Sometimes we view our spouse as competition. Early on in my marriage, this was a huge struggle for me. I had to learn something important. In a happy, healthy marriage spouses function a team. It’s not a competition!
1 Corinthians 13:4 says love does not envy or boast. If we could eliminate envy and boasting, I believe there would be no marital competition. These two monsters, envy and boasting, are related. Envy – You have it, but I want it. Boasting – I have it. Don’t you wish you did? Both are ugly and need shown the door of our hearts.
Envy is greed and selfishness. It wants what others have, either tangible things like wealth, beauty, a nice car or a large house, or intangible things like success, attention, admiration, an easier life, intact family, or the friendships others have. It is not wrong to desire such things. What is wrong is the disdain we feel toward others who have the things we want. If seeing others with something we lack causes us to feel slighted and upset, we have a problem with envy.
Envy looks different in a marriage because we own the same house, have the same wealth, go on the same vacations (typically), and share many of the same struggles. But, sometimes we become jealous of our spouse’s career, easier childhood, or lack of health problems. Maybe our spouse does not have the stresses that fall on us daily and we’re feeling slighted.
Envy can, also, hurt our marriage when we envy another marriage that appears better and stronger than our own. Maybe we even envy another’s spouse. Remember things aren’t always as they appear. Every marriage goes through seasons. That beautiful marriage we admire may have recently risen out of a great struggle. Even if another marriage has experienced less valleys than our own, jealousy helps nothing. We need to keep our focus on the good in our own marriage, little as it may be, and keep working toward improving it each day. What we focus on grows.
The other divisive monster is boasting. Someone who boasts is full of himself, promotes himself, and exaggerates to make himself look more important than others. While envy wants what others have, boasting tries to make others jealous of what he has.
Boasters come in many varieties. There’s the “low self-esteem” variety - those who have been broken in unhealthy places and need to prove their worth in unhealthy ways. They are afraid of the lies they’ve bought into about themselves. Though they might believe telling others impressive things about themselves will boost others’ perception of them, in time, it has the opposite effect. Then there’s the “personal gain variety” who attempt to gain higher position or authority through elevating themselves. Sometimes their boasting can appear innocent and subtle but it’s boasting all the same. The “center stage variety” of boasters are always throwing in a story to “top” others’ experiences with a better story of their own. They manipulate the conversation to put themselves on center stage. Most of us boast, at times, and struggle with pride. I think we all can relate to one of these types of boasters. The truth is, we cannot love others well and boast at the same time. Boasting is centered on self, while love has concern for others.
Boasting, also, is not as obvious in a marriage, but it happens all the same. We may boast about how we were able to fix something the other could not. We may try to get our spouse to see us as superior – smarter, funnier, stronger, better looking. Oftentimes, we try to “top” our spouse’s story, like, What I went through was worse than that and, by the way, I could tolerate way more than you. We may belittle our spouse, basically step on them, in an attempt to rise above them.
How do we kill the monsters, envy and boasting? The best weapon? Contentment.
Envy dies when we find pleasure and serenity, both in what we have and in who we are. Instead of seeking “fairness”, contentment brings us to genuine happiness for others’ successes, possessions, and achievements, even if they are not ours to have. Realizing we don’t need these things for fulfillment and holding gratitude for the things we do have, though it be significantly less, is the way to kill the beast of envy.
Boasting, also, dies with contentment. When we are content in who we are, we can let our need for others to view us as superior fall by the wayside. There’s no need for boasting. No need to be viewed better than others.
Paul had learned to be content in every situation. For him, whatever he had was enough. In his words to the Philippians, he expressed his contentment, whether in plenty or in want, whether well-fed or hungry. He said the “secret of being content” was learned. I don’t think it’s a coincidence that he ends those thoughts with the famous phrase, “I can do all things through Christ who gives me strength.” Contentment empowers us to do all the things God has called us to. (Philippians 4:11-13)
My married friends, we are not in a competition! We do not marry so that we have someone to outperform. Marriage is rising together as a team. Marriage is sharing in one another’s joys and pain, even if we can take it better, even if we have better stories of our own.
So, when your spouse comes to you with a problem or an experience to share, it’s the person in front of you, right there in that moment that matters. That person wants to share this moment with you! Take that in. The privilege of sharing life with another is the prize you have won. Let that be enough.