Do you remember your parents telling you to “play fair”? That’s certainly a good moral to live by in sports or board games. But playing fair is also one of the quickest ways to ruin a marriage.
Good for good; bad for bad. That’s the driving force behind playing fair. It’s a philosophy that says, “If you treat me right, I’ll treat you right. But if you cross me, I’ll hurt you right back.” In a conflict, it means a couple gives each other what they deserve, and that’s exactly the problem.
Playing fair works as long as we give good things to our spouse in return for their positive behavior. But what happens when respect breaks down and one spouse snaps in anger at the other? Often times, the spouse who gets yelled at responds by screaming right back. And just like that, the relationship takes a hit because one spouse has given the other what they deserved. Unfortunately, many marriages operate on this premise, and it’s a significant reason why they fail.
Relationships thrive when we put aside what someone deserves and respond by giving them what they need. When our spouse fails us, they need us to rise above the offense and help them be better, not simply get even with them. It’s an expression of God’s grace and an opportunity to meet your spouse’s mistakes with a response that heals. And it’ll enable your relationship to grow more safe and loving, rather than causing it to deteriorate further.
Be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ forgave you.
(Ephesians 4:32 ESV)