A Slave or a Servant in Marriage?

Published March 9, 1979. One important aspect of marital love is altruism, the practice of unselfish devotion to and concern for the welfare of one’s spouse. This principle suggests that husbands and wives frequently do things for each other, often at the expense of their own needs and desires.

After I discussed this concept in class not long ago, a man came up afterward and said that he and his wife of several years made an important decision shortly after their marriage which helped contribute to many years of fulfillment. They decided that during their marriage they would be servants to each other, but never become slaves.

Asked to define the difference between a slave and a servant in marriage, he stated that a slave is someone who repeatedly does something for someone else with little or no appreciation, and the services performed are expected rather than anticipated.

On the other hand, a servant, he said, does something for someone else because he or she wants to do it and also gains genuine satisfaction from helping meet the needs of another person.

Under these circumstances, the things done for a spouse do not go unnoted or unrecognized by the one receiving. The services rendered are not looked upon as duties by either party, but are viewed as behaviors of devotion, caring, and concern, which are dimensions of altruistic love.

It is highly probable that most husbands and wives come to expect and consequently ignore the numerous tasks their spouse performs to maintain stability and harmony in their marriage.

This trend is most pronounced and noticeable when they are away from each other for a considerable length of time, and the husband and wife have to assume the responsibilities previously taken by the other. It might be thought that husbands are more flagrant in this regard, but it is probably safe to state that wives are equally careless in giving recognition and appreciation. Neither party is wholly without blame.

Maybe marriage would be more rewarding if there was a greater amount of altruism in our relationships. Marital relationships would be enriched if we stopped expecting certain serving behaviors from our spouse and started giving more praise and recognition when they are given.

In essence, being servants rather than slaves to each other could make marriage more meaningful.

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