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Wednesday, March 11, 2015

Avoiding Divorce


Many years ago, one of my college professors, Bill Ballinger, made a comment that I have remembered over the years as a statement filled with great wisdom.  It is a simple little sentence:

                      “When you take something from someone, you also take  
away their opportunity to give it to you.”

It is a statement I have often quoted during pastoral counseling sessions with married couples or engaged couples planning for their life together.  The phrase is relevant for lots of contexts, but seems especially relevant for life as a couple.  

How many times does a partner in a marriage try to get their way about one thing or another, and attempt to do so by pouting, or by nagging, or by browbeating, or by…well, you can make that list as well as I can.  

It is true the person may get their way about the thing, but it will have a bittersweet taste to it.  There will always be an underlying uncertainty, “Did my partner do that only because I coerced them into it?  Would they have ever given me such a great thing as a gift of their own free will, just because they love me?”  

The sad thing is, the one asking such uncertain questions will never know…they took away the opportunity their spouse had to do something just because, and created a situation where the deed was done with lots of baggage attached.

I have spent many hours talking with individuals in relationships discussing this very fact.  I could harass and harass and harass my spouse (and sometimes I misguidedly do!) until she finally, grudgingly, gives in and does the task I am harassing her about.  But it will be obvious that is was done grudgingly.  Instead of building affection, it will have fed resentment.  OR, I could develop the kind of relationship where I let my needs or wishes be known, maybe even have a little reminder note I put on the refrigerator, ONCE…and then let her choose when and if to comply with the request, which she might choose to do as a special surprise one weekend, or do in way differently, probably even better, than I might have requested.  As a result, she will feel good about knowing she is doing something she knows that matters to me, and I will have a pleasant surprise  as I receive a gift of a nice service done in response to a request, and we will have grown our love and affection for one another just a tiny bit more.  And THAT is a good thing!

The same principle can apply with our children, our co-workers or subordinates at work, or in a host of other relationships.  The way we make our requests can foster hostility, or friendship and love.  

Will it always work?  Probably not.  There are things we may simply have to decide we will just have to do for ourselves.  But choosing to take away somebody’s opportunity to be nice to us is in all likelihood, rarely a good choice.  

Who knows how many divorces would have never occurred if the couples had applied these few simple words...

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