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August 18, 2014

Love Must Be Tough in Marriage

Love Must Be Tough in Marriage

Question: Dr. Dobson, you said the concept of "Love Must Be Tough" has applications other than this narrow definition. Talk about that in the context of marriage.

Answer: As I indicated, "Love Must Be Tough" applies wherever two or more personalities interact. Let me illustrate. One of the secrets to my beautiful marriage to Shirley, which has now lasted for thirty-four years, is that we have been careful to defend what we call "the line of respect" between us. For example, suppose I work in my office two hours longer than usual on a particular night, knowing Shirley is preparing a special candlelight dinner. The phone sits there on my desk, but I'm too selfish 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. Then we will talk it out, and next time I'll be more considerate.

Now suppose Shirley knows I need the car at 2:00 p.m. for some important purpose, but she deliberately keeps me waiting.  Perhaps she is 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 wife will hear about my dissatisfaction when she gets home.  The "line of respect" has been violated, and we will work to reestablish it. 

What is at stake in these examples, both of which are petty, is a foundation of mutual accountability. In order to live with someone for a lifetime, two people have to establish some ground rules that help them maintain harmony and order. Mutual respect is the centerpiece of that understanding between them. When their rules are violated, a mild confrontation is in order.

What I'm saying is that minor conflict plays a positive role in maintaining the health of a relationship, provided it doesn't generate too much anger. In families where one partner permits the other to behave in hurtful and disrespectful ways, the unhealthy behavior is not checked and corrected.  It tends to get worse with the passage of time. In extreme cases, a wife may even choose to ignore her husband's sexual unfaithfulness for fear he will leave her if she objects. Thus, she reveals disrespect for herself and tempts her husband to do even more outrageous things. Her anger is stored instead of ventilated and will eventually erupt like a volcano. Divorces are made of such things.

Learning how to fight properly and deciding what to fight about is one of the secrets to a successful marriage. It usually comes down to the "line of respect" one way or the other.

From Dr. Dobson's book Life on the Edge.

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