Lee Child, author of the Jack Reacher novels, tells about a time when he was unemployed. While trying to begin his writing career, he got into the habit of helping his wife with chores around the house. Then, he started going to the supermarket with her to help carry the groceries. She liked this, because he was quite a bit taller, able to reach items on the top shelves. On one occasion, a little old lady asked for his help. After Lee helped the woman, his wife said, “If this writing thing doesn’t work out, you can always be a reacher in a supermarket.” Instantly he thought, “What a great name for my character.” And Jack Reacher was born.
The irony is that he was helping her in the supermarket, and she helped him by giving him a name for the hero in his stories.
Having a proper understanding of the teaching on “help” in the Bible, couples who want their marriage to last a lifetime become extremely practical and intentional about helping their spouse in both small ways and big ways. They get good at it.
Christian psychologist Gary Smalley said helping is a powerful way of loving, empowering the partner to overcome the disasters that happen to everyone. According to Smalley, an “interest in being with and helping others during a crisis is a demonstration of love.” Helping during the tough times can make or break a marriage, but having a helpful attitude and demeanor in the give and take of ordinary life is also essential.
Norman Wright and Gary Oliver point out that most couples begin their marriage responding to their partner’s needs by going out of their way to meet those needs. “But in time, this changes. Where previously most of our attention was focused on our spouse’s needs, our attention begins to focus on the fulfillment of our own needs. Each of us moves into the stage of giving less and expecting more.” A relationship that began good, turns into disillusionment, and disillusionment invites what John Gottman calls the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse: criticism, contempt, defensiveness, and stonewalling.
Dr. Gottman explains that once these behaviors are in the mix, the relationship is headed in the wrong direction, and may be in serious trouble. These actions simply don’t help the situation, nor do they help the people involved. Talking seems useless. Husband and wife start living parallel lives. And loneliness sets in. Couples in a marriage where this is happening might feel like calling it quits. After all, that’s what their friends, their families, their therapist, and the media are telling them to do. You fell in love, it didn’t work out, you fell out of love. Get over it, and move on.
Throwing in the towel, however, might not be the best thing to do. That might just add more pain and failure to lives already in trouble. Instead, the wise couple will look for ways to help each other through the tough times. And, they’ll look for responses that will help the marriage itself.
Marriage isn’t a partnership where one is always weak and the other always strong. Everyone has strengths and weaknesses. The idea is to help each other maximize strengths, and overcome weaknesses.
When couples begin to understand that the primary role in marriage is to be a helper, they realize in a very real way that they represent God to each other. The Lord is our helper, and he places husband and wife in the marriage to act on his behalf.
The bottom line is that a husband and wife who will routinely help one another in practical ways day after day will establish a friendship and an atmosphere of love that is contagious, and noticeable to everyone who knows them. They’re on their way to creating unity and developing a marriage that will last a lifetime.