In a timeless post from over two years ago, Dr. Kelly Flanagan broke down marriage dynamics into three basic categories:
Fight to the death
Constant winner versus a constant loser
Race to see who can lose the most
It’s the last category, in which both partners try to lose instead of win, that Dr. Flanagan believes produces the best results.
Here is how he characterizes it:
The third kind of marriage is not perfect, not even close. But a decision has been made, and two people have decided to love each other to the limit, and to sacrifice the most important thing of all—themselves. In these marriages, losing becomes a way of life, a competition to see who can listen to, care for, serve, forgive, and accept the other the most. The marriage becomes a competition to see who can change in ways that are most healing to the other, to see who can give of themselves in ways that most increase the dignity and strength of the other. These marriages form people who can be small and humble and merciful and loving and peaceful.
He also provides a superb example of this philosophy in action – as demonstrated by his son.
What do the rebellious marriages look like? Lately, when my blood is bubbling, when I just know I’ve been misunderstood and neglected, and I’m ready to do just about anything to convince and win what I deserve, I try to remember a phone call we recently received from my son’s second grade teacher. She called us one day after school to tell us there had been an incident in gym class. After a fierce athletic competition, in which the prize was the privilege to leave the gym first, my son’s team had lost. The losers were standing by, grumbling and complaining about second-grade-versions of injustice, as the victors filed past. And that’s when my son started to clap. He clapped for the winners as they passed, with a big dopey grin on his face and a smile stretched from one ear of his heart to the other. His startled gym teacher quickly exhorted the rest of his team to follow suit. So, a bunch of second grade losers staged a rebellion, giving a rousing ovation for their victorious peers, and in doing so, embraced the fullness of what it can mean to be a loser. When I’m seething, I try to remember the heart of a boy, a heart that can lose graciously and reach out in affection to the victors.
That to me is the hidden benefit of such a marriage: you raise kids with grace and strength and dignity.
This is such an important lesson for parents. If you are going to fight over the family finances – where to invest, how much life insurance to buy, and so on – you are demonstrating a pattern of decision-making that your children will pick up. You do not want them to think that insurance and investments are a “winner-takes-all” proposition between a husband and wife.
Rather they should realize that the most important thing is keeping the union intact. Good decisions will follow.