by Jay Johansen | Nov 12, 2012
It often happens in a marriage that what is important to one person is not important to the other.
Let me spin an example that is deliberately unlikely and silly so that we can think about it without being biased by which side we ourselves were on in a real case. Suppose, let us say, that a woman told her husband that it is vitally important to her that he, oh, how about that he always keeps the salt shaker filled. She sees keeping salt shakers filled as a husband's responsibility in a marriage, and if he doesn't do this she feels that he doesn't really love her.
There are two basic responses that he could have to such a request.
(A) This is pointless and trivial. What difference does it make if the salt shakers are filled? If this is important to her, let her fill them herself.
Or (B) I don't understand why this is important to her. But no matter how foolish it seems to me, I will do it because I love her and want to make her happy.
Stated this way, I think it's pretty obvious that the right answer is (B). It doesn't matter why this is important to her. Maybe it has some symbolic significance to her. Maybe when she was a child her parents had a disagreement about a salt shaker that blew up into a huge fight. Who cares? It's important to her. The effort required to make her happy is minimal. Why not just do it?
Of course this works both ways. I would say the same things if it was the husband saying that it was very important to him that his wife keeps the salt shakers filled. You can switch all the "he"'s to "she"'s in the above and it should still be equally valid.
But there is one important sense in which it does not work both ways: there is no symmetry between the person who thinks something is important and the person who does not. The husband in this example can keep the salt shakers filled whether he thinks it's important or not. But the wife in this example can not give up feeling that this is important. No matter how much he tells her that she is making too much of this and that it doesn't matter, that is unlikely to change her feelings. He can control his actions. She cannot control her feelings. Even though he has no specific motivation to fill a salt shaker, he can act out of the general motivation of love for his wife. But no matter how much she loves her husband, this will not change her feelings about the details. Indeed, the more he presses that this is unimportant and foolish, the more it will say to her that he doesn't really love her. (Again, you can switch the "he"'s and "she"'s here.)
Okay, my example here is something that requires trivial effort. If your spouse insisted you do something that required four hours work every day, or that cost large amounts of money, or was physcially dangerous, etc, that would be different. Then it would be fair to say, Is this really important enough to be worth this much effort, expense, whatever? But many of the things that cause conflict between couples are not like that. The effort requested is small, but the other spouse won't do it because he or she just doesn't see the point.
So now think about real examples in your marriage where one person considered something to be important and the other did not. I've heard many examples from married couples.
One common one from women: A husband routinely throws his dirty clothes on the floor when he changes. His wife asks him to put them in the laundry hamper or the closet or whatever so the house will be less cluttered. He would have to walk three extra steps to do that. But he doesn't, because it's just too much trouble and he doesn't care. Instead he says, Hey, no one's coming to visit, what difference does it make if our house is neat? And he belittles her desire for a clean house, because he doesn't think it's important.
One common one from men: Before they were married, she would go to great lengths to make herself attractive. Now when he comes home from work she's wearing sweatpants and a baggy shirt and her hair is in a bun. How much work would it take her to change her clothes before he gets home? Fifteen minutes a day, perhaps? Instead she says, Oh, is that all you care about, how I dress? How shallow. And she belittles his desire for a pretty wife, because she doesn't think it's important.
Et cetera. We could go through many such examples.
© 2012 by Jay Johansen
Denson Dec 24, 2015
We took things nice and slwloy. It was better not to talk about our past relationships but to move forward one day at a time. He had been married once before and I had never been married so both of us had to learn to trust again. My advice on dating would be:Never take each other for granted, don't try to change a person into someone they aren't, talk things through as calmly and rationally as possible, don't rush into intimacy, be supportive of each other, never fight in public, learn to trust and support each other, never be too proud to admit you've made a mistake or to say I'm sorry, treat the other person with respect, remember to praise the other person, don't give the other person any reason to doubt you, let that person know how much they mean to you, don't be a jealous person, make sure you both agree on what you want before you take any big leaps, and always try to take a united stand in front of parents or children.So far, the above things have worked for us. We dated a little over two years before we got married and we're two months shy of celebrating 27 years of marriage. We have raised my husband's two children who are now grown, we have two grandchildren, and we have one son together who is about to turn 17 and is a Jr. in high school. A relationship is what two people put into it and it's hard work. But it's totally worth all the effort if you are meant to be together.