Friday, 17 December 2010

What Shamu Taught AMe About a Happy Marriage

Recently I was made aware of an outrageously funny article written by Amy Sutherland entitled “What Shamu Taught Me about a Happy Marriage” http://www.nytimes.com/2006/06/25/fashion/25love.html . Apparently Amy was in the process of doing research for a book she was writing about a school for exotic animal trainers. She came to the realization that the techniques being used by the trainers might prove to be useful as behavior modification techniques for her husband.

After citing several of her husband’s typical infractions she added “These minor annoyances are not the stuff of separation and divorce, but in sum they began to dull my love for Scott. I wanted — needed — to nudge him a little closer to perfect, to make him into a mate who might annoy me a little less,…a mate who would be easier to love…. So, like many wives before me, I ignored a library of advice books and set about improving him. By nagging, of course, which only made his behavior worse.

“The central lesson I learned from exotic animal trainers is that I should reward behavior I like and ignore behavior I don't. After all, you don't get a sea lion to balance a ball on the end of its nose by nagging. The same goes for the American husband.”

Trainers use L.R.S. (least reinforcing syndrome) to elicit the desired response from animals. When a dolphin does something wrong, the trainer doesn’t respond in any way. He stands still for a few beats, careful not to look at the dolphin, and then returns to work. The idea is that any response, positive or negative, fuels a behavior. If a behavior provokes no response, it typically dies away.

So when her husband Scott went into one of his tirades when he couldn’t find his keys, Amy just went on working in the kitchen, ignoring the commotion around her. On the other hand to reinforce behaviors that were desirable she employed “approximations”, which is what trainers call the rewarding of small steps toward learning a new behavior. Thus if Scott managed to get one sock in the hamper she would immediately affirm him. Over a period of time the more annoying habits began to dissipate and positive behaviors became evident.

Apparently she learned one more thing from the trainers ,i.e. eventually the animals understand their training regimen so well that they begin to use it back on their trainers. Scott did the same, as he applied L.R.S. to Amy as she was grousing and complaining. She quickly realized the tables had turned and she was the one now being trained.

I wonder if the Bible was one of the books that Amy picked up for the writer of Proverbs said that “a quarrelsome or nagging wife is like constantly dripping water.” Nagging didn’t work back then and it doesn’t work now. I wonder if Noah discovered L.R.S?

Wednesday, 15 December 2010

What Does a Healthy Marriage Look Like

Winston Smith is an author and faculty member of the Christian Counseling and Education Foundation.



When you saw the title of this blog what was the first thing that came to your mind? Perhaps you listed such things as spending quality time together, exceptional communications, extremely high level of trust, affection, intimacy, good conflict resolution skills, putting the needs of the other person first, and the list goes on. None of these answers would be wrong; in fact they would all be elements of a healthy marriage.

I felt that on the one hand Winston’s answers were surprising and on the other hand profound. They were surprising because the things I listed above are the ones that came to me instantly. As you can tell, I am into the simplistic and obvious while Winston is in to the more cerebral and deep.

Be honest would you have thought to mention that one of the elements of a particularly healthy marriage would be the extent to which we were able to help our spouse grow and mature in their Christian walk? Assume that nagging and criticism are not the preferred methods. Are you able to identify areas in the life of your spouse that you can speak into that would make him/her more like Christ AND can you do it in such a way that they will seriously consider your input and not get defensive? Yet this is the first area that Winston mentions. What might be some of those areas? Perhaps spending more time in prayer, praying together as a couple, having a consistent quiet time with the Lord, spending more time in the Word, volunteering, tithing, being more patient, sharing one’s faith, being other centered, etc.

Winston really pushed the envelope with his second reflection on this topic. You want me to speak lovingly to my husband/wife who has just criticized me in public? You want me to do something that will bless my husband/wife when they have just hurt me or sinned against me? Are you nuts?? I’d love to say that Winston is “proof texting”, i.e. twisting a verse from Scripture to mean something that supports your point of view when in fact that is not the literal meaning of the text. I’d love to, but I can’t. Sure the Matthew 5:38-48 passage deals with ones enemy but are we to then say that we should treat our enemy better than our husband/wife?

This marriage business is tough stuff.

Monday, 13 December 2010

What If Clark Kent Had Married Lois Lane?

How well do we think the mighty man of steel would have done as a husband and father? Marriage may have made leaping tall buildings at a single bound and bending steel in his bare hands look like child’s play.

If you let your mind run amuck you can conjure up all kinds of goofy scenarios. If you could eavesdrop you might have heard:
“Clark, I’m not going to tell you again, stop wearing the cape to bed.”
“Clark, I just said take out the garbage, I didn’t mean take it to Jupiter.”
“Lois, are you certain there was no kryptonite in the oatmeal?”
Teacher to principle, “I’m afraid the child is delusional, he thinks his father can fly.”
“Clark, I love to go out to dinner with you but do we have to take that phone booth everywhere we go?
“Lois, have you seen my blue tights? I thought I put them in the wash?”

One of the powers that would come in most handy in marriage was Superman’s ability to turn back time by speeding around the earth in reverse. If after hearing a hurtful word come out of our mouths we could turn back time to before it was uttered. Fortunately God has provided something that works even better – it’s called grace. “As far as the east is from the west so far has He removed our transgressions from us.” He chooses to forget. In a healthy marriage there is a lot of choosing to forget.

Unfortunately you and I don’t have the ability to erase those things that we say or do, those things we wish we could take back. However we do have the ability to make things somewhat better moving forward. When we come before the Lord with a repentant heart and ask Him to forgive us for our careless words or actions He does so immediately. In actuality He had already forgiven us but the process of repentance restores a right relationship with Him. By then going to the person that we injured and asking them to forgive us we can potentially restore or strengthen our relationship on the person to person level.

God’s approach requires humility and a dependence upon Him for the strength to do what is right. As difficult as I find God’s plan, in reality it is easier than flying backwards, at least for me.