I heard you talk in your Life on the Edge video series about something you called the "line of respect" between a husband and wife. Would you explain that again?
Yes. It involves a system of accountability to keep a marriage healthy. Let me explain how it works.
Suppose I work in my office two hours longer than usual on a particular night, knowing that my wife, Shirley, is preparing a special candlelight dinner. The phone sits there on my desk, but I lack the concern to make a brief call to explain. As the evening wears on, Shirley wraps the cold food in foil and puts it in the refrigerator. Then suppose when I finally get home, I do not apologize. Instead, I sit down with a newspaper and abruptly tell Shirley to get my dinner ready. You can bet there'll be a few minutes of fireworks in the Dobson household. Shirley will rightfully interpret my behavior as insulting and will move to defend the "line of respect" between us. We will talk it out, and next time I'll be more considerate.
Let's put the shoe on the other foot. Suppose Shirley knows I need the car at 2:00 P.M. for some important purpose, but she deliberately keeps me waiting. Perhaps she sits in a restaurant with a lady friend, drinking coffee and talking. Meanwhile, I'm pacing the floor at home wondering where she is. It is very likely that my lovely wife will hear about my dissatisfaction when she gets home. The "line of respect" has been violated, even though the offense was minor.
This is what I mean by mutual accountability. This kind of minor conflict in a marriage plays a positive role in establishing what is and is not acceptable behavior. Some instances of disrespect may seem petty, but when they are permitted to pass unnoticed, two things happen. First, the offender is unaware that he has stepped over the line and is likely to repeat the indiscretion later. In fact, he may go further into the other person's territory the next time. Second, the person who felt insulted internalizes the small irritation rather than dealing with it. As the interpretation of disrespect grows and the corresponding agitation accumulates in a storage tank, the stage is set for an eventual explosion, rather than a series of minor ventilations.
What I'm saying is that some things are worth fighting over, and at the top of the list is the "line of respect." Most of my conflicts with Shirley have occurred over some behavior that one of us interpreted as unhealthy to the relationship. Shirley may say to me, in effect, "Jim, what you did was selfish, and I can't let it pass." She is careful not to insult me in the confrontation, keeping her criticism focused on the behavior to which she objects.
A workable system of checks and balances of this nature helps a couple keep their marriage on course for a marathon rather than a sprint.