It should be obvious that shared values in a relationship are vital for a healthy marriage. We should never underestimate the effects of being on the same page with our spouse.
Values are key components we discuss at TheHealthyMarriage.org.
But there is an aspect of value that is often overlooked. It revolves around a principle of relationship growth. I’ll tell you that principle in a moment, but first a quick story.
Why Bob Disconnected From Mary Ann
Bob and Mary Ann are in their 50’s. They’ve been happily married for almost 30 years.
Lately, Bob seems more and more disconnected. He works long hours and doesn’t really seem to mind. Mary Ann complains, but Bob just says ‘It’s unavoidable. He has responsibilities.” It’s putting a strain on their relationship.
Mary senses the strain. Bob seems unconcerned.
They are stuck in a cycle. Mary Ann complains about Bob being disconnected. Bob buries himself deeper in his work.
That’s when they reached out to me…
After meeting with them for several weeks a pattern began to emerge. Here’s a typical conversation:
Bob [begins telling a story of something that happened in their life]:” On Tuesday, we were planning to go to a special event with my work and Mary Ann said…”
Mary Ann: “No Bob. That’s not what happened. It was Wednesday…”
Bob: [tries to continue the story adapting to Mary Ann’s rendition] “Ok, so it was Wednesday, anyway, when we got to the event one of my employees approached me and asked about a client we’ve been trying to land…”
Mary Ann: Wrong again Bob. I saw you walk up to him and ask specifically about the client…”
Bob: [shuts down and doesn’t continue the conversation].
Mary Ann: [Clueless that she just devalued Bob]
To be honest, this is just a snapshot of what takes place on a daily basis in Bob’s life. Mary Ann is not a bad person. She wants her marriage to succeed, but can’t seem to get Bob to open up. So she presses even more. All the while correcting what he does wrong.
Without realizing it she is contributing to the problem. Bob seems to want to spend more time and work than at home with her.
Here’s the principle she is ignoring: We always gravitate to the place where we feel the most valued.
Think about it.
At work, Bob is respected, honored and valued. His opinions are not challenged (at least not in a disrespectful way). He is seen as a good man. His team likes working with him because he is fair and treats them with respect. Other people in the office actually want to be on his team.
Bob is valued for his leadership and experience when he is at work.
Contrast that to his home life.
At home, Bob doesn’t feel respected. He can’t even tell a story without his wife challenging him on every little detail. She criticizes most of his decisions, and when she doesn’t verbalize her disagreement, she makes sure he knows it by rolling her eyes, shaking her head or simply exhaling with emphasis.
Bob doesn’t feel respected and valued at home.We always gravitate to the place where we feel the most valued. Click To Tweet
Here’s the principle again: We always gravitate to the place where we feel the most valued.
Blair Warren wrote a famous book title: “The One-Sentence Persuasion Course.” [Affiliate Link] In it Warren states:
“People will do anything for those who encourage their dreams, justify their failures, allay their fears, confirm their suspicions, and help them throw rocks at their enemies.”
It is excellent marketing advice. AND it holds a lot of truth for marriage relationships.
It ranks right up there with the old adage, “You catch more bees with honey than vinegar.”
It drives home the point. We are drawn to the things that make us feel good about ourselves. Right or wrong, it’s human nature.
The Anatomy of an Affair
Statics demonstrate that most affairs are not about sex. They are about value.
When it comes to purely sexual infidelity, the average occurrence across studies is around 20% of all couples. However, this rate increases to around a third of couples when you include emotional infidelity.
An affair is generally a sign things aren’t right with someone’s relationship. Without the necessary skills to heal the issues, a partner may engage in an affair as an ill-equipped way of attempting to have their needs fulfilled – whether these be for intimacy, to feel valued, to experience more sex, and so on. So, the straying partner views an alternative relationship as a better way to meet these needs than their existing relationship.
In a study done in the United Kingdom, researchers found the top 5 reasons men and women have affairs.
The top five reasons for women related to lack of emotional intimacy (84%), lack of communication between partners (75%), tiredness (32%), a bad history with sex or abuse (26%), and a lack of interest in sex with the current partner (23%).
For men the reasons were a lack of communication between partners (68%), stress (63%), sexual dysfunction with one’s current partner (44%), lack of emotional intimacy (38%) and fatigue or being chronically tired (31%).
For the sake of this article, I lump ‘lack of communication’ and ‘lack of emotional intimacy’ (perhaps even a few others) under the topic of ‘feeling valued.’ Not feeling valued is more of the symptom of those issues, but is big enough that it needs to be addressed.
Two X’s on the Floor
Here’s an example I use…
Let’s suppose there are two X’s on the floor. Will call them X1 and X2.
If every time I stand on X1 someone hits me in the back of the head, I will eventually move. The discomfort (pain) will make me want to leave.
On the other hand, if every time I stand on X2 I receive a reward or a benefit, I will continue to stand on X2. I like to feel good.
I know this seems like common sense or overly simplified. But think about it for a moment….
If every time your spouse goes to work or hangs out with friends he feels valued, appreciated and honored, they will continue to want to be in that environment. There is a payoff and a reward. It feels good. So they are drawn to that environment.
If however, every time they come home they feel criticized, neglected and devalued, they will eventually stop wanting to come home. It feels bad. And we tend to avoid the things that make us feel bad.
We are drawn to what feels good. We repel from what feels bad. Basic psychology.
Please don’t think this is oversimplifying or overstating the issue. It is not. This happens more times than you would imagine.
It is human nature to want to be in an environment where we feel appreciated, valued and honored. We will all choose to be in an environment and a situation that makes us feel good about ourselves. It is natural and common.
So if you want your spouse to spend more time with you, make sure that you are the place where they receive more value (affirmation) than they receive any other place.
You have to become X2. Whatever occupies that space of giving them the most value wins. It’s that simple.
Bringing a Balance
Allow me to give balance to this topic.
You are not responsible for your partner’s happiness.
Happiness is more of choice and perspective on life, rather than an event. As individuals we need to learn to manage our emotions and take responsibility for our feelings.
My goal as a husband is not to MAKE my wife happy; it is to be the best husband, man and partner I can possibly be, AND to love her without conditions so she can become the woman she desires to be.
While I am not responsible for her happiness, I desire for her to be happy. There is a fine line that we navigate to keep these concepts in tension and balance.
I want to be the place she is most happy. I want to provide her the affirmation she needs (because I love her) so she will desire to be connected to me. Hope that makes sense.
You are not responsible for your partner’s identity.
Your sense of value comes from your identity – who you see yourself as.
While I am not responsible for ‘creating my wife’s identity’ (she can only get that from God and her own sense of purpose), I do want to be the place where that identity is affirmed the most.
It goes back to the illustration of the two X’s.
If I fail to validate my wife and I do not create a sacred space for her to come and be affirmed, I violate the principle we’ve been talking about and she will more than likely seek that affirmation somewhere else.
Much like Bob.
No Justification for Infidelity
This doesn’t justify someone acting foolishly or immorally. It doesn’t justify or vindicate infidelity. It simply underscores the principle: We always gravitate to the place where we feel the most valued.
It is human nature to be drawn to the place where we feel the best about ourselves.
The solution is not to blame our spouse for working too hard, being disconnected, or not communicating. The solution (at least a good starting point) is to be the place your spouse finds their greatest affirmation and value.
When this happens, more times than not, the other issues fall into place.
Wrapping It UP
I’m often amazed at how the obvious answers are overlooked. We tend to complicate things far too much.
In the case of Bob and Mary Ann, it was rough going for a while. Mary Ann kept wanting to blame Bob; in essence she was focused on the symptom instead of the cause.
Once she broke through the barrier and saw she was part of the problem, she was free to make necessary changes. Understanding is the first step (and often most important one) in turning things around.
Mary Ann committed to creating an atmosphere and environment that provided Bob more value than he was getting at work. Over time, their relationship transformed.
She is now his greatest cheerleader. Bob, in turn, realized his marriage was more important than his career. He doesn’t work as much because he wants to be with his wife.
Bottom line: Like it or not, the principle is fixed. Work with it and you can succeed. Work against and you are doomed to fail.
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