Ed Gungor tells about a group of psychology students at the University of Berkeley that pulled off an interesting experiment. Without their professor’s knowledge, they agreed to listen intently and take notes with great fervor whenever the professor stood near the radiator. When he moved away from the radiator, the plan was to subtly start acting bored and disinterested. By the end of the week, the professor was lecturing while sitting on the radiator!*
There may be a few rugged souls who don’t give a rip if anyone likes them, but most of us are like that professor. We gravitate toward whatever wins us the approval of others.
Until it comes to marriage.
It’s the most confounding thing I’ve ever seen. Husbands and wives will go to work, where they are surrounded by people they don’t love, and do whatever it takes to be accepted, respected, praised and promoted. Then they’ll go home to the people they do love and be needlessly cranky and difficult.
One time I was talking to a man whose marriage was floundering. We were sipping Cokes in a fast food joint and he was pouring out his marital frustrations. At one point, after telling me about a big fight he and his wife had just had, he said, “She hates it when I don’t call and tell her I’m going to be home late.” I said, “If you know that, then for heaven’s sake, why don’t you call?” He looked at me like I had just spoken in Chinese.
Seriously, I don’t get it. Why do so many people treat everyone else better than they treat their own spouse?
Think of it this way:
You’re looking at 20 buttons, 10 on your left and 10 on your right. The 10 buttons on your left trigger all the things that make your spouse angry. The 10 buttons on your right trigger all the things that make your spouse happy. How big of an idiot do you have to be to stand there and keep punching the buttons on the left? Yet, this is what millions of husbands and wives do every day.
I’ve led hundreds of marriage counseling sessions and I’ve come to this conclusion: most couples whose marriages are in trouble would see the majority of their problems disappear if they’d just be nicer to each other.
It’s all in which buttons you push.
*Ed Gungor, Religiously Transmitted Diseases (Nashville: Thomas Nelson, 2006), 38-39