There are two very natural yet very destructive ways that couples often use when relating to one another. The two are woven into the very fiber of every person and become the default approach to relationships. Over time they lead to relational frustration, tension, and conflict. The two approaches are:
Rewarding the other person for relating to you like you want.
Often one or both parties in a relationship will get into the habit of showing extra favor to their partner when things are going like they want. When they like how they are being treated, they give gifts, affection, sex, greater emotional openness, or extra praise. While this approach may seem natural, what it produces is something far different than a relationship of love. Rewarding for good behavior is the approach used to training animals. It reduces the relationship to something equivalent that of a master and servant.
Punishing the other person for not relating to you like you want.
What goes hand in hand with rewarding the other person for good behavior is punishing them for bad behavior. In this approach one or both parties use guilt, withdrawal, pouting, the silent-treatment, withholding affection, withholding sex, or closing-off emotionally when things don’t go like they want. This too is the approach we use in training animals and again reduces the relationship to something less than a sincere love-relationship between two people.
These become dangerous ways of relating because they:
- Keep the focus on you.
- Lead to disappointment, hurt feelings, anger, resentment, selfishness, bitterness
- Make the other person a slave of your wants.
- Are inconsistent with the nature of genuine love – sacrifice, serving, selflessness, etc.
These do not have to be the default relational approach. If a person experiences a greater love, they can have their motivation and relational approach rewired. There is a greater love that:
- Gives even when it is undeserved
- Shows favor when it has not been earned
- Forgives hurts when they happen
- Sacrifices time, energy, and wants for another person
- Humbly serves the other person without expectation of reward or return
These expressions of love are of far greater value than the reward and punishment approach. They are the expression of love that comes from God.
Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It does not dishonor others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres. 1 Corinthians 13:4-7
Those who have had a personal and intimate experience with this kind of love from God have the capacity of demonstrating that same kind of love in their relationships. They set their partner free from having to earn their love, pay for their mistakes, and prove they are worthy of being loved. The love from the overflow of love in their heart regardless of what the other person has done.