Stop Competing & Envying (and a Bit of a Rant)

Saturday is the day I share a Bible verse passage that we can apply to our marriages. I’ve been encouraging y’all, as well as myself, to memorize more scripture and apply it to our daily lives.

Today, I have a scripture to share for your marriage, but it’s also part of a plea I want to make to my commenters. Here it goes:

“Let us not become conceited, competing against one another, envying one another” (Galatians 5:26, NRSV).

Stop Competing & Envying: Galatians 5:26

Merriam-Webster defines conceited as “having or showing an excessively high opinion of oneself.” And let’s face it, we’re all prone to being self-centered. We see our day, our community, our universe in terms of how everything affects us.

We also see our marriages in terms of how we’re getting our own needs met. It’s our set-point that we have to reach beyond, learning how to love as Christ did — with a humble, other-focused, sacrificial love.

That’s not to say we let ourselves be doormats. By no means! But we should look at our marriages in terms of how we are doing, not just me.

We should look at our marriages in terms of how we are doing, not just me. Click To Tweet

Yet I see so many spouses doing what this scripture says not to do: competing against each other and envying one another. How? We constantly complain that we are the ones being mistreated in our marriage, that our spouse has it better than we do, that we are victims while they are villains.

I’ve done it in the past. I have years of prior marital unhappiness to demonstrate what a bad idea that is. At the height of my troubled marriage, I’d have said that I was the spouse who suffered the greater hardship. But now, with a clearer perspective, I recognize how deeply my husband was hurting. Back then, I discounted his pain because I was so focused on mine.

I wish I could do that over again. But I can’t. All I can do is remember what I’ve learned and share it with you: It doesn’t matter who has it worse. You’re one-flesh now, so if one of you is hurting, both of you are hurting.

You're one-flesh now, so if one of you is hurting, both of you are hurting. #marriage Click To Tweet

For example, if your spouse isn’t giving you the sex you should get, you’re missing what God desires you to have. But — whether they understand or not — your wife or husband is missing that too. If your spouse is watching porn, you’re being denied the exclusivity of sexual focus you should have in marriage. But your porn-addicted spouse is being injured as well. As a pastor I know often said, a self-inflicted wound still hurts.

People all around us are hurting, including our spouses, in ways we don’t understand. And one spouse being worse off, whoever it is, affects the whole. A good marriage isn’t preoccupied with being conceited, envying, or competing.

Nor should our lives reflect that attitude …

There have been several comments lately in which readers want to argue the point of my post by essentially saying, “Yeah, what you describe is bad, but isn’t my situation way, way worse?”

Honestly, it’s often not worse. And even if it is, how does it help you to compete against others and envy their presumably better situation? For the love of God, can I please get across how destructive this attitude can be! That way madness lies! (King Lear)

You can get so caught up justifying the comparisons, the competition, the envy that you waste precious time and effort that could be spent on changing what really matters. You could be working on yourself, becoming the person God wants you to be. You’re far more likely to see positive outcomes by moving away from selfishness and into humility, as modeled by Jesus Christ, and working on your own issues.

Truth is, I’ve gotten caught up with you, arguing a point far too long — back and forth, back and forth — in an effort to get through. Frankly, wasting time that could be better spent writing and speaking about godly sexual intimacy in marriage. This past week, God reminded me that is mission.

Thus, my Comments Policy might be getting an addition soon — something about how discussions of I have it bad … no, I have it worse … no, I have it way worse are fruitless and destructive. Because by allowing those conversations to continue ad infinitum, I feel like I’m enabling what this verse says not to do. When all our time would be better spent in prayer with God, in conversation with our spouse, or in flat-out fixing ourselves.

Yes, I know some of my readers have been through hell and back, and I do not take that lightly. I want this blog to be a place where we can share our real struggles and find compassion, encouragement, and answers. Such comments will be approved, and we can hopefully hammer out some ideas on how to help you where you are.

But those who want to set up imaginary scenarios, use bad statistics, or give a detailed account of their own woe-is-me moments so that they feel justified calling themselves victims, I don’t see the benefit of that. As we look across the world or across history, we always find someone who has it better. And someone who has it worse. The comparisons don’t change where we are or what we need to do to embrace a better life — the beauty God has stored for us.

Let’s stop competing and envying. Let’s fix our eyes on Jesus. And let’s pursue health, holiness, and happiness in our own lives and for those in our sphere of influence.

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31 thoughts on “Stop Competing & Envying (and a Bit of a Rant)

  1. Lynn

    Well-stated, J. Envy is corrosive. When I let myself envy my husband’s having more free time than I do (he’s partially retired and well past retirement age), I can feel a nasty, unpleasant bitterness toward the man I love, in whose arms I have been and will be again. It’s like Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde! So I try really hard, with God’s grace, to turn my back on those feelings.

    My prayers are for those who frequently post here who are so caught up in their own troubles.

    Reply
  2. Bobthemusicguy

    Good point, J. It reminds me of a book I read over 20 years ago, “A Nation of Victims.” It was about politics, but the point remains. If I focus on my victim status, I will never move past it. Unfortunately, it also reminds me of what passes as “prayer requests” sometimes. You know, the ones that are obvious appeals for co-wallowing in self-pity.

    Reply
    1. J Post author

      I never want to diminish someone’s pain, but wallowing in it doesn’t relieve the hurt. Thanks for your comment!

      Reply
  3. Tom Hillson

    I know J certainly thought of me when writing this post. It’s just very tough to feel sympathy when you feel so certain that you have it worse. It’s like if you’re blind but hear people with one eye complain that it’s hard to see. Yes, they have a bad situation with only one eye, but it’s still hard to feel too badly for them because you have no eyes to see.

    Reply
    1. J Post author

      I don’t deny the pain that people feel — not at all — but obsessing over who has it worse… How does that make anyone’s pain better? I do feel compassion for your situation, but arguing over who has it worse isn’t going to fix anything. I’d rather suggest positive perspectives and solutions. Blessings!

      Reply
  4. JH

    I love this…Its definitely a good application verse for Marriages…and those that feel they have been wronged… Its easy to get caught up in the me mentality…and how we feel things have not measured up to our liking..and that we have been wronged..and some how are pain is worse. But we cannot change anyone/anything but ourselves and our actions..we have no control over any other aspect…so by starting there first…we are getting a head start towards making things better. Its also very versatile in the fact it can be used outside of relationships too… Starting on us..requires humility to be put into place..and requires us to let go of the selfishness that comes with playing a victim( to our situation…)

    Reply
    1. J Post author

      Such a simple thing — you can’t change anyone but yourself — and so hard for us to accept. Thanks for your comment.

      Reply
  5. Cheyne

    Thank you. This biblical TRUTH is not only necessary for our marital relationships, but for others as well. Having humility alongside compassion for others will bring a lot of positive change that glorifies God.
    I’m grateful for this reminder. It’s very convicting and helpful for me right now. Thank you again.

    Reply
  6. Michael

    J,
    I recently had a chance to help out some friends of mine. Both had horrible pasts and had been playing the dangerous game of I GOT IT BAD AND WORSE THAN YOU….
    Having played that game in my own marriage for years it felt good to help them see, as you said, they are one. And they needed to look at each others issues as theirs.
    As for the commenters who feel the need to play that game, it just tells me how much pain we are all in. If only we could spend more time trying to help instead of trying to top each other…….
    We all have our own private lens that seems to focus sharper on our own “stuff”. It just feels natural and easy and actually at times very good. That lens can be changed, it just takes so much effort. But it can bring about happiness and contentment in our marriage and all relationships.

    Reply
  7. Joy

    When we take our eyes off God we are playing in satan’s garden. Satan will use words against us. Most of us have it better than half the world. We eat our fill with left overs, shop at stores with choices and take our children to doctors. We women vote, work and go to school. Many places in the world is not like that!

    When you spend time thanking God for your many blessings, praying for those in need, you have a much different perceptive about your own problems. I have problems because I live in a sinful fallen world, but I keep my eyes on the Lord. I trust him alone. He is my best friend when I’m down and hurt or worried and scared. Voice of the Martyrs really help my focus stay off me. My life here isn’t great, but most days it’s pretty good. My husband and I have some crazy hard times. But the sun comes up every morning and we have a new day to try again.

    Ladies speak carefully for your words are important. Life or death are in the tongue.

    Reply
    1. Tom Hillson

      This used to bother me a lot when I believed more in God. I would read young Christian men and women complain that they can’t find a suitable mate. And I used to think “you have food, your health, a job, your freedom, etc.” So you have the luxury of complaining about not finding a suitable mate because your other more-basic needs have already been met. Same with women complaining about sexual harassment, or me complaining that I don’t get enough attention from women. Thinking about all this made me feel more and more that God probably does not exist.

      Reply
      1. J Post author

        I don’t know how that leads to a conclusion that God probably doesn’t exist. And my belief in God makes me more compassionate overall toward people in hurting situations. What I disagree with here is people minimizing or even dismissing the pain of others by insisting their own situation is far worse. And that is neither biblical nor emotionally healthy.

        Reply
        1. Tom Hillson

          J, What I wanted to stress (which you know of course) is that the default condition for guys is worse (IMO) than the typical woman’s condition of being occasionally sexually harassed. And the thing is, I feel guys don’t generally write and complain about their condition, whether it’s this situation or any other negative condition in their lives. They’re conditioned not to complain too much, but to “suck it up”. I’m in the minority to complain – I realize that. So, because of men usually being silent, I think it’s easy for women to not realize how men have it. And by bringing up this point, I feel it should help some women not feel so bad. For instance, when I complain that I’m short (which I kind of am), then when I think of my cousin who’s 2 inches shorter than me, it makes me feel a little better because I realize some others have it worse. So partly I wanted to stress my point to help women feel better, but I also wanted to make me feel better, because to know I “have it bad” helps me to not beat myself up so much when I have trouble in the finding-women department. So I see some emotionally-healthy aspects to what I do, although I see how it can be emotionally unhealthy too.

          Reply
          1. J Post author

            But in doing so, you’re being dismissive of sexual harassment. And I cannot go there. You also keep saying “occasionally harassed.” Which tells me that you have no idea how often some women have been harassed and the effect it can have.

            The point is, Tom, that you can make your argument about the struggle of single men desiring attention without making comparisons or minimizing others’ issues.

          2. a. nony

            If some men have it bad, they have it bad regardless of how their circumstances compare to women’s circumstances. Do you not see how problematic it is, to jump into a conversation about issues affecting one group to say, “Yeah, but this other group has it SO MUCH WORSE!”?

            It is great to feel passionate about, say, child abuse. It is even good to wish that more people knew and cared about child abuse. What’s not ok (and doesn’t even make sense) is coming along to a post about, say, human trafficking, and saying, “That’s nothing! Abused children have it so much worse! I have interviewed dozens of victims of child abuse and I think that it’s a FAR worse problem than some nobody getting kidnapped and having to work kind of hard for a while.” If someone did that, they would deserve a telling-off, and then a ban.

            Both of those things are problematic. They both deserve care and attention. It is good for people to be passionate and care about both things. It is NOT, NOT, NOT ok to denigrate one in order to point out the other.

    2. J Post author

      I once heard that the average person in today’s Western civilization lives better than King Louis XIV in 17th century France. I think it’s true. I have indoor plumbing, a vehicle, education for my children, etc. We can forget how good we have it sometimes.

      Not that we don’t have genuine hardships and heartache, but we should also count our blessings.

      Reply
  8. D.C.

    Every woman needs to read The Comparison Trap by Sandra Stanley. It’s so awesome! I go to Andy Stanley’s church and we just finished this book as a short term women’s study. Seriously, that book hits this issue right in the heart! Awesome.

    Reply
  9. Jen

    Thanks J. Another good post reminded me of a fight I was having with hubby and he commented “I feel that I’m not enough for you” and that was exactly how I was feeling towards him! I never wanted to make him feel that way! It was an eye opener to my actions and his pain too. Thanks again .

    Reply
  10. Tom Hillson

    But J, I don’t understand something about your posts. You complain that I make the same point over and over and over again, but then I read posts like your latest and I realize that you still don’t understand my point, no matter how many times I’ve made it. I NEVER said that some women don’t get sexually harassed often. I know some do! I bet there are women who get groped nearly every day they are out in public! So I certainly do not have “no idea” how often some women have been sexually harassed. In fact, on the other side of the coin, I have never said that NO man gets attention from women. There are Channing Tatum lookalikes who get a LOT of overt sexual attention from women! Not nearly to the extent of the Megan Fox lookalikes, but a lot nonetheless.

    Reply
    1. J Post author

      I’m referring to the several times you set up a scenario in which a guy gets no attention vs a woman gets sexually harassed a couple of times. It came across as you saying that women who gets harassed a couple of times are unfairly crying foul, when I know that it’s an ongoing issue for too many. Point being — I realize all kinds of people are reading this blog, and it’s better to deal with their individual issues rather than setting up comparisons on whose pain is greater.

      Reply
  11. Tom Hillson

    I understand your point about making comparisons and minimizing others’ issues. I still think of analogies like the following though. What is your opinion on this? What would you say to a starving tribe in Africa who watches a TV documentary where some rich milllionaire told a story where he had to throw out buckets of caviar because it was spoiled. If the starving tribe spoke out and minimized the pain of that millionaire, would you cry foul there?

    Reply
    1. J Post author

      Fair enough, but you do recognize that degree matters, right? Millionaires and starving tribes is not usually the comparison we make in our lives. And that’s what I was addressing.

      Reply
  12. A Blessed Husband

    I had a busy week and am late reading this post. By coincidence, our pastor gave an excellent sermon last Sunday entitled “Without Comparison”. He made three main points:
    1 – We are compulsive scorekeepers.
    2 – In the Kingdom of Heaven there is no competition. (1 Corinthians 3:10-15, John 15:1-17 and Ephesians 2:1-18)
    3 – We can trust God to be faithful and generous. (Psalm 32, Luke 15 and Romans 6:23)
    While his sermon was not focused on competition within a marriage, I found the parallel between what he said and what you wrote very interesting.
    Thank you for addressing this topic and your continued ministry to Christian marriages!

    Reply

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