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Choosing to Lose Wins in Marriage

You know the saying, “Won the battle but lost the war.” It’s actually a profound description of what can happen in a marriage if one spouse insists on always winning arguments and getting their own way. The victory may feel good in the short term, but it can do serious damage to your relationship, long term. In this 5-Day reading plan, Pete Briscoe brings a fresh perspective about what it really means to win at marriage.

Day 1

Be The First Loser | Philippians 2:3a

I’ll insist my competitor is the greatest, so that when I beat him, I won’t be calling myself the greatest—I’ll be proving it through my actions. —Jarod Kintz, Seriously Delirious, but Not at All Serious

When I was young, people asked me, “What do you want to be when you grow up?” When I was little, my answer was the traditional fireman. During early adolescence, it was a professional athlete. When I was a teenager, the people who asked me that question got a strange answer. I’d say, “I want to be the best.”

“The best at what?”

“I don’t care. Doesn’t matter. I just want to be the best.”

The fact is I like to win. Winning, I believe, is more fun than losing. Coming in second just means you’re the first loser.

Nothing is wrong with trying to win unless we’re talking about relationships. Nothing kills a relationship faster than someone trying to win.

Here are a few examples: It’s 2:00 in the morning. The baby cries—again. You stare at the wall and think, winning for me is getting to stay right here in this bed. That’s what your spouse is thinking too. Both of you are staring at the wall, practicing your deep sleep-like breathing, and waiting for the other one to get that baby. (Hey, I had three kids, okay? I got pretty good at that!)

Or you have one Friday night and two events: A couples baby shower or tickets to a game. There’s an argument. Emotions escalate. Winning, for you, is getting the last word and going to the game.

Or what about a financial decision? One spouse wants to save the money while the other one wants to spend it.

It doesn’t take a genius to see that winning in these ways does not lead to a winning marriage. Winning in the little things is like having a little bit of plaque on your teeth. Over time, that plaque builds up, leads to decay, and the marriage dies.

In marriage, when one wins both lose.

Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit. (Philippians 2:3a)

In other words, stop trying to win. I’m not being simplistic and I’m not being unrealistic. Your spouse is not your competitor, okay? You can break the losing streak in your marriage by choosing to win God’s way, and that means dropping the competition thing and letting God love and serve through you.

God, You desire for me to have a servant’s heart, so I need You to give me the desire for the same thing! Show me how I’ve been trying to win inside my marriage. Reveal to me the ways I compete with my spouse. Give me peace in letting go of that desire to be number one in a relationship of two. Amen.

Day 2

Marriage Is for Losers | Philippians 2:3-4

You can be right, or you can be married; take your pick. —Dr. Kelly Flanagan, “Marriage Is for Losers” (UnTangled blogpost, March 2, 2012)

Dr. Kelly Flanagan, a clinical psychologist and writer, wrote a blogpost titled “Marriage Is for Losers.” In it, he wrote, “If marriage is going to work, it needs to become a contest to see which spouse is going to lose the most.”

A contest to see which spouse is going to lose the most. What would that even look like?

  • When the baby cries, both spouses race out the bedroom door, bumping into each other at the hall corners, just to get to the crying infant so the other one can rest.
  • Your spouse’s calendar and career take precedence over your own.
  • In the midst of a really bad day, you still seek ways to make life easier for your spouse.
  • When flipping through Netflix and trying to decide between Sylvester Stallone’s 16th boxing movie or Rachel McAdam’s 17th romantic comedy, you choose as though your spouse is sitting next to you.
  • When you are having a rough day, you seek ways to make the day easier for your spouse, not yourself.

Listen, Christ calls us to do most things backwards from what the world and your flesh are telling you. So, if you’re going to make your marriage a competition, compete over which spouse will lose the most.

Major life decisions would be much less traumatic on marriages if each party sought to lose so the marriage would grow. I’m not saying to lie down and put aside all of your opinions. I’m not saying to neglect your dreams and hopes. I’m not saying to change your taste in movies. Simply put, become second.

Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit. Rather, in humility value others above yourselves, not looking to your own interests but each of you to the interests of the others. (Philippians 2:3-4)

Seek second. Choose to lose. In fact, become a real winner by choosing to lose every chance you get.

Lord of our Covenant, this is so exciting! I have multiple ways every day in which I can choose to lose. Remind me daily of my fullness in Christ and the filling of Your Spirit. For once I realize I have everything I need, I will be empowered to tend to the desires of my spouse over my own. Show me very specific ways You want me to do that right now, today. Amen.

Day 3

He Gave Us to Each Other | Mark 9:35

You have not chosen one another but I have chosen you for one another. —C. S. Lewis, The Four Loves

If choosing to lose inside your marriage relationship makes you feel a little nervous—if second place isn’t natural for you—I have great news: Jesus was the first to love this way.

In your relationships with one another, have the same mindset as Christ Jesus: Who, being in very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be used to his own advantage; rather, he made himself nothing by taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness. …  He humbled himself by becoming obedient to death … (Philippians 2:5-8)

Jesus was in His very nature God. Can we say “winning”? There is no first before God. He’s it. The Alpha.

But Jesus didn’t consider winning the ultimate goal—being first was not His primary objective. Instead, He made himself nothing, chose nothing, and took on the very nature of a servant. Then He gave us to each other and asked that we do the same.

The Gospel of Mark tells us the disciples were walking and talking on the road to Capernaum. When asked about their conversation, they admitted to arguing over who was the greatest—who was winning — who was first in Jesus’ book.

Jesus sits down and teaches them a lesson for the ages: “Anyone who wants to be first must be the very last, and the servant of all” (Mark 9:35).

This is the way of Jesus, and this is the Jesus who lives in us. This is how He wants to love through us! Are you willing to let Him?

If you’re having a hard time imagining yourself choosing to lose in your marriage, just remember, Jesus did it for His bride the Church. Because He sent His Spirit to love through us, you can do the same for your bride or groom.

Jesus, I accept the invitation to let You love through me in a way that lets my spouse win. You who were first chose to be last. I who should be last will not fight to be first. Service and humility are empty unless rooted in a desire for those I love and those I serve to know You. May I choose this most passionately inside my marriage. May I depend on You to fully do it through me. Amen.

Day 4

Secret To a Growing Marriage | Ephesians 5:21-22

I am not designed to come second or third. I am designed to win. —Ayrton Senna, Formula One Champion (died in first place during the 1994 San Marino Grand Prix)

Does choosing to lose come naturally to us? No way! Most of us struggle. We love to win, and we go to great lengths to avoid second place.

Think about it:

  • Who wants to be second chair trumpet when there is a first chair? If you’re going to devote your life to music, you might as well go for first.
  • The Miss America Pageant has gotten creative with second place; they call it “first runner-up.” We all know it’s a euphemism for second.
  • How about first in line for the throne? Read some history books and see what happens to that guy. Second in line takes him out.

For most of us, second place isn’t easy because it means we are second to someone who beat us. Biblical love, choosing to be second, isn’t the default setting for many of us.

Consider all the debate surrounding Ephesians 5:22, which has been translated, “Wives, submit yourselves to your own husbands as you do to the Lord.” Did you know the word submit isn’t in the original Greek translation of Ephesians 5:22? It actually reads, “Wives, to your husbands as to the Lord.”

In fact, you have to back up a verse in the Greek in order to locate it. Ephesians 5:21 reads, “Submit to one another out of reverence for Christ.”

Husbands, submit to your wives. Wives, submit to your husbands out of reverence for Jesus.

What exactly does it mean to submit? Hupotasso is the Greek word. Upo means “under.” Taso means “place.” Its voice indicates a voluntary action. So quite literally, this passage explains how husbands and wives can voluntarily place themselves second inside their marriage.

It’s a different way. A powerful way. It’s the secret to make your marriage grow for a lifetime.

Lord, to submit in this way is empowering! Freeing! I can say with all honesty that as of today, I desire to be a loser in my marriage. Holy Spirit, empower me to choose second place. Amen.

Day 5

Just Move Your Mouth | 1 Corinthians 13:4-5

It is better to lose your pride with someone you love rather than to lose that someone you love with your useless pride. —John Ruskin

Have you ever noticed that 1 Corinthians 13 tells you two things about what love is:

Love is patient, love is kind. (13:4a)

And it tells you five things regarding what love is not:

[Love] does not envy,
it does not boast,
it is not proud.
It does not dishonor others,
it is not self-seeking. (13:4-5a)

The list continues; but if we pause there, it’s easy to see that love doesn’t put self first. It’s our new marriage mantra: In love, choose to lose.

Through years of providing marriage counseling to couples, I’ve noticed pride exists in most marriages—through one or both spouses. The word Paul uses for “pride” is the Greek physioo. Physioo is having an inflated view of your own intellect and reason.

If you were a physioo man, you might think, Wow, she’s so lucky to have me!

physioo woman might say to herself, I wonder what would have become of him if he hadn’t hooked up with me?

Physioo men and women both struggle with the words, “I’m sorry.”

If that’s you, then practice them this week in the mirror. Start simply. Just move your mouth; make the muscles work. Practice and repeat; practice and repeat. You’ll soon find that there are very few sentences that have a more powerful impact on a marriage than “I’m sorry.”

For a more advanced version, you can add the words, “And I was wrong.”

And if you want to take it all the way, sincerely and humbly add, “Please forgive me.”

Baby steps, my friends, because even baby steps take you places. If you desire to have a marriage that breaks out and grows, then pride must go.

God, I pray the language of repentance that ushered me into Your Kingdom would become the native language of my marriage. You promise that when I lack the words, Your Spirit will give them to me; when I struggle to speak, Your Spirit will make me bold. I ask that my apologies would be bold and often—that these apologies would be poison to any pride in my character. Amen.


  1. Where can I let my spouse win in our marriage?
  2. Is there anything I need to apologize for to my spouse?
  3. In what way can I serve my spouse this week?

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