Contract or Covenant?

When it comes to marriage, most couples believe they entered into a contract with their spouse when they got married. After all they had to go down to the courthouse and get a document that they had to sign along with a minister and two witnesses. Looks like a contract right? As a result of this contract view of marriage, many couples feel they have a right to evaluate how well their spouse is doing at keeping up his/her end of the contract. Just as a person would evaluate the work of a contractor that signed a contract for certain services, doesn’t it make sense that a spouse would have the right to evaluate the performance of the other?

The problem with a contract view of marriage is the focus on performance. Whenever performance comes into the picture in a relationship couples tend to put their focus into making sure they “get what they deserve” or have a “right” to certain things from their spouse. This leads to huge conflict because no one wants to be evaluated all the time and no one really praises anyone for doing what is expected on the contract. Think about it, if I treat my marriage the same way I treat a contract with a plumber the entire focus of our relationship is whether or not my spouse fulfilled the duties stated in the contract. I could be very cordial and even overly kind. But in the end if I feel the person did not do what I was “paying” him/her to do and I feel like the job was not done to my satisfaction, I will call “breach of contract” and look to get my money back. Can you see how that mentally can do damage to a marriage? If I am constantly evaluating my spouses performance instead of focusing on doing what I said I would do regardless of the other person, I am in effect treating my spouse like a plumber I hired for a job!

Instead of allowing our marriages to be shaped by a contract mentality, we need to model our marriages after the covenant God made with us. If God had made a contract with Abraham and evaluated his performance as a condition of the contract, the bible would have ended in the middle of Genesis! Thankfully God made a covenant with Abraham that he would fulfill what He said he would do regardless. In the same way, in God’s eyes, each of us who are married, made a covenant with one another before God to love and cherish, etc. until death us do part. That means our focus needs to be on how we are doing not on how our spouse is doing. Evaluating our spouses performance is not the way to a lasting marriage. Instead we need to realize we are in a covenant with our spouse and seek to live with him/her the way God lives with us.

When was the last time you evaluated your own performance? Could you live up to the standards you require of your spouse? What “rights” and demands do you need to give up?