I treat my marriage like a job. Sounds glamorous, right?
Well, let me back up a minute. You know the old adage, “find a job you love and you’ll never work a day in your life?” I think I would tweak it to say, “find a job you love, and it will make all the hard work worth it.” That’s what I mean when I say I treat my marriage like a job, because it can be hard work, but it is most definitely worth it in the end. For me, most of the “work” comes in the form of time, usually time spent learning how to really care for my other half. As innately selfish creatures, this can be tricky for Kyle and me, so at the beginning of our relationship we made up a phrase to define how we wanted to take care of each other: Let Your Care Cup Run Over.
For us, this starts with identifying each other’s needs, and then willingly (not begrudgingly) putting them before our own. We’ve found the concept of Gary Chapman’s Five Love Languages very helpful in identifying and learning to fill those needs, because we’ve also learned that it’s no use trying to care for each other in a way that doesn’t resonate. You can take the short, free quiz here if you’d like.
If you haven’t read the book, I’d definitely recommend it. I’d also recommend revisiting the quiz from time to time, because your love language might change depending on your circumstances. For instance, after getting married, I learned that acts of service were my new favorite way to receive love.
What does this look like in our life? Kyle cares for me by making the coffee every night, so I wake up to freshly-brewed coffee in the kitchen each morning (acts of service). And he sneaks notes in my luggage when I go out of town (words of affirmation). I cook dinner because Kyle loves to eat and appreciates healthy home-cooked meals (acts of service). I will scratch his head or his back while we are watching TV together on the sofa (physical touch).
Sounds wonderful, right? Most of the time, it is. But here’s the trick: when you’re in a committed relationship, you sometimes have to care when you don’t feel like caring. Sometimes you have to push through and dig deep and reach out and put the other person’s needs before your own when all you want to do is be selfish. Sometimes you have to care even when the other person doesn’t seem like he or she cares.
The good news is that if you are both committed to this idea, you won’t be the only one who is always “over-caring.” If you’re both trying to give more than 100%, there should always be a little leeway to make up for the partner who needs it.
Of course, I also think caring can be illustrated outside the immediacy of your relationship. And, the more you do this, the easier it is to embody a “care cup” mentality within your VIP relationships (spouse, kids, family – places it’s admittedly easiest to be selfish). Outside of your relationship, this could look like community service, church activities, coffee with a hurting friend, bringing a meal to a new neighbor or new parents, driving a distance for an event (wedding, funeral, etc.), or even pitching in at work to tackle a task outside of your responsibilities. The more you work your “care” muscle, the more natural it will feel to call on it.
I would love to hear your thoughts on how you let your care cup run over. How have you learned to communicate your love and care through your spouse’s love language? Have you learned what ways you receive love and care the best?