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Why You Need a Double Standard

How you can you love your spouse
Why You Need a Double Standard

You brought them home hungry?" Lisa asked.

I stared at my wife, dumbfounded.

"It's 7:45, and you brought them home hungry?" she asked again.

I tried to come up with a good excuse. "Well, I, uh, you see . . . " I gave up. "Yeah, I guess I did."

I thought I had done Lisa a favor. I took the kids for the evening so she could have a night off. I wanted her to eat dinner while reading a magazine and rediscover that, in some corners of the world, there still remains a phenomenon called "silence."

Now I was back home, and all the self-righteous defenses came rushing to my mind. "Here I try to give you an evening off, and you get upset just because the kids want a little snack! You know our kids—they need to eat every seven minutes!"

Instead of voicing that, however, I took a walk and did some praying. "Okay, God, what are we going to talk about tonight?"

A clear thought came into my mind: How can you love your wife better? God was pushing me to come up with ways I could make Lisa's life easier. And it wasn't anything as simple as buying another piece of lingerie ("Gary, this is for her, not for you"). Instead, they were eminently practical changes: I could make the kids' lunches. I could take them out one evening a week and bring them home with full stomachs. I could get them ready for bed at least three nights a week.

I felt the Lord teaching me that the happiest husband is the one who lives with a double standard—he's tough on himself and easy on his wife.

Meeting the Standard

I spent the first few days of our marriage adding up the pluses and minuses of our various personality traits. The problem was, I spent too much time on my pluses and Lisa's minuses. Then I read a passage written by John Owen, one of the great Puritan scholars: "The person who understands the evil in his own heart is the only person who is useful, fruitful and solid in his beliefs and obedience. Others only delude themselves and thus upset families, churches and all other relationships. In their self-pride and judgment of others, they show great inconsistency."

I realized I was deluded by my sense of self-righteousness. Rather than focusing on what Lisa could improve, I should have been on my knees, begging God to change me. This thought was magnified one morning when I was praying through Scripture. All of a sudden, a question startled me: "Does Lisa see Jesus in me?"

Scripture reminds us, again and again, that our goal as Christians is to become more like Christ. In Ephesians 5:1 we read, "Be imitators of God." Elsewhere, Paul wrote, "For those God foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the likeness of his Son" (Romans 8:29). As I grow in relationship to Christ, my wife should be able to notice at least some family resemblance. God was showing me that I had fallen short of improving myself for my wife's sake.

"But wait!" the selfish me wanted to cry out. "What about her? " But then I remembered a passage written by William Law, an eighteenth-century Anglican: "No one is of the Spirit of Christ but he that has the utmost compassion for sinners. Nor is there any greater sign of your own perfection than you find yourself all love and compassion toward them that are very weak and defective. And on the other hand, you have never less reason to be pleased with yourself than when you find yourself most angry and offended at the behavior of others."

That was the holy double standard I needed. As I become more unyielding and aggressive in attacking my own sins and weaknesses, I must extend more and more grace and gentleness toward others in theirs.

Back at the Home Office

When I became self-employed and decided to work out of our home, the double standard turned into more than just a good idea. We live, with our three children, in a townhouse—which meant our bedroom would have to double as my office. When people find out what we're doing, they're amazed. "And you still like each other?" they ask.

In fact, working at home has done wonders for our marriage. For the first time, I could see what it was like to spend an entire day being Lisa. Oh, I used to watch her in action every weekend. But what makes her life difficult isn't an occasional 48-hour stretch. It's the day-in and day-out responsibility of raising three kids. It's the pressure of getting the homeschooling lessons done, while lunches need to be made and clothes need to be washed and kids need to be chauffeured to ballet and soccer practice.

At the same time, Lisa saw what it was like for me to sit for hours in front of a computer, writing articles and speeches, and keeping up with all the paperwork involved in my business. Some days I was tired or sick. Sometimes the weather outside was beautiful, but always I stayed in my chair. She saw my determination and the pressure of meeting deadlines and taking on assignments I wasn't sure I could handle, but I was really sure we needed the paycheck.

Lisa and I began to develop an empathy for each other, and it improved our exercise of the double standard. As I understand the challenges Lisa faces, I'm more likely to "go easy" on her. I'm learning to make excuses for my wife the way I so easily make them for myself: "Look, I just finished a really intense assignment; I need to veg out." Now I prod myself: "She's had a tough day, Gary. Get the kids out of the house and give her some time to herself."

Looking Out for Number Two

Here's what I found out: Applying a double standard often leads to receiving a double standard. As I have become more generous toward Lisa, I've noticed that she has become more generous toward me. I recently returned from a trip feeling as if I'd walked every one of the 400 miles I had just driven. I had spoken six times in four days and driven through four states. I pulled into our driveway thinking, "I'm so tired. All I want to do is watch a late football game."

But as I came through the door, I knew Lisa was thinking, "Good, he's home. I've had the kids to myself all weekend and they're driving me crazy." This is the stuff colossal marriage fights are made of.

But then I discovered Lisa and I had both changed. I pulled out the flavored popcorn I'd brought home for the kids, and we talked at the kitchen table as they ate. I noticed Lisa was being incredibly sensitive toward me.

"You've got to be exhausted," she said. "Let me take care of the kids tonight."

But hearing her say that made me want to care for the kids. She was being hard on herself and easy on me, which made me want to be hard on myself and easy on her. That's when I realized: "This double standard business really does build stronger marriages."

If each of us assumes our spouse has it the hardest and that we miss the mark most frequently—and act accordingly—we'll find a mix that's just about right. When we adopt this double standard, we find that encouragement replaces accusation, appreciation replaces resentfulness and understanding replaces judgment. And isn't that the type of marriage we're all looking for?

Gary Thomas is a writer and speaker. He is bestselling author of Sacred Marriage.

Read more articles that highlight writing by Christian women at ChristianityToday.com/Women

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