I hesitate to compare marriage to football, but there are a multitude of meaningful parallels. Many people love the game because of the suspense. No two games are the same. No two marriages look the same either.
My husband and I often talk about how some couples love to attend every event together. Where one goes, you will see the other. That’s not us. He needs social time; I need quiet time. When he is social, I get my quiet time. I don’t resent the time he spends away from me, and he doesn’t resent me for not needing him every moment. However, in the beginning of our marriage, we did try to make our marriage look the way we thought others expected it to look. We were so busy trying not trying to be ourselves that we could not function as a whole. I don’t think I’ve ever seen the quarterback get up when they call the defense in. It isn’t his role. In football, it is called a “team” because each player fills a special role, just like a husband and a wife each fill a special role in their marriage.
One term I know from football (and I don’t know many) is a “turnover.” One team can have the ball in the opposing team’s territory, close to scoring, when the defense intercepts a pass. Or the offense fumbles the ball, and the momentum falters. Sometimes a team has a chance to win a tied game just by kicking the extra point, yet they still miss the field goal. Marriage, like football, can have turnovers.
Preventing Turnovers in Marriage
In my marriage, our first “turnover” happened quickly. We were married in December and had our first child the following October — unplanned. We hardly had time to get used to being married before we also had a baby to love. Then there were all the small things that presented themselves as obstacles, like his mom’s perfect cooking. How could I compete when my specialties were Ramen noodles and frozen pizza? And then there were his buddies — friends from high school, friends from college, softball friends, basketball friends (for the winter months when it was too cold to play softball), deer hunting friends, dove hunting friends, turkey hunting friends. Let me be fair by stating that some of these friends spanned multiple categories.
His multitude of friends meant that we were constantly invited to cookouts, weddings, and birthday parties. As I already mentioned, I like my quiet time. The problem was that I was in a new city and home, newly married, and rapidly gaining a lot of weight, not just from the baby. I felt discouraged and insecure and was overwhelmed by my new role as wife and all of the new demands on me. I wanted to be excited about all these social gatherings, but I wasn’t. I wanted to like deer meat as much as my husband and his friends, but I just couldn’t bring myself to put it in my mouth; I started gagging when I even thought about it.
For my own iniquities, it was probably much worse for my husband in our first year together, though you would have to ask my husband for details. The point is that, as soon as we found common ground on one issue, the more problems we had to work through. These didn’t even include the larger issues that presented themselves like money struggles, family dynamics, sickness, and death of loved ones.
Perhaps for you in your marriage, the threats look different. Turnovers can come at a marriage in many forms. Our phones, tablets, and computers can put a barrier between our connectedness to each other. Other people and obligations can be a barrier. However, the Bible tells us how to protect our unity and avoid “losing the ball” to the opposing team (the enemy). The strategy is simple: We love God first, then others as ourselves.
From Matthew 22:37 we read, “Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.” It’s one of my favorites to meditate on. Follow that one up with Matthew 22:39, “Love your neighbor as yourself,” and it gives a clear depiction that life focused on only on myself and my needs is not of the Lord. My ability to love my husband intentionally — who is much more than a neighbor to me — comes first from my love of the Lord. I can’t love him well when it is all about me. Honestly, I don’t even like myself on those days I don’t spend with the Lord, so I certainly can’t expect him to. However, this doesn’t mean that we don’t care for ourselves. As the verse suggests, it just means that we care for others (i.e. him) just as well.
From experience, I can tell you that when I do not begin my day with my Bible, my devotional, and my prayer journal, my husband is likely to pay the price. And that is because I begin those days focused on myself. Conversely, when my first moments of each day and my identity are grounded in the Lord, my actions and reactions to my spouse are more likely to come from God’s description of love — patient, kind, selfless, humble, forgiving, persevering (1 Corinthians 13:3-13).
One morning when I was spending time with the Lord, I recognized a yearning for unconditional love. I remember thinking of all the ways I wish I could receive it from my husband. Life would be so easy if this was a state we could actually reach as humans. I would never feel judged. I wouldn’t have to feel that I was under-performing. I get on these (really short-lived) binges where I feel like I am Wife-of-the-Year material at times, but the reality is that I probably wouldn’t even qualify for Wife-of-the-Moment.
God impressed upon me amid this daydream of unconditional love that this is what HE offers us. Of course! How could I have been so apathetic to His love? I can’t expect it from others, but I can expect it from God. In realizing this each day, I don’t need to get down when my husband can’t meet all my needs. Because God does. It’s freedom! Through accepting the love of my Savior, I am freer to love my God and my husband.
Furthermore, this same love given to me by God is offered to my husband and, with it, the same freedom. While I may be a secondary source of love and support for him, I am not personally responsible for meeting his every need. He must have his needs met by God. When we are both receiving God’s unconditional love, our strength and connectedness is much greater, not to mention our ability to defend against turnovers.
Marriage Is About Going Through Life Together
When issues interfere within the marriage, we play opposition. We actively protect and strategize to work out the issues. When outside interference initiates problems, we play defense by drawing our strength each day from God and His Word, protecting one another as naturally as our own instincts to protect ourselves. There’s a plan for dealing with the next turnover. The effort is made — holistically — for a purpose much higher than a single individual. Otherwise, a husband and a wife may grow apart from focusing on individual, selfish goals. Marriage should be played to win, and that means going through life together.
When we take on marriage this way, I can stomach a few more social gatherings than I am comfortable with. My annoying habit of gagging over deer meat won’t matter so much to my husband. I will be able to praise his mother’s cooking with him instead of feeling inadequate when my cooking doesn’t measure up. What do these things matter in a world that is — first and foremost — about God? Loving Him first fuels us with the love inside to persevere in marriage — so that we can in turn love each other. No one likes defeat, but can you imagine a football game where one team goes home at halftime simply because they were losing for moment?
There will be moments when you feel like you are losing, but we must see the game through to the finish. God hasn’t given up on us, so let’s not give up yet on our spouse.