Marriage is not a business partnership. I know, I know, you’ve heard this idea before. It doesn’t apply to you because you and your husband are different. You discuss parenting techniques, you agree on money matters, you even have a regularly scheduled date night. You certainly aren’t one of those couples who fall into the trap of treating marriage like a business relationship.
Or are you? There are ways of doing this that are less obvious and more insidious than the standard expected way. I’m thinking of your pattern of giving and taking.
Are you giving to your spouse because you love him (or her) and want to give him pleasure? Or do you have an agenda? Is there something you want or expect in return? Is there a quid pro quo in your relationship? Are you keeping a list?
If you answered the first question in the affirmative, then you can stop reading now. But if your answer is ‘no’ or ‘sometimes’ to the first query and ‘yes’ or ‘sometimes’ to any of the remaining ones, then we have something to discuss.
A relationship where we give in order to get, where we give with expectations or with strings attached, may not always be a business one but it has been shaped by the mindset and attitudes of the business world. And it is certainly not a marriage in its most ideal form. It won’t lead to a deep and lasting relationship.
You can’t keep score in marriage.
In marriage, you can’t keep score. “It was up five times last night.” “I went to the dry cleaner’s three times last month.” “I made dinner every night last week.” This type of negotiation is reminiscent of a brokered mediation not a loving caring relationship.
When the Talmud tells us that “If you treat your husband like a king, he will treat you like a queen,” it is not describing a reciprocal contract, but the natural consequences of behaving in a giving and respectful way.
Not only do we need to give to our partner without expectations or conditions, we need to do it with warmth and enthusiasm. We need to do it exuberantly and whole-heartedly. We need to do it with love.
There is a common perception that love isn’t enough to help a couple weather life’s challenges. It’s certainly true if we’re speaking of romantic love, infatuation, stars and bells.
But real, deep, abiding love, the kind that is based on commitment, where the lover cares more about his spouse’s welfare than his own, that is a love that will last. It’s so much harder than most business partnerships. You can’t leave the work at the office; it’s a 24/7 proposition. It’s non-stop giving and caring and trying to do what’s best for someone else, putting them first.
The Talmud also teaches us that “a man doesn’t die except to his wife.” That’s the most significant relationship in anyone’s life. Everyone else moves on; the deepest and most profound loss is that of a spouse, a life partner, the one who shares your hopes and dreams, goals and aspirations.
This reflects how it should be in life. We don’t want to wait for a tragedy, God forbid, to recognize this. We want to work on our marriages now and treat our husbands and wives with the caring they deserve. We want to appreciate them and the relationship now, not only after loss (I just came from the funeral of a 44 year-old mother, so this feels particularly timely).
The Talmud is teaching us about the importance of marriage and the uniqueness of the marriage relationship. It remains silent about the death of a business partner.