For the first 10 years of my career, I practiced law as a real estate attorney. I negotiated and drafted hundreds of contracts. In every one, I had a client who was counting on me to get the best deal for them, look out for them, assume the worst of the other parties involved, and understand the contractual nuances that would either work for or against their interests in every transaction.
However, this kind of mindset doesn’t work well in marriage. I learned that it is counterproductive, even dangerous, to have a “contract marriage” instead of thinking of your marriage as a covenant.
A few years ago, in “3 Things to Remember Before You Call It Quits in Marriage,” I mentioned the importance of looking at marriage as a covenant, not a contract. In a nutshell, a contract is all about what you get. A covenant is all about what you give.
Covenants are unconditional, based on love; contracts are based on certain conditions being met. Covenants are sacrificial towards someone, while contracts are reciprocal arrangements—“if you do this, then, and only then, will I do that.” Covenants are based on mutual trust, while contracts assume mutual distrust. A covenant of marriage is for life, but a contract is for here and now.
This covenant mindset of marriage is so important to me; I consider it one of the ten best decisions I’ve made in my marriage to Susan. It’s critical to making marriage work well. This attitude is critical to moving from feeling hopeless to hope-filled in marriage.
Yeah, it’s THAT important.
Do you have a covenant or contract mindset in your marriage? Here are 7 signs you may be treating your marriage like a contract:
1. You have specific expectations of your spouse that determine your attitude and actions towards them. Contracts spell out very specific actions or deliverables that are expected of the other party, while covenants are oriented towards learning to accept each other even when expectations aren’t met.
2. You feel more self-protective than marriage-protective. Contracts protect self-interest. A covenant protects collective interest of the marriage.
3. You constantly think of contingency plans in case your spouse hurts or disappoints you. Contracts expect and sometimes even spell out contingencies for the bad or even worst case scenarios. The heart of a covenant says “I will be with you through hurt and pain. I will be with you no matter what.”
4. You are looking for ways to get out of your marriage. Contracts sometimes have “escape clauses” which allow one or both parties to get out of it. Instead of looking for a way out, a covenant looks for a way into your spouse’s heart. A covenant marriage seeks to love a spouse the most when they deserve it the least.
5. You are putting the onus on your spouse to keep the marriage together, and if they mess up, you’re ready to throw in the towel. If one party breaches a contract, it might be grounds for termination by the other. In a covenant, one side’s breach or disappointing behavior does not release the other party from the covenant, except possibly in rare circumstances, like unfaithfulness.
6. You’re ready to penalize your spouse when they mess up. Contracts assume problems will come and have penalties when they do. Covenants also assume mistakes but focus on forgiving and being forgiven when one misses the mark.
7. Your marriage is all about your happiness and satisfaction with the outcome. A contract-style marriage is a testimony to humanity’s nature—the goal is happiness. A covenant marriage is a testimony to God’s nature—the goal is holiness. The goal is the have a holy union that glorifies God.
I hope this list inspires and challenges you. This isn’t meant to discourage you, but to give you an understanding of how important and even spiritual the marriage vows are. If your heart is covenant-oriented, but you sense your spouse’s heart is more contract-oriented, look for an opportunity to gently discuss the topic. Remember this: What you think about marriage will determine how you behave in marriage.
What is your mindset about marriage? Are you treating your marriage like a contract or covenant? Please share your comments.