My husband and I have known each other since we were toddlers, our friendship really grew when we were 11, and we began dating when we were 17, married at 22. We did a lot of things wrong, but one of the (few) things we adopted that went very right, is a marriage mantra. A saying we lean on, come back to, and use to recenter when we’re off kilter. Ours is, and always has been, “Strive to Out-Serve.”
It sounds… intense. And maybe a bit over the top. But it comes with a steep caveat that it only works when both participants in the relationship adopt it. If both are striving to serve the other, it’s a power balanced love. If it’s only one, the imbalance is steep, unhealthy, and far from helpful. However, if both people hold tighter to this mantra than their own desires, it is an incredibly amazing gift to your partner.
This mantra plays out practically in service. In baking, cooking, cleaning, yard work, and all the shared household work. It plays out in parenting, in listening, in working together, and in having empathy in listening. Striving to out-serve by gifting time, space, and guiltless breaks. I am working to make sure there is space and time, and suggesting it, to Charlie that he can head out to the shop early, or extra, or more – it fills him up and helps him to be an even better Dad and husband. He works hard to set me up for success with getting out for a run, to a friend date, drawing me a hot bath, and picking me up a favorite treat. We are mutually working to make our home tick along, share in each others joys, and set each other up for space, growth, and time.
The hardest part of Striving to Out-Serve is often times receiving. Charlie is a mover, constantly getting things done. Slowing down enough to enjoy time to read, do sudoku, take a nap, or hop out to the shop when I create a window of time can feel excruciating. Same for me, when the home is a mess and the girls’ needs run high, it can feel really hard to believe him when he says “yes! Go out and grab a coffee!”
The way that we both move past this is to employ a mental reminder of the mantra. If I can remember that this is our center, it’s easier for me to remember how symbiotic it is. That me receiving this makes room for me giving this.
Receiving a gift well allows growth. Allows excitement. Allows joy! In this case, it also fills me up in a way that helps me to love him more, and better.
How to talk to your partner about this idea.
Bring it up as a goal. Discuss a mantra you can lean into. A family motto might be a better way to approach it if mantras aren’t your deal. Brainstorm your families goals, plans, and what you want your home life to look like. This mantra was one we landed on early in marriage, before there were kiddos. But it serves our children so well, it gives them parents who are modeling selfless caring, and are also witnessing each of us being cared for in deep and known ways.
Or, how do you want to connect long term with your partner? What do you want it to look like in your home, emotionally, in ten years? How do you want your love to evolve?
Having these big conversations in marriage that don’t center around a dispute, problem, or your history, can be a really freeing and new experience. Often we only have Big Talks with our partners when something is wrong, or a huge decision needs making. Try something different! Have a Big Talk about your growth, love, emotions, connection, and relationship. A check in with some action points!
Why a Mantra?
I use it to center my brain. When I start to feel frustrated, or annoyed, I remind myself of our mantra and it keeps me moving forward in marriage. It saves us from becoming stagnant, because service is active. It also keeps me reassessing the power balance in our marriage. Does this mantra still work? Are we both still leaning into it hard? And on and on, having this mantra means that I have a great barometer to talk to my partner about how I’m feeling in our relationship. It’s also a good ‘calm me down’ phrase. When we’re fighting, fruitlessly, and endlessly (we fight! we’re both crazy passionate and it gets… intense!), I often repeat these words and back off, or say them out loud, and it allows us to melt into each other and start to come at our dispute from a space of really wanting to serve each other by listening, hearing, and allowing room for us to bend towards each other into a resolution.
I want to reiterate that this mantra specifically only works when both people are wholly on board, want it, and are fully present in this decision. Otherwise it will (further) create a power imbalance and could even take a struggling relationship and make it even more unhealthy.