We had not been married long when my wife caught me in the act of behaving like a bachelor – drinking milk straight out of the carton.

"What on earth are you doing?" she asked.

(For the record, this was the exact question another woman asked when she found her new husband rebuilding an engine in the guest bathroom. He needed a clean room for the final assembly. And in fairness to him, if she could have those fancy little sculpted soaps on the sink, why couldn’t he have a couple of GTO pistons draped artfully across the toilet tank?)

But back to the milk carton crisis.

Re-evaluating your conduct

When I was a single guy living in a cheap apartment with no dishwasher, my practice had been to use as few dishes as possible without violating the state health code. In fact, my personal conduct was largely governed by the question "Is this action explicitly forbidden in either the Bible or the code of federal regulations?"

That expansive criterion permitted all kinds of guy-like activities that included unrestrained belching, decorating my living space with pizza boxes and cleaning my bathroom only during even-numbered years. Grabbing the milk carton and taking a swig was just a reflexive action (albeit a tacky one).

I tried to convince my wife that drinking out of the carton was basically an extension of kissing, but she was not convinced.

"It is rude" were her exact words.

I found myself at a relational fork in the road. I could dig in and try to have my way, or I could defer to her feelings.

So I agreed to change my bachelor ways. I began making accommodations for the sake of marital harmony. And she did the same for me.

Something askew

Chugging milk from the carton may seem like a minor thing, but it is only minor if you think milk-drinking etiquette was the issue. It was not. The real issue was respecting my spouse enough to set aside one of my "rights."

These kinds of choices, early on in your marriage, are vital because if you look honestly at yourself, you will likely find a rude little despot sitting in a corner of your heart. We all have lurking within us a two-year-old brat who wants what he wants, when he wants it.

I’m late, and I don’t call home because I don’t want to interrupt what I’m doing. I leave the mess for my wife to clean up because I am somehow entitled to being served. I snap at the very person I vowed to "love, honour and cherish" because I have had a hard day. And if I ain’t happy, ain’t nobody happy.

Whenever I get rude or crabby or demanding, it is a sign that something is askew in my soul. More is at stake than just a code of conduct or a rigid system of behaviour. How I treat others is really a matter of faith.

Put a cork in it

The history of humanity is the tale of people trying to satisfy a deep longing for happiness and fulfillment. Adam and Eve wanted to be happy, but they ceased believing that happiness could be found on God’s terms. We have the same struggle today. Jesus told us that joy is found in serving, not in being served; His words seem counterintuitive and even outlandish because our inner cynic sneers, "Nice guys finish last!"

So perform your own scientific experiment. For the next three days, put a cork in the "me first" bottle. Thoroughly examine your actions and habits, and list the things you need to do or cease doing. (Hint: Get the engine out of the bathroom.) Ask Jesus to live out His kindness through you, then engage in deliberate acts of service to your spouse.

Dave Meurer had been happily married to his wife, Dale, for 26 years at the time of publication.

© 2008 Focus on the Family. All rights reserved. International copyright secured. Used by permission.

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