Imagine the following scenario. Your spouse has given you an important letter to mail and is counting on you to mail it on your way to work. But you slip up… You forget all about it until you’re on the way home. “Oh #$@!!” is your first reaction. You know the spouse will be upset.
You frantically search the car and your briefcase for the letter, but it’s gone. You can’t find it anywhere. Now what do you do? What will you tell your spouse when you get home and he (or she) asks you if you mailed the letter?
Will you say, “It got lost” or will you say, “I lost it”? Your answer to this question gives insight into your willingness to accept responsibility for your actions. According to Sidney J. Harris, “We have not passed that subtle line between childhood and adulthood until…we have stopped saying ‘It got lost,’ and say ‘I lost it.'”
As long as you avoid taking responsibility for your actions or you look for reasons to avoid admitting you goofed, you’re not being honest with yourself. When you accept responsibility and stop rationalizing and blaming, then you can start to focus on what you can do differently that will produce different results next time.
This is not easy to do. Especially if we’re in the habit of placing blame elsewhere. Accepting responsibility in a marriage takes courage, above all when a spouse is at fault.
Mark, a longtime procrastinator, always had a list of reasons why he hadn’t been able to get around to doing the house maintenance chores. It was too cold or too hot, he was too tired, or he didn’t have the right tools or enough time. He would always promise to do the chores another day. Mark’s behavior greatly irritated his wife Anne, and she began to resent his constant excuses.
It wasn’t until Anne expressed her dissatisfaction with their marriage, giving Mark’s habitual procrastination as one of the reasons, that Mark really looked closely at how his behavior was hurting his marriage relationship. In marriage counseling sessions, he learned to take responsibility for his part in what happened each day. He also learned to pay attention to the words he selected to describe what happened.
Mark learned that when he said, “There wasn’t enough time to fix the faucet,” he often really meant, “I didn’t schedule enough time to complete the job today.” And if he went a step further and was even more honest, he also meant, “I don’t really want to do this, so I’m putting it off.”
Once Mark was more aware of his behavior patterns, he was able to have an honest talk with Anne. He told her that while he didn’t mind doing some of the repair jobs, he really didn’t want to have to spend the time the others would require. They talked it over and decided to hire someone to do the repairs Mark knew he would in all probability never get around to doing. He made a resolution not to make promises unless he really planned to keep them. He also resolved to be honest with Anne upfront instead of dragging things out for months.
These changes made a major difference in Mark and Anne’s relationship. Anne didn’t feel like “the nagging wife” any longer, and Mark didn’t mislead her by making false promises. Less friction in the marriage allowed them to focus on each other’s good points and to enjoy more harmony in their relationship.