I remember as a kid in Sunday School having Matthew 7:12 drilled into my head – “Do unto others as you would have others do unto you…”. It was called the Golden Rule. This scripture falls in the midst of a longer passage where Jesus was instructing his followers on how to deal with other people as well as with God Himself.
Clearly this is sound teaching. Far be it from me to contradict Jesus’ own words! But I do think this instruction applies more to relationships with others that we might not be super close with – think coworkers, casual friends or new acquaintances.
This literal thinking can cause some irritation in a marriage setting. I see it in couples all the time. A wife brings up a problem – the husband rushes to fix it. After all, if a guy brings up a problem to another guy, he is typically asking for assistance. For example: “I’ve got to change a tire on my riding mower. I really need a jack and some jack stands…”. When this is said to a group of guys, someone will surely volunteer “I’ve got those, swing by and pick them up after work.” Problem stated, problem solved. Both guys in this situation acted according to the Golden Rule.
But as we all know, there are times when a wife expresses a problem, but is not looking for a solution. She may just be wanting to be heard and understood in terms of her frustration. When the guy acts in a way that he wants to be treated, he finds that he is in fact frustrating his wife. It’s not intentional. It could be he had the Golden Rule drilled into his head as a child as well.
In my mind then, there is a slight revision to the Golden Rule that applies to marriage. It goes like this “Do unto others (your spouse) as they want to be done unto”. In other words, develop a level of understanding for your spouse where you can meet their needs as they need them to be met. Gary Chapman essentially proposes this in his now-classic book “The 5 Love Languages”. In this he explains that we all show and prefer to receive love in different ways. Understanding our own love language is important, but even more important is to understand the love language of our spouse. Your love language may be Acts of Service, and you find yourself forever doing things for your spouse as an expression of love. If their love language is Physical Touch, they probably appreciate the things you’re doing for them, but they may not feel the love that is intended as much as they would if you sat on the couch and held them close.
I don’t think this thinking contradicts the original teachings of Jesus. If anything, it expands upon them in the specific situation of marriage. This doesn’t happen overnight. It takes awareness and practice. But in time, if you come to treat your spouse as they want to be treated (as opposed to how you would want to be treated) you will find that you can take your marriage to the next level. Maybe even a shocking one!