Avoid Marital Sand Traps

Published January 8, 1981. Each afternoon as I drive home from the university, I pass by a golf course where people are playing a round or two of golf. They seem to be enjoying themselves with their drives, chips, putts and so forth. And then there are the sand traps.

Golfers in sand traps do unusual things. They often become frustrated with an activity that previously had given pleasure and enjoyment. Usually they become angry and upset in the sand traps and expend unnecessary time, energy, and emotion trying to get themselves out. Had they had a little more skill and foresight, however, they could have avoided the sand traps altogether.

Marriage partners also tend to get into their own kinds of sand traps. Almost every married couple seems to have sensitive areas where unnecessary time, energy, and emotions are expended in unproductive efforts. And, as in golf, most of the marital sand traps could be avoided with a little skill and foresight.

What are some of the sand traps in your marriage? Where do you and your spouse spend unnecessary rounds of repeated confrontation? What are some of the things either or both of you say or do that tend to cause tension?

In their book “Me and You and Us,” Dr. Gerald Smith and Ailee Phillips have listed some common areas of sensitivity in marriage. Here are a few examples: becoming preoccupied with work, forgetting to buy groceries, making the same point over and over again, reading the paper while listening or half listening, accepting a dinner invitation without first checking with a partner, agreeing to visit some people and then complaining about doing it, or being too rational and uninvolved.

Other areas of sensitivity include nagging, husbands comparing a wife to his mother, going to a party and not spending much time with a marriage partner, and saying “I agree” when you don’t agree and just want to keep the peace.

Writer Judith Viorst has looked at her own marriage and has spotted the places, or traps, where she and her husband get caught time after time. She suggests in her delightful poem “Maybe We’ll Make It” that successful marriages really are possible if we learn to sidestep a few of the touchy areas. She writes.

            If I quit hoping he’ll show up with flowers, and
            He quits hoping I’ll squeeze him an orange,
            I quit shaving my legs with his razor, and
            He quits wiping his feet with my face towel,
            We avoid discussions like
            Is he really smarter than I am, or simply more glib,
            Maybe we’ll make it.
            If I quit looking to prove that he’s hostile, and
            He quits looking for dust on the tables, and
            I quit inviting Louise with the giggle, and
            He quits inviting Jerome with the complex.
            We avoid discussions like
            Suppose I died, which one of our friends would he marry,
            Maybe we’ll make it.

            If I quit clearing the plates while he’s eating,
            He quits clearing his throat while I’m speaking, and
            I quit implying I could have done better, and
            He quits implying he wishes I had, and
            We avoid discussions like
Does his mother really love him, or is she simply one of those over-possessive, devouring women who can’t let go.
            Maybe we’ll make it.

We should approach the sensitive areas in marriage like someone else’s feet in a dark movie theater. Avoid unnecessary contact. Carefully pass by them, relax, and enjoy what you were originally seeking.

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