Since my wife has a degree in psychology, I’m pretty sure she finds me fascinating, at least in a clinical sense. She likes to delve into my thinking to answer the deep questions like, why can’t he put his shoes in the same place twice? Or, why can’t he see the grass needs mowing? Yes, I provide nearly endless hours of analytical opportunities. But for the sake of our marriage, I advocate an approach I like to call Considerate Behavioral Modification. It goes something like this: Does it really matter how I feel about trash pick up on Tuesdays? Do I need confront my fears of the future before planning ahead for our anniversary? Are repressed emotions really the key to why I don’t pick up after myself?
After 26 years of marriage, I can say with confidence that most of our “normal” conflict comes from simple behaviors that can, and should, be addressed without drawn out discussions. Going deep into motivations and thought-patterns has its place, but most of the time it’s about being less self-absorbed and more considerate of your covenant-partner.
I think couples, no matter how long they’ve been together, should always approach conflict by starting with the basics. And by basics, I mean individual behaviors. Getting at underlying feelings and motivations is not part of the basics—that’s the advanced class. Hopefully we all get to that. But since looking inside oneself, and having the courage to address the ugly things we find requires a certain mindset (humility, resolve, honesty, etc.) it may take a while.
In the meantime, asking a few simple questions will help unwind the tension in your relationship (married or dating) and give you a path forward that can start immediately. If deeper things are uncovered then you both can deal with that appropriately before God with the help of a pastor, mentoring couple, or counselor.
To get warmed up, imagine asking the love of your life the questions below, writing down the answers (without comment, excuses, or giving “your side”), and then stopping or starting some specific behavior. That’s Considerate Behavioral Modification.
Ephesians 5:21, “Submit to one another out of reverence for Christ.”
What do I do that hurts your feelings? (Note: stop doing it.)
What do I do that makes you mad? (Note: stop doing it.)
What do I do that makes you feel insecure or anxious? (Note: stop doing it.)
What do I do that makes you feel better about yourself? (Note: do this.)
What do I do that makes you feel better about our relationship? (Note: do this.)
Is there something you wish I would do more? (Note: do this.)
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