would like to change in him.”

The Tit-for-Tat game is foreign to the Christian faith and as such, it has no place in a Christian marriage. Yes, you can be rightly concerned about your spouse’s behaviors and you may voice your concerns in love keeping in mind what the Love Passage teaches you. But ultimately, we have no real love until we choose to make our love unconditional. And it is when we sow unconditional love to our spouse that we often begin to see them blossom and grow in their love towards us.

Most Christian marriages will unfortunately never taste the deep and abiding intimacy that comes when both spouses choose to vulnerably love each other unconditionally. When a harsh word is responded to in kindness, a frustrated spouse is met with a hug and sympathy, a sin is met with quick forgiveness. I am living in one of those marriages now where it is almost heaven on earth to be able to love my wife and have her love me, neither of us any longer being armed to pay back to even the score.

Much of the score evening happens without even recognizing it; a frown or scowl, a drooping physique, an unkind word, withholding touch and affection. We run into our Box where we can justify why I am mistreating the one I vowed I would love with all my heart “til death do us part.”

We invite you to join us into the journey of creating a truly loving marriage where each spouse commits to “doing all things Christian” regardless of how they feel treated in return. To vulnerably love as Christ loved us, by His Spirit through sacrifice, putting self second in the relationship. Is that not what submission and love are all about? Not self-seeking and selfish?

When you practice this together moment-by-moment, the upsets begin to disappear as you sacrifice for love. And love without sacrifice is no love at all. Only then will you come to discover what God means when He says, “And Adam knew Eve.” For in every way, mentally, physically, spiritually, and emotionally, you will find yourselves becoming one. Working together on a precious journey of growing up into Christ by understanding what it means to truly love another unconditionally, because God first loved us and gave us His precious Son.

All of Christianity is about sacrificial love, beginning with Christ and flowing through us, His children. And sacrificial love does not keep score but keeps sacrificing in an effort to try and always out give, out work, out love, out touch the other. I believe God gave marriage to show us an example of the unity of the Godhead. Two individuals united as one by His Spirit. But we can only find this unity when we choose to walk in the Spirit and not in the flesh. To step out in faith into the New Life God has given us, dead to sin, freed from sin, and alive in Christ Jesus. Will you join us in being a Christian to your spouse?

And be ye kind one to another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, even as God for Christ’s sake hath forgiven you.
Ephesians 4:32

20 thoughts on “The Tit-For-Tat Marriage

  1. Amen our roles are not dependent on what the other does. God will judge you on how you lived your role in the marriage. Most people don’t know what unconditional love is.

  2. This was truly a blessing to read, Ken. I appreciate the influence you and Lori and her blog have had on my own marriage and the many others I forward her posts to. Consistent, solid, steadfast, and Biblical teaching for women is becoming a rarity in our culture. Thanking the Lord for this gem of a ministry!

  3. The kind of thinking that says everything has to be fair is just not practical. Life is not fair as a whole so why should we think that marriage has to be both people all the time doing 50% of the work? Even if you’re not a Christian and believe in biblical roles (which the secular world will say is not fair, since the husband “gets” to go out and have a career while the wife is staying home taking care of kids all day), having this sort of mindset is damaging and leads to strife.

  4. Honestly, I’m not even married yet, but this was so convicting for me. I think this is something that could apply even beyond marriage into your relationships with others. Thank you for this timely post! It is because of articles like these that I follow this blog.

  5. This post brought tears to my eyes. I’m so thankful for biblical counsel from people like yourselves, Ken and Lori. God’s ways are so beautiful. Thank you for speaking the truth in love.

  6. I can confirm that scorekeeping is toxic to a healthy relationship. One only needs to reference the score to know who is winning and who is losing. Someone will not be happy…

    As it turns from collaborative to competitive, the die is cast.

    Another multi-generational red flag that I never saw, even when it was waving in my face.

    Thanks for another great read.

  7. Wow! Excellent article Ken!

    Honestly, my husband and I entered marriage holding our “box” that we used to hide in and self protect. We really did love each other, but just didn’t have any clue how to not be afraid of getting hurt in a relationship due to our upbringing. We couldn’t trust people not even each other. Also, we were so focused on our own pain that we didn’t see each others pain. What a mess we were. Praise God we are coming out of that and we are tasting, “the deep and abiding intimacy that comes when both spouses choose to vulnerably love each other unconditionally.” I guess better to taste it late than never at all. My husband and I keep finding ourselves making the statement, “just when we thought our marriage couldn’t get any better it does!” God’s ways are good and they work!

  8. This is a key point for any relationship that is to be successful. Great post. It reminds me of a Mother Teresa quote that concludes like this “…in the final analysis it is between you and God; it was never between you and them anyway. “

  9. I love this post!! I have been so guilty of this in my marriage. Not so much now because I’m older, but back in the early days definitely. So has my husband, but to a lesser extent.

    I was reminded again just yesterday what a good man I’m married to, despite our difficulties.
    Scrolling through Facebook I saw a post that was a screenshot from somewhere else – Twitter, I think. A man had asked a question to other men: if your wife/long-term partner was gang-raped by 3 men would you dump her?
    Overwhelmingly, the answer was “yes”. I don’t know any of those men, or whether or not they were Christian, but every single one of them, and there was more than 100, said they would dump her because she would now be “broken” and they couldn’t be bothered supporting her through it.
    I asked my husband the same question. He was insulted, because of course he wouldn’t break up with me if I was the victim of a serious sexual assault, but he also said he knows of men who would.

    It’s so easy to think of “tit for tat” over stupid little stuff that doesn’t matter, and ignore the bigger picture: that my husband is not perfect, and neither am I, but he loves me, and he’ll be there for me no matter what.

    1. Wow, that’s crazy so many men said that. My husband has told me before that if I were to be raped and got an STD, he would share it with me. No rejection from him!

  10. Totally loved this and agree. 10 years ago when I went to the Lord complaining about my husband not being the man of God he needed to be in our home, the Lord said to me, ” Laurie, you work on you and I will work on him.” Ouch! That hurt. But, I submitted to Christ and worked on me. Along the way my husband, children and others noticed the changes in me. It has taken 10 years now, but my husband has become the man of God in our home I so desired him to be. No longer the tit-for-tat from long ago. But, a devotion to Christ which leads us to a new found love in each other. Praise Jesus! The Holy Spirit can & will do a work in us when we submit to Christs authority in our lives not our own selfish desires.

  11. Because of feminism and the bad behaviors of modern women. A lot of men today believe that women only love men opportunistically and that men love women idealistically which means that men are able to love women unconditionally but women are only able to love men what he can provide the value that he brings to the relationship whether it’s financially,emotionally,sexually etc.. this is what we see today with feminism and the high divorce rate, we live in a sad reality.

  12. “Can you imagine Christ conditioning His love and sacrifice of the cross based on how he was treated and loved by mankind?” There’s a sermon right there.

    Great blog post Ken. Thank you.

  13. My nonagenarian mother, widowed from my father for nine years now, and having been married to him for nearly 53 years before his death, is constantly amazed at hearing her “Christian” lady friends, most of them her age peers, constantly criticize, disrespect, fight with, and avoid their own husbands of many years. She tells me that, as horrible as it sounds, she sometimes finds herself wishing that God would take these husbands from these ungrateful women so that they will wake up and realize what they’re taking for granted and what the loss will feel like.

    Tragic that we’ve reached such a societal and spiritual nadir.

  14. Yes Ken you have stated before that you and Lori had a rough first half, but it’s not how you start it’s how you finish. As I recall in a blog you wrote in Feb, 2020 you very much view Lori as your soul mate. Anyone can get married but staying married is hard work. It helps if you are equally yolked.

    If you have a spouse that travels for his job, as you do that is another challenge, but you and Lori have made it work for almost 4 decades now, I believe.

    An egalitarian marriage sounds good on paper but usually does not work out. God’s ways are best and he prescribed a complentarianism relationship where the husband leads the home. The husband has greater accountability before God. The research shows a big reason for divorce is too much arguing, infidelity, not equal. What people misunderstand is that you are both equal before God but serve in the marriage differently. Wives are not “less than” they voluntarily allow their husbands to lead them. A wife whose husband leads his family well will have no trouble submitting to his authority, in my view. Congratulations on almost 40 years. Not too many marriages make it that far.

    1. Yes! I agree with everything you wrote.
      So many people interpret being the leader, or head, as more important, or superior, which is where the inequality argument comes from. But the leader isn’t more important or superior at all, it’s just a different role. Without a good leader at the helm, the team will fail. Or not be as good as they could be.
      If a wife refuses to allow her husband to lead because she is confusing leader/head with superior, there is no way her marriage can be blessed.
      For me, once I got my head around the fact that women are not inferior to men because they have different roles, it was so much easier for me to accept my God-given role of submission. It’s changing our thinking from leader = superior to submissive wife = equally important God-given role that is the hard part. Feminist teaching is that the leader is the most important but if you look at every single successful organisation/relationship you will see that it’s simply not true. God’s word itself makes that clear in His teaching about the body of Christ and the different body parts all having different roles, and all being important.

  15. Most marriages breakdown, mainly because of the wife. It is just that most people don’t want to admit that this is true, especially women, who have issues with taking moral blame and responsibility.

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