There are two kinds of relationships: consumer relationships and committed relationships. The two are miles apart. Most of the connections we have are the consumer type. The question we inherently ask is, “What’s best for me?” As long as the relationship meets our needs, we’ll stay, but when something better comes along, we drop one and pick up the other. My (Michelle’s) relationship with the salesperson at a clothing boutique is like this: If she can sell me a fabulous dress at a good price, I’ll probably go back to buy another outfit from her . . . unless I see an ad from another store with a more enticing offer. Where we shop for clothes, groceries, fast food, internet services, and how we choose between virtually every brick and mortar store or online store are determined by what options best meet our needs. In these cases, our needs are more important than the relationship.
That’s all fine and reasonable when we’re thinking about buying a cup of coffee, but it doesn’t work in our most important relationships. Obviously, our kids are not products, they’re people. If we’re not careful, we can bring a consumer mindset into our relationships with our kids. When they excel in sports or make great grades in school, we feel proud because their success reflects our great parenting—or that’s what we want others to conclude. But when they aren’t too gifted in athletics, academics, choosing friends, or in physical appearance, we feel embarrassed. And we don’t like feeling embarrassed! To solve the problem, we put pressure on our kids to perform better. We say it’s for their sake so they’ll excel later in life—and we’re sure there’s some of that motivation in the mix, but most of the pressure we put on our kids is because their performance and appearance aren’t meeting our needs or expectations. No, we don’t plan to ditch them and find other kids to bring home, but we sure wish they’d do a better job of reflecting our high standards of excellence!
As parents, we can’t ever allow our love and acceptance to be determined by our children’s performance. I’m thankful that God’s love for us is not based upon our performance. If that were the case we wouldn’t have any hope because it would be impossible to please Him. However, I’m thankful that God loves us unconditionally and He accepts us not based upon what we do but who we are— His creation.
Love is a decision. It’s also a commitment in which the relationship is more important than our needs. Instead of asking, “What’s best for me?” here, people pursue what’s best for the other person. We sacrifice for each other, not because we have to, but because we cherish the other. Only a few relationships rise to this kind of commitment: marriage, parenting our children, our relationship with God, and our spiritual family.
Another way to describe these strong, unbending relationships is with the word “covenant.” Throughout the Bible, God makes covenants with people—from Adam to Noah to Abraham to Moses to the new covenant in Jesus. Some of these are conditional. God says, “I’ll do this but you have to do that.” But some are unconditional: “[I’ll] never leave you nor forsake you” (Deuteronomy 31:6). The conditional ones challenge us, get our attention, and compel compliance, but the unconditional ones warm our hearts and inspire us to follow the One who has proclaimed His love for us. In our marriages and as we parent our children, our understanding of these covenant relationships gives us a firm foundation to love unconditionally. We’ve experienced the love, forgiveness, and acceptance of God, so we pour out love, forgiveness, and acceptance to the ones we love—even when it’s inconvenient, even when they aren’t meeting our needs, and even when they don’t appreciate what we do for them.
Men and women seem to speak different languages, and some have said they’re from different planets! In Paul’s letter to the Ephesians, he described the deep commitment husbands and wives have for each other. The relationship isn’t for convenience or even for thrills. Instead, it’s a picture of our relationship with God. He told husbands to love their wives “just as Christ loved the church” and “gave himself up” in sacrificial love. But he gave a different instruction to wives: to respect their husbands (Ephesians 5:21–33).
Dr. Emerson Eggerichs’s study of married couples resulted in a fascinating discovery:
We believe love best motivates a woman and respect most powerfully motivates a man. Research reveals that during marital conflict a husband most often reacts unlovingly when feeling disrespected, and a wife reacts disrespectfully when feeling unloved. We asked 7,000 people the question, “When you are in a conflict with your spouse or significant other, do you feel unloved or disrespected?” 83% of the men said “disrespected” and 72% of the women said “unloved.” Though we all need love and respect equally, the felt need differs during conflict, and this difference is as different as pink is from blue!1
It is wise for a husband to understand that the identity of his wife is tied to her work professionally as much as it is domestically as a wife and mother. Husbands can help their wives feel loved, supported, and appreciated by calling them during the day, offering to run errands, volunteering to change diapers or wash dishes, calling in dinner date reservations, and doing other things specific for their relationship. When men don’t do things like this for their wives, the wives feels taken for granted and unappreciated. And each wife needs to realize her husband’s identity is also, to a significant degree, tied up in his work, his intelligence, skills, and accomplishments. When she doesn’t show confidence, give encouragement, and celebrate him it crushes him . . . and he may react with sarcasm, anger, or silence.
When wives feel adored and husbands feel honored, children have a safe place to grow and thrive. They see love in action in their parents’ relationship, and they internalize the unique strength of a committed relationship. They may not be able to articulate the difference between a consumer relationship and a committed one, but they instinctively know the difference.
This isn’t an academic exercise for children. They’re dramatically affected by the type of relationship they see in the home. They’ll look for friends who treat them with honor and speak the truth, and they’ll look for a spouse who has these values. Then they’ll instill their children with the values of a committed relationship, and the legacy is passed from generation to generation.