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William B. Bradshaw Headshot

Marriage and the Golden Rule

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The call came at about 11:00 p.m. on a Friday evening. The caller, a woman, in a rather excited voice said, "Please, come see us." And then I could hear a rustling noise, as if someone was grabbing the phone, and the line went dead. This was in my early years as a minister, before the time of caller identification, so I had no idea who was calling.

About three or four minutes later, the telephone rang again. This time the women said emphatically, "We're in trouble and . . ." Again, there was a rustling sound, and the phone went dead. Obviously, I was deeply concerned, but there was nothing I could do about it.

I expected another call momentarily, but it didn't come until thirty minutes later. This time it was a man. He identified himself--the husband of a young couple I had married not all that long ago. "I'm sorry for hanging up the phone," he said. "My wife is right. We are in trouble and need your help. Could you please come see us?" I replied: "I'll be right over." It was a small town, and it did not take all that long to get there.

It turned out that this was their first wedding anniversary. They both worked factory jobs, were making mortgage payments on a house they had bought, and did not have all that much extra money. Nevertheless, they had saved up for a very special first-wedding-anniversary celebration. Living in Connecticut not far from New York City, they had purchased tickets for a Broadway play, made reservations to eat at a fancy restaurant after the show, and had reservations for a hotel not far from Times Square. They were going to spend Friday night in New York and return home late Saturday.

They had made arrangements to get off work early that afternoon, but they would still have to hurry to be properly dressed and in New York City in time to be settled in their theater seats by curtain time. The wife had come into the bathroom where her husband was shaving. He had cut himself, and, as razor cuts do, it was bleeding, running down the side of his face. She said to him, "Clean the blood off your face." He replied, "I always wait until I've finished shaving before I wash off any blood." But this did not satisfy her, and she insisted on his cleaning his face then. They got into one of those silly arguments that works its way into to a major disagreement. They both ended up saying some really hurtful things.

This was the first major argument the young couple had, and the wife packed a suitcase and telephoned her mother saying her marriage was a mistake, and she was coming home, which was in a town an hour away. Her mother was a wise soul who had been married for many years and knew that married couples who love each other very much can, nevertheless, get into some nasty disagreements. She told her daughter she could not come home and to work out her differences with her husband. Since the young wife didn't have any place to go and really didn't want to leave, she engaged her husband in further conversation, trying to work things out. But their efforts failed, and they argued for another five hours before telephoning me.

What a tragedy! They had planned and paid in advance for a wonderful evening--and all for naught. But more important, a young couple's romantic dream was shredded.

What happened? Both of them were guilty of a very common error in marriages--not paying enough attention to little things that would please one's spouse. The husband ignored a rather trivial request from his wife: he could very easily have wiped the blood off his face in the midst of shaving--no big deal! The wife insisted on her husband's changing his usual routine of shaving: she could have left him alone to shave the way he'd been shaving for the entire year they had been married. Instead, both insisted on their own way on a rather insignificant issue, ignoring the wishes and feelings of their spouse. The result--the ruination an evening of romance, fun, excitement, and adventure that would have long been treasured.

Little things can make such a difference in a marriage: helping each other around the house and in the kitchen; telling your spouse how nice he or she looks or that you like your spouse's new haircut; saying please and thank you the way you did before you were married; asking how things went at work today; watching a TV program that you may not be thrilled with but you know your spouse enjoys; husbands opening the car door for your spouse the way you used to; holding hands when going to a movie; paying attention to your spouse when he/she is talking instead of reading the newspaper or continuing to text; saying nice things to one another before going to sleep at night and when you first get up in the morning. These are just some of the little things that come to mind that make such a big difference in a marriage.

Of course, big issues also play major roles in marriages, but today we're looking at the smaller things that, if ignored, can develop into big problems.

This may sound like the typical minister, but married couples could avoid much unhappiness in their marriage if they simply followed the golden rule, paraphrased as: "Do unto to others as you would want them to do unto you." (Matthew 7:12 and Luke 6:31)