The Danger of Comparison in Marriage

“Set down the comparison that has robbed you of joy. Trust that Jesus is enough.”

From the youngest age, I’ve enjoyed cooking. For me, it’s quite therapeutic to chop, dice, slice, filet, etc. But I confess, even though I’ve cooked hundreds of meals … I still can’t remember the difference between a tablespoon and a teaspoon.

Stupid huh? I literally watch Food Network on my iPad while I cook, and I still have to google which one is “table” and which one is “tea” (just googled it again). When I do, I shake my head and tell myself, “I should have known that; it’s obvious.”

It may not be a huge deal to you, but measurements in cooking are meant to be accurate, especially in baking. And by using a wrong measurement, you can wind up making something you didn’t intend on producing. Using a tablespoon of one element when it was supposed to be a teaspoon, can change the flavor, change the consistency or take what you’re trying to create in the wrong direction. I’ve either ruined many recipes or didn’t get the fulness of the dining experience because of inaccurate measurements.

Marriage is no different. I find that problems don’t come from a lack of measurement, but the instrument we use to estimate and/or evaluate what we are facing. When you use inaccurate measurements, you can severely change the flavor (attitude, tone and atmosphere) of your marriage, the consistency (integrity, connectedness and unity) of it, and take what you are building (growing, learning and maturing) in the wrong direction. Often I find husbands and wives fall prey to what has become the primary (and extremely inaccurate) human measurement device: comparison.

Comparison

I’ve discovered that this internal measuring tape is used in two extreme ways. First, comparison takes our deficiencies and measures them against somebody else’s highlight real. Perhaps you see another couple, possibly a best friend or even your parents, and use them to measure the quality and/or substance of your marriage. I’m not against having mentors. In fact, I encourage it. But there’s a difference between looking to a marriage for the purpose of encouragement and challenge and looking up to a marriage to idolize someone’s life, inflicting your marriage with unhealthy expectations.

Second, comparison takes our perceived strengths and pits them against somebody else’s perceived weaknesses for the purpose of making ourselves feel better. This inaccurate measurement is steeped in pride. It’s meant to make you feel better in the moment but convinces you into thinking growth or change isn’t necessary because you are not as bad as the other person.

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Comparison is the seduction of our “enough-ness.” You either lose your feeling of being enough by what you lack in correlation to another couple or you gain a sensation of being enough by contrasting what’s right with you to someone else’s perceived flaws. No matter how you play the comparison game, you lose. When you don’t find that you (and your spouse) are enough in Christ, you will place that demand upon someone or something that was not equipped to fulfill that.

Contextualize

The remedy is in understanding the uniqueness of your marriage. You’re less apt to compare when you cannot find a similar example. I find it’s easy to forget that both you and your spouse are, individually, made “wonderfully complex.” So if you as individual humans are complex, then the make up of each marriage is just as complex as man and woman come together. Again, this doesn’t mean you cannot have people as mentors. It also doesn’t mean there are not principles to guide husbands and wives. But it does make you contextualize. Simply said: Look at your marriage, the season you are in and how you and your spouse were created and gifted. When you can truly see what you are working with, you can build on Christ-centered principles to feed your marriage. Comparison does the opposite. You look at the “context” of who other people are and what they have and try to force that upon the “context” in which the two of you live.

The fact is this: By human measurements, we’ll never be enough. When we think we’ve measured up, somebody will have moved the bar. Then we find ourselves constantly chasing things in which we were never meant to find our meaning. Stop working for the validation that comes from an inaccurate assessment and hold on to the measurement that matters: You can have an identity found in Jesus. It’s not only a place to live from, but it’s an identity to work with. For if you can see yourself how Jesus sees you, you’ll be more apt to see your spouse how Christ sees him/her. Your life will display the image of the identity you live in.

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Christ, then, becomes the standard for “measuring” our lives. And the beauty of that reality is not to make us focus on what we lack, but to help us know what we possess and how we can grow day by day. You’ll discover that type of “measurement” keeps you personally humble and encourages you to pursue Jesus. I find the more I receive from him, the more I’m able to give and serve my spouse. So in essence, my place of “measurement” is also the place of my “empowerment.”

Set down the comparison that has robbed you of joy. Trust that Jesus is enough. And when you find that “enough-ness” in him, let your marriage draw from and grow into that.

Love you all. Praying for husbands and wives today as you two pursue Jesus and each other.

Dave Barringer (@PDBarringer) is the lead pastor at Kalamazoo First Assembly of God in Portage, Michigan, and the author of Mosaic Marriage. He blogs about pastoring and marriage at PDave.me.