“Though one may be overpowered, two can defend themselves. A cord of three strands is not quickly broken” (Eccl. 4:12).
Ecclesiastes 4:12 was our wedding verse when Gwyneth and I got married almost 25 years ago. For almost 24 years, we’ve really tried to live in the truth of that verse: we’ve striven to be a “team” together. She and I and God together face whatever problems may come our way. This teamwork between God and spouses is absolutely key to our survival and thriving as couples.
But it wasn’t always that way for Gwyneth and me. For a while at the beginning of our marriage, we had two teams of one going on: Gwyneth was the strong one, the smart one, the disciplined one. I was the weak one, the lazy one, the “sinful” one. We weren't on the same team.
We both remember one day, back when we were relative newlyweds, having a great big argument. Neither one of us remembers what the argument was about, but in the middle of our yelling and arm waving I shouted “YOU AND I BOTH THINK YOU’RE THE BETTER PERSON, DON’T WE!?!” and, my dear wife shouted back, “YES!!!”...and then we both stopped.
We suddenly realized that both of us had been working under a very unhealthy and counter-scriptural delusion: that one of us was the good person and the other was the bad person. There was no “team,” except perhaps in the sense that we both expected Gwyneth to “drag” me along and make the best out of me that she could!
Maybe you feel a lopsidedness in your relationship with your spouse. Maybe you secretly (or not so secretly) feel that you’re the one who has to bear all the burdens. Or maybe you feel like your spouse bears all the burdens and that you don’t contribute much of anything to the relationship! Maybe one of you is, indeed, really good at some things that our world really values in a “practical” way. Maybe one of you is better at being organized, or at handling finances, or at remembering details, or has more self-disciplined, or maybe one of you is “holier” than the other? But what if you chose to work together as a team?
Whatever it may be for you, it’s probably safe to say that there are some character traits in your relationship that might tempt you to believe that one or the other of you is the “better” person. But that is not at all what the Bible teaches us. We are called to live with humility. Paul cautions in Romans 12:3 that one is “not to think of himself more highly than he ought to think, but to think with sober judgment, each according to the measure of faith that God has assigned.” We are called to be gracious and wise in our interactions with others.
A “cord” like the one mentioned in Ecclesiastes 4:12 is made up of “strands” that are woven together! Each strand bears part of the weight and contributes to the strength of the whole. If one of the strands became unwound and dangled freely, not only would it no longer be contributing to the strength of the whole, it would also be correspondingly weaker itself. So too with our marriages: when we recognize and honor the strengths that each (God and each spouse) brings to the “team,” we entwine ourselves together and find that, together, we are far stronger and better than we would be alone.
Not only that, but the scriptures make it very clear that each one of us was created for a purpose. We are each unique and special! Psalm 139 makes this very clear:
“For you created my inmost being; you knit me together in my mother’s womb. I praise you because I am fearfully and wonderfully made; your works are wonderful, I know that full well. My frame was not hidden from you when I was made in the secret place, when I was woven together in the depths of the earth. Your eyes saw my unformed body; all the days ordained for me were written in your book before one of them came to be” Ps. 139:13-18 (NIV).
When Gwyneth and I realized just what we had done in both deciding that she was the “better person,” contrary to God’s teaching, we started a journey of discovering just what it was that we each uniquely contributed to our three-cord strand. We’ve discovered, over the years, that my creative bent is actually pretty valuable to our relationship. We discovered together that Gwyneth’s organizational skills help us do better on many things. We’ve discovered that her attention to detail is great, but so is my “big picture” view. So many things that are built into each one of us contribute to the whole that is our three-cord strand, and make us “better together.”
In fact, “better together” is now a regular phrase in our household. So it's worth exploring and naming each other's gifts. What are the things that you contribute to each other? What are the things that make you better together? If you don’t know, maybe it’s time to sit down and talk about that together. In fact, even if you do think you know how you are “better together,” it’s always good to continue to explore. So, here’s an exercise: set aside some time when you have a good chance of not being disturbed (maybe during a date night!). Take 15 minutes, and, without putting too much pressure on yourselves (this is not a “test” that you can fail!), separately write down your answer to the following questions:
Once you have written down your answers to these questions, share your answers with each other! Talk about them further. Did you agree with one another and share the same things? Or did you end up with four different ways in which you each uniquely and positively contribute to your relationship? Are you having a tough time figuring out your answers? Talk about it. Share openly and honestly with one another about your struggles to figure this out as you explore together. Taking time to start on this journey is worth it! Remember, God brought you together and you are (all three of you) better when you are working together.
Dr. Robert Ritzema
Rev. Dr. Rob Toornstra
Rev. Dr. Rob Toornstra