In marriage, we often try to motivate our spouses. It doesn’t matter what the goal of the motivation is. It could be anything from losing weight or paying better attention to physical health, to not giving up on a job search, to paying more attention to spiritual growth, to helping with household chores, to going back to school for a new job opportunity, to minding the way he/she communicates, or anything else. The important question is, how do you try to motivate your spouse? The way you try to motivate your mate says a lot about your relationship. Respect, mutual submission, what you value, how you view your marriage covenant, and so much more comes into play.
Sadly, many people try to motivate their spouse in negative ways. When you try to motivate your spouse, do you repeatedly point out her faults? “I don’t have much hope that this will work because you never stick with anything you start.” Do you compare him unfavorably to other husbands? “Leah’s husband helps around the house without her having to ask. What’s wrong with you?” Do you make her feel stupid or worthless with your comments? “Wow, if everyone thought about that like you do, we’d be in a real mess.” Do you yell at him or try to shame him into a different way of behaving? “What kind of man are you! A real man wouldn’t do that!” Do you try to make her feel guilty? “Fine, I’ve worked all day and I’m exhausted, but I’ll take care of it because obviously you aren’t going to do it.” Typically, negative motivation yields negative results. Rather than making a change to escape the negative berating, many times a spouse will just dig in his/her heels and sink deeper into the undesirable behavior.
Now and again, we do all need “a wake-up call” and more direct and straight-forward communication is required, but when you attempt to motivate your spouse, don’t forget three things:
- First, the primary calling lived out in marriage is to love God and to love your neighbor as yourself. Since your spouse is your closest, most intimate neighbor, that is the place to start living out God’s love, graciousness, mercy, forgiveness, and kindness.
- Second, don’t forget you are one flesh. Don’t say or do anything to your spouse that you wouldn’t want said or done to you. Words and actions carry an impact, so carefully guard how you choose to motivate your spouse. What you say and do in anger or frustration can have a lasting effect.
- And third, we all need motivation from time to time. Marriage should be a place in which we are challenged; but make sure you are challenging your spouse in ways that will allow you to grow together toward holiness and Kingdom living.
Next time you need to make changes in your life, I pray that your marriage will be a safe harbor of loving motivation. Next time you want to motivate your spouse, I pray that you do it out of a selfless desire to better your relationship in Christ, not a selfish desire to make your spouse conform to your wishes. I pray that we never allow anger, shame, guilt, frustration, or selfishness to become our driving force in helping our mates change for the better.