Proverbs 11:27 says, “He who seeks good finds goodwill, but evil comes to him who searches for it” (NIV).
I am sometimes asked what I think is the most important principle we teach. Pink and Blue (not wrong, just different) comes to mind, but so does one simple word: goodwill. When you and your spouse see each other as good-willed, good things are in store for your marriage.
When they first hear the word goodwill, people have questions: Just what is goodwill? How can I know I am showing goodwill toward my spouse? How can I be sure my spouse has goodwill toward me?
A simple definition of goodwill is “the intention to do good toward another person.”
The challenge often comes when one spouse does something to the other spouse that does not feel “good,” loving or respectful as the case may be. It is often just a little thing, but still enough to rev up the Crazy Cycle. In moments like these, the offended has to cut the offender some slack, giving him or her the “good-willed benefit of the doubt.”
The apostle Paul is surely talking about the concept of goodwill in 1 Corinthians 7:33–34 when he warns that husbands and wives can become so concerned about pleasing each other that they get distracted from serving Christ as they should. Granted, husbands and wives don’t always demonstrate that natural desire to please each other as well as they could, but their goodwill is real, nonetheless.
That’s why today’s passage in Proverbs 11:27 is so important.* When there is conflict, disagreement or a bump of some kind, don’t automatically conclude that your partner has ill will toward you. If you look for evil (offense), you can find it every time. Do that and the Crazy Cycle will spin, for sure.
What Proverbs 11:27 is saying to the married couple is this: look for the good in your spouse (even though it seems to be lacking). It is quite likely that you will see your spouse’s goodwill coming right back at you.
The truth is simple: we will see what we look for. No matter what happens, always assume your partner has basic goodwill toward you.
How does this work in real married life?
I know of one husband who made the decision always to assume his wife had goodwill. Not only did this simple commitment improve his attitude, but it also changed her entire attitude toward him. He writes,
“I started giving her the benefit of the doubt…I didn’t tell her she was disrespectful or anything…The results are stunning. She has been easier to live with. She doesn’t nag me as much. She has shown increased interest in my hobbies. And she says I am like a new person.”
All this from simply giving her the benefit of the doubt. What does Proverbs 11:27 say? Look for good and you will find goodwill—sometimes in spades.
Or what about the wife who had to spend much of the summer apart from her husband because of their different career responsibilities? After several weeks she went to see him, meeting him at his office, where she knew he was under a lot of stress because of an important interview coming up.
She hoped for at least a hug or a kiss, but was greeted instead by a preoccupied husband who practically ignored her. Although she was hurt, she asked God to help her remember he was a good-willed man who simply needed some time to prepare for an important interview. Her prayers and patience paid off.
Two hours later he “emerged a refreshed and lighter man, full of hugs and kisses for me.” They had a wonderful time the rest of the evening, as well as over the next several days.
Before learning about goodwill and the pink and blue differences between men and women, she would have belittled her preoccupied husband in no uncertain terms. However, this time she turned to God for understanding and felt true peace, because she was able to look at the situation from his male (blue) point of view.
Does it always work to seek good in your spouse when he or she hasn’t shown much goodwill toward you? No, not always, but remember this simple but powerful principle: assuming goodwill in your partner is always the best policy.
Keep on seeking the good; eventually you will find it and goodwill, as well.
PRAY: Thank the Lord for the goodwill each of you has toward the other. Ask Him for strength to give each other the benefit of the doubt during moments when someone’s goodwill seems to be lacking.
ACT: During disagreements and conflicts, tell yourself, my spouse has goodwill toward me—even though it doesn’t feel that way right now.
Want to go deeper into this topic of goodwill?
This blog post is an excerpt from our husband-friendly devotional, The Love & Respect Experience. This 52-week devotional reviews the core principles of Love and Respect, while also inviting you as a couple to discover what God’s Word says to you both, individually and together.
You and your spouse will find discussion questions and additional ideas to consider on page 217 in the appendix.
*A number of other verses confirm that goodwill is a biblical idea. See, for example, Proverbs 14:9, Philippians 1:15, and Ephesians 6:7.