My husband and I recently found ourselves on the brink of marriage failure. While clawing our way back to each, other we encountered the single best piece of marital advice we’ve ever heard — “Give each other your first and your best.”
Actually, for us, it’s the only advice to ever ring true, right, and doable over the long haul that every marriage is.
The first time we read this powerful marriage advice we knew heeding its instruction was how we’d get back to our set point. We realized this tactic would then help us soar beyond what we’ve been settling for and on to new heights together. We knew it would work for us because we hadn’t done it much in the twenty years we’d been married. We recognized this way of failing each other to be precisely where we went wrong.
When we look back over two decades together, we can’t recall any other marriage advice that’s worked for us.
And worked again, and again, and again.
Since marriage is perpetual trial and error and the need for continual rebooting, we need advice that works for that scenario.
Different sets of circumstances cause different types of crashes. So we need varying tools on hand to repair the damage we do to our marriages. Forgiveness, compromise, and selflessness are some of the go-to implements for marriage repair. But g’ dang it—those implements are tricky to learn how to use. What’s more, they break easily, too.
This is the marriage adivce that works for us.
The do this—and endeavor to do this always—suggestion that got our attention is:
“Give each other your first and your best.”
Even if you already have lots of well-used, well-maintained equipment for keeping your marriage in good condition and you’ve learned to use your tools with skill, even if you’ve mastered the process of damage control and think you’ve arrived at marriage nirvana—take caution; for that’s exactly where hidden danger lurks.
When we think we’ve arrived somewhere we can get complacent, lazy too.
We decide our hard work is done and it’s high time we rest. We believe we deserve to bask in the glory of the marital bliss we’ve engineered. But in a marriage—a union of two imperfect people—the hard work of accepting each other’s imperfection will never be finished. We will never arrive.
In your own marriage, if you’re building or renovating your union on a solid foundation of love and you’re both willing to do the hard work it takes to stay married and make the relationship an enjoyable one—begin by giving each other your first and your best. Then, never stop striving for more of the same.
Do you feel shivers or resonation deep in your bones?
If you’re in that dark and scary place where marriages crumble into ruins, I bet you did. If you’re not in that hellhole, good, I’m so glad. But it won’t hurt to keep this tool close by and ready to wield for the next time you are.
My husband and I took part in a couples bible study years ago and I will never forget what one couple disclosed to the group. With an overarching tone of prejudice and snobbish disdain, several of us were discussing divorce when one of the couples explained how they’d learned to stop stating, “We will never get divorced.” Because they almost had, they said. Because even after always maintaining divorce was not an option, that they would never threateningly use the “D” word on each other, they had, in fact, found themselves at divorce’s front door. From there, it beckoned to them to come in and stay—forever.
Ultimately, our friends turned down divorce’s beguiling invitation and as a result of their near “D” experience what they learned to say instead was, “We will always fight our hardest against divorce.”
At the time, Erik and I hadn’t been through trials heavy enough to advance the possibility of divorce into our View-master and I remember thinking, “Well, it’s sad they came close to divorcing but WE will definitely never get divorced.” I felt bad for our friends but also like maybe they were doing marriage wrong but also like I should heed what they were saying.
Our friends traveled to the brink of marital destruction and back. The outcome was they learned divorce isn’t just probable statistically speaking but also highly possible inside their own marriage. They’d learned words and platitudes aren’t enough to keep divorce at bay. That sincere effort, hard work, and fierce fighting against the dissolution of their marriage are what it takes to keep it going. I paid attention to that.
Since then, my husband and I have been to divorce’s doorstep as well.
His infidelity drove us there and kicked us out at the curb. We fought the urge to cross the threshold of goodbye by learning to give each other our first and our best. This ideology was a hail mary game-changer for us. This wisdom suspended the downward spiral of our marriage—altering our trajectory toward a way forward that sustains us still today.
To give each other your first and your best sounds so simple, but is it easy?
No. Not even a little bit. And it might never be. Are my husband and I really good at it? No, not yet. Do we do it all the time? Again, nope. Because hard. Because life. Because imperfection. Because tired. Angry. Hurt. Let down. Distracted. Stressed. And selfish.
But today, when we fall short of giving each other our first and our best, our marriage barometer falls dramatically. We feel negative changes in pressure very quickly now. The difference being, in years past, the pressure changes were subtle and consistent enough we became accustomed to them, rarely taking action to correct them.
Eventually, our marriage became an ultra-challenging climate in which we didn’t know how to affect any real or lasting change. The undesirable conditions swirling around us created a wedge between us big enough for another person fit there.
What does giving each other your first and your best look like?
I don’t know, because I’m not one of the two of you. But for us, it looks like deliberately spending time alone together. Touching, talking, planning, and hashing things out. It sounds like reminiscing, what-if-ing or asking each other for help on a crossword. It feels like making each other a priority more often than we don’t. Mr. Utter Imperfection and I are both social creatures. We have fabulous friends whom we’re tempted to put on our calendar several days a week. But if we did, then our friends would be getting our first and our best we have to give.
For us, to give each other your first and your best looks like learning to ride the wave of parenting in a way that mitigates crashing and burning on reefs of best intentions and unmet expectations.
It sounds like letting our kids know we love them well beyond their understanding. And we’re committed to parenting them to the best of our ability. But only after we love and care for each other first. Because the two of us were here before they were and soon, it’ll be just the two of us again once they’ve gone. Because we were, they became—and without continual focus and nurturing, we know our marriage can deteriorate into a toxic state that will harm them rather than help them.
For us, to give each other your first and your best feels like saying no to insidious, soul-sucking distractions like our dumb smartphones, too much Netflix, or too many drinks.
And no to more complicated forms of interference. Like relatives who continually put stress on our marriage. Rather than interacting with us in ways that shore up our relationship, lending it strength.
For us, the marriage-saving practice of giving each other your first and your best looks like loving each other with deliberate action, not merely with words or intent.
It feels like taking action for each other because it costs us our time and energy. Not in spite of the price. To give of our first and best sounds like, “Here you go, honey, this is what I have and it’s all for you. Take what you need and everyone else gets whatever is leftover.”
Give each other your first and your best. Not the other way around. It simply can’t be the other way around.
We took the other way around and the forces at play on that not so merry-go-round threw us off—slamming us to the ground and nearly breaking us apart. We’re still healing from the fallout, as this kind of healing takes as long as it fricking takes. And we’ve made the most gains by learning to give each other our first and our best.
This marriage advice works, loves. Wonderfully and beautifully.
And it will continue to work as long as we continue to do it. Going forward, we will always fight our hardest against giving our first and our best to someone or something else.
“Give each other your first and your best,” came from the book, What Did You Expect?: Redeeming the Realities of Marriage by Paul David Tripp.
My husband sourced this book. We then read it together, chapter by chapter, pausing to talk about each one in turn. We both wish with all our hearts we’d read it before we got married. But blessedly, reading it afterward worked too. We highly recommend it for any and all marriage folk.
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