Often a person seeking counsel will describe a mate as someone against whom the counselor should be protected by a bodyguard. But when the mate turns up for an interview, he proves to be quite a gentleman (or lady)–and with some complaints of his (or her) own. This was the case with Mrs. Baker’s husband, Floyd.
“She complains when I raise the bedroom window a half inch,” he said one day when it was his turn to speak. He liked to watch the ball game on television, but she always chose that time to talk to him.
“I’m not against a man talking to his wife,” he said, “but why on earth can’t she wait till the game is over?”
Her answer: “If he loved me, he’d put me ahead of his old ball game.” She believed that if he’d just cut out his irritating ways, there would be no problem between them. I asked him why he didn’t.
“Because she won’t change the ways she annoys me,” he said.
They were caught in a vicious circle, a pattern that had developed in their marriage because of the habits each had brought into it. Who would link a dislocated toothbrush to nervousness? Yet, add the dirty washbasin, and the towels, and the toast, and the mismatched necktie, and the windows, and the television sports, and you have battlegrounds in the bathroom, kitchen, bedroom, and living room, as well as at the front door. On top of these, minor eruptions pile up centering on the church, the neighbor’s children, and the checkout clerk at the supermarket.
Some irritants are more annoying than others. Take the skirmish over the ball game on television. He knows she’ll try to distract him the minute he turns on the game, so he is tempted to delay going home and to ask himself where else he can watch television. She thinks to herself, Oh brother! It’s almost time for him to come home and turn on that horrid game.
Even before Floyd and Rachel see each other at the end of the day, they are already sparring for mastery (and no one has yet fought a battle without raising a host of emotions). They brought this pattern of behavior into their marriage. The slightest issue became a debate. To lose a decision was considered a bitter defeat. To win a decision was sweet victory. But in victory there is always a loser, and losing is an irritant.
The tiniest loss, even if it is a minor issue, can be extremely irritating. A speck in your eye is not a serious problem, but it is so annoying that it takes all your attention until it is removed. A grain of sand is nothing, but put enough grains together and you have a ton of sand. So it is with one’s response to conflict. Each irritant becomes far heavier than its own weight. As one piles on another, they blend into a vague blob, and all the irritable person is aware of is “nervousness.”
Mrs. Baker consulted her doctor because she was a bundle of nerves. He sent her to me because he learned that her “nerves” were caused by an emotional rather than a physical problem. In other words, she was not adjusting well to people or events in her life. This is commonly called the “mental health” problem.