There Is No "You Owe Me" In Marriage

by Toni Hammer
Originally Published: 
Married couple holding hands

It had been a toddler tantrum-tastic Tuesday when I called my husband to see if he was off work yet because oh my word did I need a reprieve. Or at least backup. When he answered to confirm he was on his way, I told him we were ordering pizza because amongst the messes, screams, time-outs and tears, I somehow hadn’t managed to make a meal of any kind. He was in a good mood and obviously didn’t pick up on the fact that I was at my wit’s end, because he replied with, “What if we all go out to dinner instead?”

After 12 hours of nonstop arguing, discipline, and crying on everyone’s part, now he wanted to take our toddlers out in public, which had a high potential to push me over the edge.

“Honey, I just can’t. Today’s been awful and I just can’t do it.”

His silence alerted me his disappointment. I gave an exasperated sigh and blurted out, “FINE. I’ll get the kids ready.”

In a huff I brushed my daughter’s hair, wiped the kids’ faces, and got them dressed and presentable. As we loaded them into the car, I gave him the stink eye and said, “You owe me.”

Later that night, which didn’t turn out nearly as badly as I thought it would, I mulled over my comment and had a humbling realization.

The phrase “You owe me” should never be said in a marriage.

There’s an underlying current to “you owe me.” It tells the other person that they must do something nice for you in return or else. Or else you’ll resent them. Or else you’ll withhold physical or emotional affection. Or else you’ll slack off on your marriage duties until they repay you somehow.

Common themes in wedding vows are things like “for better or for worse, in sickness and in health,” and within those sentiments is the apex of marriage: to love selflessly.

Marriage is a committed partnership to honor one another, and “you owe me” sucks the love and respect right out of a relationship. Marriage is about give and take, yes, but it is also about putting your partner’s needs ahead of your own. It is sacrificial love. It is setting aside what makes you happy and instead doing what makes your partner happy.

My saying “you owe me” was really me saying, “We are not equal partners right now. I have the upper hand and I’ll be damned if you don’t find a way to return the favor.” It forced him to feel as though he had to make it up to me — and fast — or something detrimental might occur. It took away his option, his choice, his heartfelt desire to love me selflessly, and turned it into a requirement.

That is not love.

Marriage is hard. Even good marriages are riddled with difficulties, barriers, and bleak seasons. I choose not to add onto my marital burden by requiring a favor be returned. Rather, I choose to love without expectation of repayment because on May 23, 2009, I told my husband I would love him selflessly to the best of my abilities, and that’s exactly what I’m going to do.

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