Marriage Advice From A Christian Perspective

I Need a Teammate, Not a Cell Mate

  • Steve and Annie Chapman Authors, Hot Topics for Couples
  • 2012 4 Jun
I Need a Teammate, Not a Cell Mate

J.J. Jasper, a friend in Mississippi, called one day and with a tone of distress in his voice, said, "Steve and Annie, please pray for my uncle up in Kentucky. He manages the circus and a couple of years ago he married the woman who does the human cannonball stunt. Well, she up and left him for the lion tamer. He was all tore up when he called and said, ‘I'll never find another woman of her caliber!' " (All the hunters will get this one right away.)

Now, there's a picture of a fellow who had come to an important resolve. He was willing to admit that in order for the "show to go on" he needed his wife. As stated in the previous chapter, it is a smart thing for any "Adam" to agree with God that he is made better by the company of his "Eve." However, the reverse can also be true. A woman's life can be enriched and more productive when she is joined to her man.

For the purposes of planting this seed of truth in the hearts of couples who come to our concerts, we perform a love song entitled, "I Need You." In nearly every setting, we ask the husbands and wives to sing the words of the title to one another. As they do, the view of the audience from our perspective is quite interesting. Most women are quick to respond and with little trouble they look toward their husbands and sing. Many of those men, however, will look straight ahead and tentatively mouth the words. If they turn their faces at all toward their wives, they do so in such a way that it makes it look as though their necks are in braces. We can't help but feel a bit of sorrow for the wives.

To be fair, we also observe women who struggle to publicly proclaim "I need you" to their husbands. We see excited expressions on the men's faces. It's a look that seems to come from the anticipation that he will hear her serenade him with her angelic voice of desire for his company. Sadly, their smiles are too often turned upside down by her obvious lack of enthusiasm.

While we suspect, of course, that their hesitance to sing is a product of shyness or stage fright (or, in some cases, "pew fright"), there are a significant number of spouses whose openly hostile body language reveals a more serious cause for their choice to not join the choir. Folded arms, jaws that are set, and lips that flatly refuse to move are disconcerting sights to look at while we sing. We fear that their lack of participation represents a hot topic that some of these husbands and wives are avoiding:

"I know that in order for our marriage to be a success, we need to work at it together. But it's hard to feel like your teammate when there are times you make me feel more like a cell mate. To sing ‘I need you' is not so easy when I feel hopelessly locked behind the bars of matrimony."

The silent singers, it seems, have resigned themselves to the idea that marriage is indeed an institution, and they feel like they have received a "life sentence." Why are we concerned this may be true for far too many couples? The following statements show the reason we make this disturbing assessment. We asked, "What does your spouse do that makes you feel miserable?"


• When I ask a question, he often makes me feel dumb.
• When there's a problem he usually shuts down and won't discuss it.
• He sits and watches TV and never asks if I need help and never offers.
• Sometimes he cuts me with sarcasm, and then says, "I'm only kidding."
• He brings his pressure at work home with him.
• He sits at his computer and plays games and surfs the Internet when he should be helping me.
• When he jokes about my homemaking and says it's not a "real" job.
• When he hugs other women in a suggestive manner.
• He neglects his physical health.
• Very often he leaves a mess and expects me to clean up after him.
• When he talks about my weight to other people and calls me "fat."


• She snaps at me and puts me under tremendous pressure.
• Belittles me in front of friends and family.
• Complains about nearly everything.
• Expects me to be romantic, and yet never gives me a gift or reciprocates in any way.
• She never seems to be satisfied with the work I do around the house.
• I get accused a lot of looking at other women. She is unjustifiably jealous and controlling.
• She treats me like an enemy instead of her friend.
• She commits adultery.
• I get the silent treatment a lot.
• She tells me I've hurt her and then doesn't tell me what I did.
• She tears down my vocation.
• She never cleans the house.
• She bosses me around and tells me every move to make. I feel like her boy instead of her man.

In light of these anonymous, but painfully true confessions, it is not too difficult to understand why some husbands and wives feel more like fellow inmates than intimates. How grievous it is to hear of their gaping emotional wounds caused by the shank of unkindness and lack of cooperation. It is no wonder that the words "I need you" would be the last song any of them would want to sing to the other.
In order for these husbands and wives to regain that special freedom to be colaborers, the shackles of mistreatment that one places on the other need to fall away from their hearts. If they are able to break the "bondages of marriage," they can then enjoy the "bonds of matrimony" and become a prize-winning team. For that reason we offer the following key that might help remove those fetters.

If You Know Better, You'll Do Better

We learned many years ago that motive dictates motion, attitude affects action, or, to put it another way, if you know better, you'll do better. (Steve: As an example, remember our meat loaf revelation? By communicating with Annie, she knows me better—and I'm happy to say that I haven't had to eat meat loaf in years!)

Perhaps the single most attitude-altering instruction that we received as a newlywed couple came from the late Archie and Margaret Boone, the parents of well-known singer Pat Boone. In 1975, they told us, "Make your home look like a wagon wheel. Put Christ at the hub. Make Him the center of your lives. Then, as you follow the line of the spokes, notice that as they get closer to the hub, they grow closer to one another. This will work for you even if you're opposites in personality!"

The natural inclination for a young bride and groom is to try to grow closer by exclusively focusing on the other, desiring to solely please their mate. While this traditional approach to building a strong unit certainly has its merits, we have found a more lasting and rewarding method.

As two people walk side by side with a mutual focus on pleasing Christ, their hearts will begin to look like the spokes in a wheel that get closer to each other as they get closer to the hub. Making Christ the focal point in a marriage is the key. So simple is this concept, but so incredi¬bly profound.

How does maintaining a desire to please Christ become the motivation that can influence our actions toward each other? The answer to that question is found in Philippians 2. In verse five of the chapter, God's people are encouraged to "have this attitude in yourselves which was also in Christ Jesus." To learn what that attitude was, it is necessary to read the four previous verses. As you read this passage, please do so in light of our premise that suggests to spouses, "If you know better, you'll do better!"

Therefore if there is any encouragement in Christ, if there is any consolation of love, if there is any fellowship of the Spirit, if any affection and compassion, make my joy complete by being of the same mind, maintaining the same love, united in spirit, intent on one purpose. Do nothing from selfishness or empty conceit, but with humility of mind let each of you regard one another as more important than yourselves; do not merely look out for your own personal interests, but also for the interests of others (Philippians 2:1-4).

Putting the happiness of others before that of His own was the attitude of Christ. His selfless demonstration of love generates much of the honor we give to Him today. However, that praise was gained at a great price. It is revealed in verses 6-8.

Who, although He existed in the form of God did not regard equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied Himself, taking the form of a bond-servant, and being made in the likeness of men. Being found in appearance as a man, He humbled Himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross.

How do we practically apply this passage to our everyday married lives? We are, by no means, suggesting that spouses crucify each other, though some who have been sufficiently hurt may have considered it. Instead, as we stated in the previous chapter, each member of the team must be responsible to individually strive to become like Christ, whose servant attitude caused Him to focus on the needs of others. In our own lives, we have seen what this spiritual truth can look like when clothed in flesh.

Dishes and Turkeys

Our personal interests are quite varied.

Annie: "I love beautiful china dishes."

Steve: "I love little animals. I think they're delicious. I love to hunt them down, kill them, and eat them."

Obviously the pendulum of passions swings wide in our relationship. Yet personally striving to maintain the servant attitude of Christ makes all the difference in the face of our vast differences. The following true accounts demonstrate how God's truth in Philippians 2 can be transferred from principles on paper to practical performance.

Annie: Steve was very saddened when he realized one year that the date of our March wedding anniversary inconveniently fell on the first day of Tennessee's turkey hunting season. His buddies were also upset that "Stevie wasn't gonna get to come out and play!" In the past, they had looked forward to gathering at a cabin the night before opening day of season and enjoying an evening of food and preparation for the next morning's hunt.

As I pondered what gift I would get him for our anniversary it suddenly occurred to me that I had an opportunity to win at the "game" we had made of Philippians 2, that is, trying to out-serve one another. (This game, by the way, is fun only if both play to win!) I decided that my gift would be to encourage him to join his friends for the hunt and delay our celebration until the next evening. I sent him to the cabin with food, the admonition to have a great time, and my regular safety speech that would ensure his return.

The morning of our anniversary came, and I headed to town to run some errands. I came home around noon and made a surprising discovery. Steve had left the hunt early, came home, and was standing high on a ladder cleaning our second-story windows. (He claims that he stood on that ladder for nearly an hour, waiting for me to see him in his servant pose when I pulled into the driveway. He was determined not to lose "the game.")

Steve: Annie came home from town one day and told me about a set of china dishes she adored. The pattern contained red birds and reminded her of her mother's love for the cardinal. Since her mother's death, she has enjoyed collecting items that feature that particular feathered friend. I told Annie to go and buy them, but she adamantly declined to do so due to their hefty price tag.

Then one day, while traveling through Ohio, we had a few extra minutes and we stopped at an outlet center (the real kind of outlet that has stores that actually have discounts). We went into a china shop and lo and behold, there were the dishes marked with significant discounts. I begged Annie to get them, but again she hesitated. So I began to rummage through the shopping carts that were filled with the dishes, finding the very best pieces. With a ten-place setting now stacked on the checkout counter, I turned to her and said words that made her eyes dance with excitement. "You have to have the teapot!"

I left the store that day a hero. Annie told me later that if men knew how sexually stimulating it is for a woman to see her man going through stacks of dishes to buy for her, there would be warehouses of china behind every home. She said she couldn't wait to get me back to the house!

One of the most treasured realizations that resulted from these two accounts can be explained in this way: It looked like dishes…but it felt like love. It looked like a turkey hunt…but it felt like love. When a husband and wife take to heart the challenge of serving one another and consider the interest of the other as more important than their own, the end result is that each feels loved. Again, this is the attitude of Christ in that He gave His very life for us. In other words, it looked like a cross, but it felt like love!

Besides dishes and turkey hunts, there are many other things that two people can do for each other that will display the servant heart of Christ. These married couples responded to the question: "What does your mate do or say that makes you feel happy?"


• My husband asks my opinion in front of others.
• He compliments me on the way I look. He tells me I'm pretty.
• I love it when my husband says, "I'm glad I married you."
• He helps me with the housework without being asked.
• I appreciate when he recognizes special occasions without me reminding him.
• He loves and adopted my children. When he treats my children kindly, I feel loved.
• His support for me when I try something new helps me have the confidence to try other things.
• Sometimes when I'm troubled he'll say, "Do you want me to pray for you?" And then he does.
• He hugs me for no reason, just to let me know he loves me.
• He tells me that he loves me and compliments me on the job I do as a mother.
• I love it when he comes quickly to the door and greets me by saying, "There's my sweetheart. How was your day?"


• She thanks me for doing special things to help her. It makes me want to do more.
• I love it when she makes me coffee.
• Goes out with me…without the children.
• Plans a special time for just the two of us.
• She understands my stress load at work. She makes sure I have some relaxing time in the evening. I feel cared for when she looks out for me like that.
• My wife picks out my clothes and buys them for me so I don't have to go shopping.
• Shows an interest in sex.
• My wife doesn't give me a hard time about my obligations at work. I can't help the workload that's put on me, and I need her supportive attitude. I couldn't survive without her help.
• She listens to me vent about work without always feeling like she has to give me advice or her opinions.
• She thanks me for providing for her and the children.
• When my laundry is clean and put away, I feel so loved and taken care of.
• Every night she greets me with a hug and a kiss. I feel like she's glad I'm home.

Taken from: Hot Topics for Couples. Copyright © 2010 by Steve and Annie Chapman. Published by Harvest House Publishers, Eugene, OR. Used by permission.

Steve and Annie Chapman are award-winning musicians who emphasize Christ-centered family life. They share their enthusiasm for the gospel, marriage, and family through concerts, speaking, and writing. Steve's books include A Look at Life from a Deer Stand. Annie's books include Letting Go of Anger.