Lisa and I love watching the Olympics, and this summer there were several sports in which we caught just about every event. One of them was beach volleyball. During a crucial game, one of the U.S. women’s teams had a rough go. A seasoned veteran wasn’t having her best day, and the opposing team kept targeting her, directing most of their attacks her way. The U.S. team lost that match.
To her credit, this player took full responsibility and said she just had to start playing better (which she did in the next match; they went on to win the bronze medal).
Marriage is kind of like beach volleyball—marriage in a bikini. There are two players per side, and the team (or marriage) can be only as strong as the weakest individual. If one partner has a persistent weakness, the marriage will suffer accordingly.
In Frank Shorter’s autobiography My Marathon, Frank shares how at any given elite marathon there are only about ten runners who are physically capable of winning. The 1972 Olympic men’s marathon was delayed a day due to the terrorist attacks on the Olympic village. The marathoner who had the fastest time in the world that year was having lunch with Frank and complained that it just wasn’t fair—their training was carefully calibrated, and pushing the race to a different day would mess everything up.
Frank was far more laid back, responding, hey, we’ve been training for this race our entire lives. One day isn’t going to make any difference. He added (to the reader, not this runner), that he knew this guy—even though he had the fastest time in the world that year—wasn’t going to win the gold medal. He had already talked himself off the podium before the race even started.
As I read this account to Lisa, she said, “That’s you!”
“I know!” I responded. “But I want to become more like Frank Shorter.”
My marriage will improve when I learn to roll with the changes, not obsess over things I can’t control, and refuse to think the worst when unexpected interruptions occur. As long as I allow myself to be obsessive in a negative way, that’s where Satan will attack our marriage as well as my joy, peace, and confidence.
If you want to improve your marriage, think about that personality trait of yours that isn’t what you wish it would be. If you don’t address it, that’s where your marriage will suffer. Remember—you’re like a beach volleyball team. If your spouse is responsible financially but you aren’t, your spending may still overwhelm your spouse’s discretion. If you are Eeyore and your spouse is Tigger, your marriage will suffer the effects of your negativity. Once you get married, you no longer stand alone—everything you are and aren’t will impact your marriage, either positively or negatively.
Some of you are thinking, “Then I’m doomed, because my spouse is really weak in this or that area.” That’s arrogant, and it’s not helpful! The volleyball player’s teammate didn’t play a perfect game, but she didn’t point that out—she focused on what she needed to do to improve, which is all any of us can control.
One of the best gifts you can give to your marriage and to your spouse is a commitment to keep growing in the Lord. If you cling to romantic sentimentality (“Why can’t he love me just the way I am?”), you’re preferring spiritual laziness over the health of your marriage and over the desire to bless your spouse. I have the opportunity give my wife a gift—a better, more mature me—but not if I’m too selfish or too lazy and instead just want her to keep stepping around the moral obstacles I drop in her way.
In his Word and by His Spirit, God has made available to us everything we need to grow: “His divine power has given us everything we need for a godly life through our knowledge of him who called us by his own glory and goodness. Through these he has given us his very great and precious promises, so that through them you may participate in the divine nature, having escaped the corruption in the world caused by evil desires.” 2 Peter 1:3
Which means not growing is a choice. If we want to grow, we can. God has made growth available to every believer.
Where do you need to grow? Where is your marriage threatened by a personal weakness? Start addressing those areas where you are weakest. Remember, you’re a two-man team. Your spouse has put a large amount of faith in who you are and who you become. Do everything you can to honor that commitment.
If you want to read further on this, I’d like to suggest two books. My book, The Glorious Pursuit (1998, NavPress), talks about the ancient path of growth via practicing the virtues. It’s a practical primer on how to replace vices with virtues. A more comprehensive and academic approach to spiritual growth can be found in N.T. Wright’s After You Believe. Many have told me that Wright’s book was somewhat difficult to get through, but it’s worth the effort—his insights are far superior to mine if you’re willing to do the work to mine them.